Author Playlists

Madelaine Lucas’s Playlist for Her Novel “Thirst For Salt”

“When I’m asked to describe what Thirst for Salt is about, I often say simply that it’s a love story because I believe that love stories, like love songs, can act as vessels for our deeper existential longings.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Madelaine Lucas’s novel Thirst For Salt sparkles with its spare prose and masterful storytelling.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

“Intelligent. . . . Lucas keenly captures the relationship’s slow erosion, as well as the narrator’s ability to make sense of her past while looking back on it. The author’s psychological acuity will keep readers piqued.”

In her own words, here is Madelaine Lucas’s Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Thirst For Salt:

I grew up in a house of music, where instruments were always within an arm’s reach. Before I switched my focus to writing fiction and moved to New York to get my MFA, I spent my late teen years and early twenties writing and performing my songs in Sydney, first as a solo artist and then with my band Devotional. Musical references abound in my debut novel, Thirst for Salt. The dog that my narrator adopts with her older lover Jude the year they live together in the small Australian coastal town, Sailors Beach, is named King after a Neil Young song, and a whole page is dedicated to listing the albums in Jude’s record collection. Elsewhere, the narrator describes her restless mother, who looks for new beginnings in the shape of new houses, as “dreaming in blueprints”—a nod to a line from “Pretty Eyes” by Silver Jews. After years of obsessive listening, lyrics have become an indelible part of my most intimate vocabulary, the way I think, and how I approach writing prose. A singer can break your heart with a single perfect line—I want a sentence to aspire to that.

When I’m asked to describe what Thirst for Salt is about, I often say simply that it’s a love story because I believe that love stories, like love songs, can act as vessels for our deeper existential longings. They speak to us about desire, loneliness, memory, grief—about what it means to be alive and wanting. So, the songs on this playlist are love songs. For me, they evoke the emotional weather of the novel the same way a song can recall a long-ago love in an instant, and make you feel it all over again.

Saltwater — Beach House

To me, this song captures the low buzz of being a little heat struck, heartsick and day drunk—a summertime sadness that might even feel good to push on, whiling away an afternoon “dreaming in the saltwater.” It’s the mood I imagine my narrator is when she first meets Jude in the water while on holiday with her mother at Sailors Beach, and he soon gives her more ambiguous longing an object to attach itself to. I love the textures of the sonic landscape, too. It’s both lush and gritty, like a day at the beach.

Norman Fucking Rockwell — Lana Del Rey

I wanted to write about sex and desire through a female gaze in Thirst for Salt—something Lana does so well across her body of work. I think there is still a lot of resistance to the idea that women can be motivated by sexual pleasure, and I appreciate the way she sings here with both self-awareness and a sense of humor about the way a certain kind of passion can feel like a shortcut to intimacy, to being known—and also what a person might be prepared to put up with just to get close to that feeling.

Steady Rain — Warren Zevon

“Steady Rain” sounds like what being in love at its most magic feels like, when even ordinary things like getting caught in a storm feel fated. It was this feeling I was trying to describe in the scene were my narrator recalls driving back to Sailors Beach with Jude from her house in Sydney one afternoon and pulling over to make love on a quiet stretch of highway, the smell of backburning in the air and an old country song on the radio. It’s a memory that’s gained gravity in hindsight, like the moments described by Zevon in “Steady Rain”. The line, “Once upon a time I thought it would be easy to forget” seems so direct and simple, but it speaks to a whole world of regret. It gets me in the heart every time.

Love is a Long Road — Tom Petty

My husband is also a musician and he played me this song while I was working on Thirst for Salt because it reminded him of the characters. Tom Petty sings of a failed love affair: “There was a girl I knew, she said she cared about me. She tried to make my world the way she thought it should be.” Since the novel is told from my narrator’s perspective, I didn’t initially give much thought to how Jude might feel about their relationship looking back. Listening to this song helped me think through his possible regrets and resentments. So, this one’s for Jude. It captures the sheer desperation of looking to love to save your soul and feeling like you’ve burned up all your chances.

