Author Playlists

Janice Deal’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Sound of Rabbits”

“In creating a playlist for The Sound of Rabbits, I’ve attempted to capture the ‘vibe’ of each of the principal voices in Ruby’s story.”

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.

Janice Deal’s novel The Sound of Rabbits is a lyrical and deeply moving portrait of small town life.

Booklist wrote of the book:

Deal deftly entwines Ruby’s and Val’s introspections with slice-of-life perspectives of other characters, creating a nuanced exploration of the complications of identity, regret, family, and community.”

In her own words, here is Janice Deal’s Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Sound of Rabbits:

I’m fascinated by the subjectivity of experience, and my novel, The Sound of Rabbits, is told from multiple perspectives. The book centers on Ruby, a woman at a crossroads in life who is called home by a family crisis; part of her journey means navigating not only how she sees herself, but how others see her. My hope is that readers will get a fuller sense of Ruby by seeing her through these multiple lenses. In creating a playlist for The Sound of Rabbits, I’ve attempted to capture the “vibe” of each of the principal voices in Ruby’s story.

1. Ruby: “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”—Weyes Blood

I briefly met Weyes Blood in one of my favorite resale shops in Chicago, before one of her concerts. Her humility and grounded vibe really struck me, and I thought of how she seemed very tuned into what it means to be human. When putting together this playlist, I immediately thought of her song, “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody,” for Ruby; I think Ruby might really connect with Weyes Blood the person, and this song in particular. The lyrics dig deeply, and compassionately, into what it means to long to be known, to feel fragile, to live in the face of great change. And the song assures us that we’re not alone in feeling this way, that mercy is out there. I thought how much solace Ruby might find in these lyrics as she navigates uncertainty and change in her own life.

2. Val: “A Mother’s Confession”—Amanda Palmer

“A Mother’s Confession” details the ways in which the song’s narrator (presumably Palmer herself) has “made mistakes.” Her son Ash falls off a changing table; she steals some Chapstick (by accident) and forgets which blanket a beloved cousin crocheted, sending pictures of the wrong one to the cousin (who is nice about it). The baby gets left in the car, and he’s okay, but Palmer confesses that she is almost afraid to put those lyrics in a song. And she asks what kind of mother she is, even as she comforts herself with a sort of mantra: at least the baby hasn’t died.

I listen to this song and it’s something Val, Ruby’s sister, could have written. She’s spinning so many plates, being pulled in so many directions—and she’s so worried about her girls. Val thinks she’s irrevocably screwed up her elder daughter, Dakota; she hopes it’s not too late for Junie, the younger. She loves her children fiercely, and living beside that love is a very human ambivalence about what it means to have children, and show compassion, and give of oneself. I can see Val saying, to buck herself up, “Well, at least the kids are still alive.” I can see her thinking, “This song was written for me.”

3. Dakota: “A&W”—Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey’s powerful “A&W” pushes the envelope with its frank lyrics and change of cadence. It’s a unique song characterized by layers of melancholy, and it captures Dakota’s vibe. Thirteen years old, Dakota feels a lonely remove from childhood. She senses that no one is telling her the whole truth about who she is, and she wrestles with judgment from the community and her peers: they think she’s a whore, and if this isn’t actually true, it may as well be—the story has stuck. “A&W” speaks to Dakota’s disconnect; it speaks to her jadedness and resignation at such a young age. And the song’s change in tempo/meter is a nifty parallel to the “quickening” Dakota experiences when she paints. Painting is a release for her. It’s a passage. And it is, as Ruby perceptively senses, Dakota’s way through.

4. Junie: “We’re Going to Be Friends”—The White Stripes

The sweetness and simplicity of this song, the way it captures the arc of a child’s day and catalogs the things of childhood (bugs! the alphabet!), completely speaks to the essence of Junie. Junie isn’t clueless—she understands that there is disruption in her world as her older sister and mom work through trauma, and she wrestles with change in her own way. But she also possesses true innocence, an incorruptibility that’s equal parts due to her age (six), and how she came out of the box. That sweetness is her nature, and the childhood joys recounted in “We’re Going to Be Friends” seem like something that would resonate, for Junie, deeply and authentically.

5. Moon: “Lazarus”—David Bowie

Hidden scars, life after death: I saved “Lazarus” for Moon, the gentle, reliable touchstone for Ruby and her family. Even after death, Moon remains a stable presence in their lives. Tough and canny in life, Moon survived war. He survived disappointment. And I see in this song his peace after death, a certain freedom he’s achieved; it’s almost like a song of reassurance that he, through Bowie, continues to sing to the living.

