In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jinwoo Chong’s novel Flux is a propulsive literary mystery that defies genre, and one of the year’s most fascinating debuts.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“Not yet 30, Chong bursts forth, Athena-like, with an impossible-to-simply-label masterpiece that melds various genres—from Bildungsroman to speculative fiction, coming-of-age drama to epic tragedy, crime documentary to noirish thriller—into an intricate literary mosaic…Chong stuns readers with a multipronged, multilayered, multivoiced, magnificent enigma.“
In his own words, here is Jinwoo Chong’s Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Flux:
I wrote Flux within a period of heightened stress, disillusionment, and general anxiety—two years of it in an MFA program gone-online due to the pandemic, where I questioned my goals for my writing career and tried to decide what I wanted to say with my work. The below music represents not only the mood of the novel but the intensity of my world while I was working on it.
We Appreciate Power (feat. HANA) – Grimes
I hope Grimes was trying to satirize—not glorify—the corporate technological hegemony and our society’s race toward total online dissociation with this song. Given her choice of life partner, I don’t have full confidence. However, the industrial-horror sound and the lyrics “pledge allegiance to the world’s most powerful computer—simulation: it’s the future” feels apt to describe the tech-thriller component of this novel. I love the mood of dystopia it creates.
My Favorite Things – Barbra Streisand
One of my favorite things about Flux is that it takes place at Christmastime. Those few weeks in December have always been such rich ground for a story about loneliness, a sharp contrast between the commercialized togetherness of the holiday and the reality of most people’s lives. This cover of “My Favorite Things” was one of the first times in history that the song was framed as a Christmas song. It’s now a classic, but Barbra Streisand’s version injects it with such a powerful sense of melancholy. I think of the snowy streets of a city in the very early morning when I hear it.
Odd Look (feat. The Weeknd) – Kavinsky
Of the two worlds of Flux—the dystopian near-future where most of the action takes place, and the fictional 80s noir of a character’s favorite detective show, Raider—“Odd Look” is pretty firmly the exact mood I was thinking of when I was working on scenes within the latter. This song makes me think of cigarettes, moonlight, gunfire, and Nike Blazers. An extremely purposeful and conscious evocation of the aesthetic of the era—and not totally accurate—in modern times.
Sleeping Sickness – City and Colour
I discovered this album a long time ago in my teens. Listening to it made me feel like I was being told a secret. Moreso, listening to it made me feel quite alone. There are a few characters who lay awake at night in this novel, I imagine, feeling the same way.
Go – The Chemical Brothers
“Go” is such a stressful song. It’s frantic and fearful, incorporating rapid-fire, hyperventilating lyrics from Q-Tip and the clubbiest production in this whole playlist. Halfway through the novel, we enter a nightclub that I think would probably play a song like this. The scene is a pinnacle of a paranoid time-loop sequence in which the main character, Brandon, starts to suspect something is off about the world he inhabits yet pulled along by those around him. The lyric, “we’re only here to make you go,” which are shouted again and again toward the end, describe this perfectly.
Tears Dry (Original Version) – Amy Winehouse
A little story about “Tears Dry”. Amy Winehouse wrote and recorded this jazzy, romantic song at first without the input of Mark Ronson, who produced her second album Back to Black. It was, probably, Mark’s idea to scrap the original production and speed it way up, replacing the background with an interpolation of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The final song, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” is a great song. But Amy’s original version unwraps something special and tragic in my heart whenever I hear it. I think it speaks to the desires of many emotionally-walled people to be loved, yet not being able to express it.
If You Love Me (Really Love Me) – Brenda Lee
I’m completely enamored, in general, by the sound of love ballads from the 60s. This cover of an Edith Piaf classic by Brenda Lee has come up as an end-credit song for a few prestige television shows in the last few years and it’s not difficult to see why. More than most of the voices of that era, Brenda Lee’s is an instant mood-setter, wistful and tragic. It also doesn’t totally seem like the speaker of the song is addressing anybody in particular. The mood of it feels like an unattainable ideal. Which is both devastating and gorgeous.
Flux – Ellie Goulding
An Ellie Goulding song with mild references to emotional erasure and the transience of time, with the same name as the novel I wrote! The crisp, orderly perfection of it all.
Jinwoo Chong received an MFA from Columbia University. His short stories have appeared in The Southern Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Salamander. Flux is his first novel. He lives in New York.