S. L. Coney’s novel Wild Spaces is a captivating debut, a book as moving as it is unsettling.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
“Both wrenching family drama and fantastical monster story. . .Coney is a writer to watch.”
Wild Spaces is a coming-of-age story about family secrets, trauma, and how it perpetuates across generations. It’s about what’s lost when secrets are kept, and the repercussions that occur when one loses a sense of their history. It’s the slow disintegration of a family that’s happy until an estranged family member shows up. There’s a lot of fantasy, some adventure, drama, and of course, monsters and horror.
There’s not a lot of music in this story, but music always plays a large part of my writing process. I listen to it as I write, and I often find inspiration in both instrumental pieces and in lyrics. So, here’s a playlist to listen to while you read. Enjoy!
Stark Goes Green by Alan Silvestri
It’s summer, school is out, and you have a new best friend by your side. It’s going to be the best summer of all summers. This song holds anticipation in its cadence, the repeating crescendo, the soft lilting notes that speak to wonder, to triumph, to a moment of peace. This is the opening music in my head. It perfectly illustrates the adventure of being young and the beauty that is a summer that feels like forever. But as the song continues, it turns a little melancholy and hints that there’s something more coming. It ends on an anticipatory note that’s just perfect for the beginning of this tale.
Grinnin’ in Your Face by Son House as sung by Amythyst Kiah
Ever have a conversation with someone who says one thing, but leaves you with a feeling that something else entirely just happened? So has the boy. Wild Spaces is, in part, a story about the gaslighting that can happen in dysfunctional family systems. The boy knows something is off, but he doesn’t know what. As he watches the small microaggressions that occur, he’s left to discover that what you see on the surface is just a cover for what’s really being said. There couldn’t be a better song for this situation and Amythyst’s rendition is just lovely.
Lullaby by The Cure
Imagine, you’re lying in bed, the wind blowing the curtain at your window as you watch the shadows on your wall, and something comes creeping into your room. A song about a monster stalking a boy? Maybe it’s too on the nose, but I love the peppy beat paired with that happy little motif. Add in those creepy lyrics and you have a perfect representation of that moment when something bright and familiar becomes strange and unsettling. But it’s not webs that ensnare the boy, nor something as simple as being eaten that he has to worry about.
Midnight Special Theme by David Wingo
If there is one song that encompasses the entirety of this book, this is it. I listened to this over and over as I wrote. The whole album, really, but this song, in particular, holds a sense of wonder and fantasy I wanted to capture. The loneliness in the repeating motif is a ping echoing out into the dark. It’s driving at night, or staring into starlight, or gazing into the ocean’s depths. It’s mysterious, a summons waiting for a response, like a boy, waiting to see what wonders might unfold in the curl of a shell, or what secrets might whisper in the rumble of a wave.
Enemy by Days of the New
Monsters are often people who are simply convinced they are in the right. To them, it’s others that need to change. The status quo can be very important to them. The monster in this book believes they are in the right in how this family should look, feel, and behave. They’re following the natural order of things. This song is the monster’s message to the boy. They aren’t the enemy. Really.
Fistful of Love by Anohni & The Johnsons with Lou Reed
If there’s a better song about abusive relationships, I haven’t found it. The way we lie to ourselves about those relationships, about the way we hold onto them, even when we know they hurt. Even though this song is, I believe, about lovers, it is such a perfect representation of the dysfunctional relationship in this family. Monsters should be easy to see, and they definitely shouldn’t be someone we want to hold onto, but letting go can be hard when they’re family.
If I Had a Heart by Fever Ray
Threat–low, thrumming, foreboding. “This will never end because I want more. More. Give me more. Give me more.” This is another song I had on repeat while I wrote Wild Spaces. This is such an ominous song. The tension in that low melody paired with the discordant top notes is so effective. The duality of Fever Ray’s child-like tone in counterpoint to that low, creeping danger came to represent the struggle between the boy and the monster–the innocence of the child wanting to grow up and the hungry greed of the monster waiting to devour.
Hope There’s Someone by Antony & The Johnsons
There is a moment in the forest, a bright morning after a long, hard night, that is this song. Anohni’s lilting, pleading voice holds so much sadness, so much grief. The need is palpable. It’s a still moment, an ending, but not the finish. It’s about being left to face the inevitability of this path you’ve been on, about the uncertainty of what lies ahead. It’s a prayer for strength, for salvation from what’s coming. This is the lost and searching place, the moment when the monster is bigger than everything else.
Fell on Black Days by Soundgarden
It starts slowly, a rounding of a corner, an unfolding of time when you come face to face with the monster. You’ve known this moment was coming, and you’ve accepted the fate thrust in your path. This is the inevitable point of transformation when both you and your world is changed forever. The guitars on this song lend energy and edge to this penultimate moment and Chris Cornell’s primal scream fits very well with the consequences of the boy’s decision, and the ripples that spread through his world.
Every Single Prayer by U.N.K.L.E featuring Gavin Clark
After the fall, there is a reckoning. A moment of realization of what has happened, and where you are. The boy’s world has been torn open. He doesn’t know what to do, or where to go. He has no context and no history to fall back on. There is no meaning. He only has the pieces given to him, moments like beads that might lend some comfort in the memory they hold. He has the image of himself, but what image is that? Gavin Clark’s voice is infused with so much longing and desperation that it is an ache that must be experienced.
Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
You lean into the moment, a shadow falls, another rises. The morning dawns and something stirs. This is such a bright, happy song. If you’ve read the reviews where people have said the book destroyed them, you might think this is an odd note to end this story on. But there has to be a moment of darkness before the sun rises, hopelessness before there is hope. And so, though it’s a happy song, it’s come to have a melancholy feel to me that I think fits really well with the end of this story. There’s sadness, yes, but I hope there’s room for hope, too. I hope there’s room for sunshine.
S. L. Coney obtained a master’s degree in clinical psychology before abandoning academia to pursue a writing career. The author has ties to South Carolina, and roots in St. Louis. Coney’s work has appeared in St. Louis Noir, Best American Mystery Stories 2017, and Gamut Magazine.