6. Barbara: “Waking Light”—Beck

Barbara, Ruby and Val’s mother, battles Parkinson’s and the encroachment of Parkinson’s-related dementia; for her, life is like a waking dream. If, as conventional wisdom has it, we are defined by our memories, Barbara’s core self ebbs and flows as her memories do. She’s in a perpetual state of trying to grasp those fleeting impressions, of the “home” or self they represent. The dreamy cadences and haunting lyrics of “Waking Light” capture that journey. Barbara’s day is almost done; her lamp burns low. But for a while at least, each day still dawns for her. She can take rest in that fact; she’s still, after all, in the ring.

7. Len: “Amassakoul ‘N’ ’Ténéré”—Tinariwen

For Len, Val’s husband, life hasn’t been easy. He doesn’t expect it to be. The down-to-earth, pragmatic lyrics of “Amassakoul ‘N’ ’Ténéré” speak to his journey: Len can handle what life throws at him. The sun. The wind. The thirst. He doesn’t think of himself as special; he doesn’t expect to be exempt from life’s pain. The way Len sees it, life is life, and he knows how to (patiently) navigate it. He respects his troubles because they have gotten him where he’s at. And if Len is on familiar terms with worry, he also knows where his treasure lies: in Val, in their girls. They are, ultimately, his truest story.

8. Tim: “Average Guy”—Lou Reed

Jilted by Ruby back in college, cognizant of his average gifts, Tim is nevertheless content with what he’s achieved. He is expecting a child; he loves his beautiful, strong-willed wife; he has meaningful work as a dentist in a place Ruby actively eschewed, Ladyford. In “Average Guy,” Lou Reed catalogs a series of average traits; the song could be Tim talking about himself. Because Tim knows who he is; he understands that Ruby broke with him because he didn’t, in her eyes, crave more. But at the end of the day, Tim is at peace with this. He’s just trying to live his life, and he’s satisfied with who he is and what he’s got.

9. Carrie: “Follow Your Arrow”—Kacey Musgraves

Though a bit more whimsical than Tim’s intense wife, “Follow Your Arrow” nevertheless captures Carrie’s spirit of defiance. Carrie doesn’t quite fit into her adopted home of Ladyford, but she has navigated that disappointment and concluded that people are going to judge, no matter what, so she may as well do as she pleases. She loves who she loves, she keeps her circle small. And as the song points out, life is short. Carrie is a tough customer, fierce and loving; I can see her singing this song to her daughter once Lena is born.

10. Sooner: “Resurrection Fern”—Iron & Wine

Ruby knew Sooner in high school. Now Sooner is dying of cancer, and he soaks in all the particulars of life, seeing beauty in the mundane details: autumn leaves, say. A bird’s wing. Iron & Wine’s “Resurrection Fern,” which hearkens to the fern that remarkably adapts to drought conditions, personifies Sooner’s own tenacity. In dry weather, resurrection ferns curl up and turn brown. They seem to be dead—until the next rain, when they green up and spring back to life. This is Sooner. His time will come, it is coming—cancer is a demon he can’t ultimately beat—but during his life he has rallied against all odds, again and again. He has sprung back, and as overlooked or misunderstood as he may be, he personifies the dignity and sheer beauty inherent in renewal.

11. The cat: “Animal Instinct”—Elvis Presley

Oh, I can’t help myself: obvious as it is, Jellybean, Junie’s cat, possesses a wild heart that demanded this song. Jellybean might be a domestic pet, but she’s a hunter deep down. This is an ingrained part of her nature, not to be denied, no matter how comfortable she is in the home she’s found among the humans. Presley’s witty interpretation of “Animal Instinct” sends a playful warning, but the consequences of Jellybean’s nature are as inevitable, and dangerous, as the instincts that drive her.

Also at Largehearted Boy:

Janice Deal’s playlist for her story collection The Decline of Pigeons

JANICE DEAL is the author of a novel, The Sound of Rabbits (Regal House, 2023), and the story collection The Decline of Pigeons (Queen’s Ferry, 2013), which was a Flannery O’Connor Award finalist. The Sound of Rabbits was a finalist for both the Many Voices Project annual competition and the Black Lawrence Press Big Moose Prize. Stories from her upcoming collection, Strange Attractors (New Door Books, September 2023) won The Moth Short Story Prize and the Cagibi Macaron Prize. Jan has also received an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship Award for prose. She lives with her husband in the Chicago area. Visit:

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