In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Nancy Stohlman’s After the Rapture is a novel innovatively told in a series of flash fictions that piece-by-piece construct a compelling dystopian satire.
Kim Chinquee wrote of the book:
“In this world of Walmarts, Barbies, Kens, orgies/time-shares, 7-11s, clones, a red Lake Michigan, and dreams, Nancy Stohlman’s humor and talent shines. The rapture becomes more than just a rapture: it’s a world turning on its head, acceptance, and then finding a new normal. Redeeming and heart-felt, this dystopian novel-in-flashes is one not to forget. AFTER THE RAPTURE is a rapture!”
In her own words, here is Nancy Stohlman’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel After the Rapture:
About After the Rapture: In a world just slant from our own, the people are waiting for the Rapture. But what they get is not at all what they thought it would be. Whether they’re pilgrimaging to the Very First Kentucky Fried Chicken, living in life-sized Barbie houses, taking the Marriott staff hostage, trading Candy Corn on Wall Street. or draining Loch Ness to “find out the goddamn truth once and for all,” there is a familiar sort of desperation in this post-Rapture existence. In moments you will laugh at the absurdity of their world, and in other moments the darkness will feel all too familiar…
Thanks for having me here! Okay, so first let’s be clear: this is not just a playlist but an actual 1980s-’90s-style mix-tape. So we will be flipping this over halfway. Grab a beverage, and let’s go.
After the Rapture Mixtape Playlist
“Rapture” by Blondie: No After the Rapture Mixtape Playlist could begin without Blondie’s classic. I’ve always loved this song–it embodies the beautiful chaos that I was trying to create with the book–that moment when the world becomes unbound and the madness becomes normalized. Is the rapture a state of mind or an event? When does hysteria become hysterical? Are the men from Mars eating cars or eating bars? The book, and the society it comments on, is constantly doing flips on that high wire. (By the way, I got to see Blondie perform this song in all its church bell glory just before the pandemic–she was 72 years old and dressed like a bumblebee!)
“Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads: This song really captures that feeling of WTF: How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! That gorgeous disorientation after we get the cosmic rug yanked from underneath us. In After the Rapture, the people spend most of their time wandering this aftermath, trying to make sense of their new (and old) world, both the profound and the ridiculous.
“Waiting for the Miracle” by Leonard Cohen: I first heard this song on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. Cohen’s gorgeous, mystical voice paired with the deep, hypnotic music speaks to me of the many ways we (as individuals or as a collective) settle into our own hypnotic stupors…whether we are waiting for the Rapture or just waiting for the miracle, we are all, as Thoreau would say, “leading lives of quiet desperation.”
“Fame” by David Bowie: Another I would put in the wonderfully weird category. By this time in the story our main character is slowly turning into a Barbie: it’s all happening to her, seemingly out of her control: first an arm, then a house, then a dream car, then a plastic boyfriend. I’ve always thought Bowie’s song does a great job at trying to capture that tumultuous relationship with fame, the sought after and desired, the rejected and admonished. How can we both love and hate something so much? It applies to so much more than just fame.
“Booty Swing” by Parov Stelar: When the world in After the Rapture starts to unravel, the people turn to many varieties of escape–airports and duty-free zones and the Dark Web and clones and orgies and candy corn and biblical jellyfish. This song always makes me think of that Gatsby-era decadence and an “ignorance is bliss” kind of situation. But you can feel the crack just under the foundation, like a party that’s about to go off the rails.
“One Night in Bangkok” by Marlon V: This song escalates the overindulgences and hedonism of the previous song, but you can also feel the insanity creeping in. The feverish way a face looks in the never-ending casinos of neon lights and excess. Twinged with crazy but not yet fully over the edge.
“They’re Coming to Take Me Away” by Napoleon XIV: This song used to terrify me as a child! But honestly, I can’t think of a song that does such a great job at portraying that very real jump into madness with humor and satire. Eventually the people in Rapture are succumbing to their own madness, eating the madness, loving it, hating it, fearing it. We all go over the edge in our own ways…some go screaming and some go laughing and some don’t make a sound.
~FLIP TAPE OVER~
If Side A is the descent into Madness, Side B is the exodus.
“My City Was Gone” by The Pretenders: Eventually our main character returns to the chaos, waving her white flag and discovering that the whole world has gone pink and plastic while she has been away. So much of the book is about upheaval, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, and this song has always stirred something in me–the way that the past is a fragile, mutable thing. The way our histories are often renovated into something unrecognizable or left to rot into ruin or neglect. Either way we cannot hold back the passing of time, no matter how much we may want to. We cannot live in nostalgia. Yesterday is over, and so is last week and last year. This
song has always spoken to me of that truth.
“Nightswimming” by R.E.M.: At some point the book takes a turn towards redemption, and the next few songs reflect that turn. Eventually we have no choice but to embrace the mystery. There is a moment towards the end of the book where the last people are treading water: “But sometimes, in those final hours, a solar flare smacked the ocean just so, and such amazing arcs of steam and rainbows sprayed that those left treading water would ooh and aah at the strange beauty of this finale, so bittersweet, so different than they’d imagined.” I’ve always thought R.E.M’s song was hauntingly beautiful in the same way.
“Purple Rain” by Prince: What can I say that hasn’t been said about this song? Prince’s gorgeous wailing at the end feels like tears being shed for all of us. Purple midnight tears watering a parched and neglected earth.
“Down to the River” by Alison Krauss: This song was extremely important to my writing process. As I have talked about elsewhere, this book was written pre-pandemic, and the original ending was quite snarky. But the post-pandemic audience needed hope. So this song by Alison Krauss became a sort of channeling device: with each verse new voices join the old until it’s a full choir of voices. Of people. Of us, all of us. This was the vibe I wanted to come through at the end. I listened to the song on repeat for 10 days while I performed the delicate surgery on the ending and I emerged knowing it was ready.
“Hallelujah” performed by K.D. Lang: Few people are poets the way Leonard Cohen was a poet. And few songs are like “Hallelujah”: Love is not a victory march/it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah. Whew. K.D. Lang’s version is my favorite: soulful and tragic and beautiful. By the end of After the Rapture, as the people are throwing away and rescuing their dreams, running with arms wide open and dissolving into stars–I think they finally understand the glory and majesty of
that broken hallelujah.
“End of the Line” by The Traveling Wilburys: First of all, a supergroup with Dylan, Petty, Harrison and Orbison? Yes, please. But this quartet, in their clever, trickster way, is saying something quite profound: when we march to the end of the line, whatever the end of the line may be, we should always do it dancing. We should do it filled with song and celebration, like a glorious Mardi Gras parade. And ultimately After the Rapture is a celebration of hope, of new
dreams after decimation, of agreeing to become enraptured by life once more.
“Rapture” by Kinky Mink: And I have to end this playlist with my own version of Blondie’s classic, performed by Kinky Mink, complete with an “Amazing Grace” opening and a fire and brimstone preacher. Rise up, people! The Rapture is here! The Rapture is now.
Nancy Stohlman is the author of six books including After the Rapture (2023), Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (2018), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), The Monster Opera (2013), Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction (2020), winner of the 2021 Reader Views Gold Award and re-released in 2022 as an audiobook. Her work has been anthologized widely, appearing in the Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and The Best Small Fictions 2019, as well as adapted for both stage and screen. She teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder and holds workshops and retreats around the world. Find out more at http://www.nancystohlman.com