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May 12, 2006

Book Notes - Cristina Henriquez ("Come Together, Fall Apart")

Sometimes, I wish authors were more like musicians. Occasionally I will read a short story in a literary magazine that leaves me wanting more from the author. When I hear an interesting track from a musician, I can usually track down the album to satiate a similar craving, but authors often force me to wait. In today's world of instant gratification, that can be a good thing, especially in the case of Cristina Henriquez. I had read three of the stories contained in her debut collection of stories, Come Together, Fall Apart in periodicals, and have been anxiously awaiting this collection. I read the book in one sitting, constantly amazed at the humanity Henriquez created in her young protagonists and their world. The backdrop for the stories is post-Noriega Panama, but the conflicts and themes are universal. Now I have to wait a couple of years for her sophomore effort...

In her own words, here is Cristina Henriquez's Book Notes submission for Come Together, Fall Apart:

I’ve never been one to listen to music while I write. There’s already enough noise in my head (if things are going well). But I do find that the times in my life when I’m really engaged by music are also the times when I tend to do some of my strongest writing. So here it is: One song for each story that appears in my collection. What a strange soundtrack I’ve ended up with. I can only hope that my book shows as much range as this lineup would suggest.

Yanina – Pedro Navaja by Ruben Blades
Ruben Blades is mentioned in this story, but he also happens to be probably the most well-known Panamanian singer. In light of both those things, it seemed right to start off the playlist with one of my favorite of his songs.

Drive – Fast as You Can by Fiona Apple
I picked this song mostly for the tempo, which perfectly mirrors the pace of the story. If you put this story to music—just music-wise—this is how it would sound. Of course, there’s a lyrical resonance as well. “You think you know how crazy, how crazy I am.” “I’ll soar the uneven wind.”

Ashes – Life Goes On by Big Mama Thornton
If ever I’ve written a story that demanded a blues song, this is it. But at the end, the character is looking out over the ocean for anything she can see. It’s hopeful, and it matches the song. “I played a losing game, but life goes on just the same.”

Mercury – Japanese to English by Red House Painters
This is the only song in my playlist that served as inspiration for the story. This is the earliest story in the book, mostly written when I was in college. Back then, I was listening to a lot of moody music like RHP, and there’s a line in this song—“What if I laid my head down on your stomach, and put my mouth to your hand?”—that gave rise to the final scene of this story.

Beautiful – Independence Day by Elliott Smith
This is such a downer of a story, but what I was hoping stood out in it was this one moment where the narrator feels wholly beautiful and powerful. “Future butterfly…”

The Wide, Pale Ocean – Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen
I imagine the mother, who is slowly losing her daughter in this story, singing this song. Obviously, Leonard Cohen’s version is about a romantic relationship, but with lines like, “You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me. It’s just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,” which essentially sums up the entire story, how could I go wrong? The tone, too—the deep sadness in the face of ineluctable absence—is spot on.

Chasing Birds – Blackbird by The Beatles
Birds. Bird. That much is obvious. But for a story about a woman who’s struggling to break free (‘You were only waiting for this moment to be free”), who starts off the story screaming in the middle of the night (“Blackbird singing in the dead of night”), whose poncho sticking out from the armholes of her life preserver is likened to actual wings (“Take these broken wings and learn to fly”), this song is perfect.

The Box House and the Snow – Sit Down. Stand Up. by Radiohead
This song starts off pleasantly enough, but gets increasingly manic as it goes on. The refrain, repeated in a tone of utter lunacy, is “the raindrops.” This story is about snow. But to the father in the story, it’s about water, and in the end it’s about rain. I imagine him being the one croaking out the refrain over and over.

Come Together, Fall Apart – Mambo by Cachao
As with my first pick, this is a musician mentioned in the story. Early in the novella, the Velasco family is throwing a birthday party at their house. They’re all dancing and clapping along to a song by this musician when, in the middle of the revelry, they learn that their whole world is about to change. The story is ultimately a sad one, but I wanted to give it a song that represents the joy in their lives. I also wanted to round out the playlist with music that, for me, represents the ebullience and indefatigable energy of Panama.

see also:

Christina Henriquez's Website

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)