I Wanna Be Your Dog — The Stooges

My narrator and Jude dance to this song the night they find an old, lost dog on the beach and bring him home. But I see a deeper thematic connection to the book, too, as I was interested in the ways that our romantic relationships often crib from other forms of intimacy—e.g. that urge to mother your lover, or howl at their feet like a dog. I also wanted the novel to explore different modes of desire, from an ambient longing for the life not lived to the kind that has an immediate, electric charge in the moment. Listening to The Stooges reminds me that desire comes in all forms, and sometimes it feels urgent, frenzied, and maybe a little degrading!

Good Woman — Cat Power

Thirst for Salt is also a story of coming into womanhood, and at twenty-four, my narrator finds herself looking for models for what kind of woman to be in her relationships with her mother, her housemate Bonnie, and Jude’s friend Maeve. Jude is also bound up with his particular idea of what it means to be a good man. They don’t always get it right, but it was important to me that none of the characters be simply good or bad. They try to love each other but are often misguided and make mistakes—to me, the ways that people hurt each other even when their intentions are good is much more poignant, and human. This song recognizes that there are all sorts of ways that love can make it difficult for us to be the people we want to be. I think that’s why it’s almost too heartbreaking to listen to.

Demi Moore — Phoebe Bridgers

In an interview with Pitchfork, Phoebe Bridgers said that this song is about “getting stoned and sending nudes”—two rituals my narrator enjoys partaking in, and that Jude, who is 42 to her 24, doesn’t see value in. The lyrics bring to mind the early tentative days of their relationship after she returns from Sailors Beach to Sydney, talking on the phone at night, trying to find a way to reach across the distances of both of geography and age. Bridgers is so good at articulating the ways desire and loneliness are often two sides of the same coin, and how tied up sexuality is with vulnerability.

Misguided Angel — Cowboy Junkies

The Cowboy Junkies were a big influence on my own music and when my editor, Masie, told me the novel made her think of this song it confirmed the sense of kinship I felt with her from our very first phone call. I knew then that we spoke the same language. I love the way the lyrics are framed as a conversation between a woman and the various members of her family as she tries to justify her attraction to her “Misguided Angel”. The choices my narrator makes are also influenced by what she’s learned about love from the examples of her mother and her grandmother, but sometimes you have to make your own mistakes. Like the woman in this song, she discovers that even if her man is not as reliable as she imagined, she does not desire him any less.

Grapevine — Weyes Blood

Jude shares some qualities with the “emotional cowboy” Natalie Mering sings about here. Although the “Grapevine” refers to Southern California’s Interstate 5, it makes me think of the highway that draws the narrator back down south to Jude, and also to her memories of her transient childhood, travelling on those same roads with her mother in the years after they left her father—highways like black ribbons that unravel the past.

Common Burn — Mazzy Star

“Simple things like your overcoat and your beauty that’s still burning me” is such a perfect description of the little things that first draw you to someone and stick in your mind long after they’ve gone, and the way desire can feel like a wound. From the very beginning, I knew I wanted Thirst for Salt to have the slow-burning feel of a Mazzy Star song and this is one of my favorties.

Last Horse on the Sand — Dirty Three

I couldn’t make a playlist for a novel set in an Australian beach town without including a track from Ocean Songs. You listen to Dirty Three and you hear ecstasy as well as grief. Their music is wild, beautiful, dangerous, and cathartic, like the Pacific Ocean itself.

Clearing — Grouper

Grouper was the only music I could listen to while I was writing the novel. It became a ritual—every morning, I would play through Grid of Points, Paradise Valley, Ruins, The Man Who Died in His Boat and Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill in that order, and then I would stop for the day. Listening to these albums became a way to enter the mood and atmosphere I wanted to evoke in the novel while I worked on it over a period of years. Liz Harris lives by the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, and to me the textures of her music conjure an isolated, wintery landscape surrounded by water, like the setting of Thirst for Salt.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes — Nina Simone (live)

The characters in Thirst for Salt are always coming up against time. It’s there in the gulf of years between Jude and my narrator, and at the root of her questions about fertility and motherhood. Even the relationship between Jude and the narrator has a seasonal quality. As Jude says, “Time is on nobody’s side.” But the novel is also interested in the experiences we have that seem to exist outside of time: memory, art, love. The music of Nina Simone? That’s eternal.

Madelaine Lucas is a senior editor of NOON and teaches fiction at Columbia University. She is from Sydney, Australia, and lives in Brooklyn. Thirst For Salt (Tin House) is her debut.

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