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December 20, 2007

Book Notes - Edward Schwarzschild ("The Family Diamond")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

I am a fan of the short story, and will remember 2007 as a year in which I read many quality short fiction collections. One of the most impressive is Edward Schwarzschild's The Family Diamond. With humor, grace, and acute insight Schwartzschild delves into our familial bonds across the generations, and has created one of my favorite short fiction collections of the year.

In his own words, here is Edward Schwarzschild's Book Notes essay for his short fiction collection, The Family Diamond:

The nine stories in The Family Diamond are connected in a few obvious ways: they're set in Philadelphia; they're about family; and Milly and Charlie Diamond, the matriarch and patriarch of the collection, make many appearances throughout the book. It's definitely tempting and possible to construct a playlist for the book that would highlight those connections. A Philly soul list, an it's-a-family-affair list, a list of the music I used to listen to with my own grandmother, Mildred D. Merin, when she took me downtown to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra's Saturday morning children's concerts at the Academy of Music. They'd be damn good lists, but I'd rather offer cuts that are more associational and eclectic, and I'll match them up, loosely, with each story.

1. Open Heart

The Köln Concert/Keith Jarrett

This is the first Milly Diamond story I wrote and it's connected to a bunch of memories, including this one: I remember driving with my grandmother far from Philadelphia and far from the Academy of Music. We were making our way from LA up north to Sacramento and it was one of the first times I was driving her somewhere, instead of the other way around. I wanted to show her that I'd been shaped by all those Saturday mornings with her and the Philadelphia Orchestra, so I loaded my Keith Jarrett into the cassette deck and blasted it. She tried to enjoy it, as she tried to enjoy everything, even though it could be difficult, and she didn't ask me to turn the music down.

2. No Rest for the Middleman

"Father and Son"/Cat Stevens and "Cat's in the Cradle"/Harry Chapin

Two classic father/son songs that are still tough to listen to, even though I've heard them a million times and feel as if I know everything they contain. Kind of like father/son stories in general. The power of them never goes away, just changes as I get older.

3. Distance Man

"Neverending Math Equation," Sun Kil Moon version of Modest Mouse, on Tiny Cities

I love the song and every gorgeous cover on this Sun Kil Moon album. A model, it seems to me, of how influence can lead to honor and beauty. But more specifically here, it's the line "I'm the same as I was when I was six years old" that resonates with where this story originated. My middle brother and I are now very tight, but I've sometimes wondered what would have happened if we'd kept fighting the way we fought when I was six years old (and seven years old and on and on until I left for college).

4. Drift

"Concrete and Barbed Wire"/Lucinda Williams

I listened to Lucinda Williams throughout writing draft after draft of this story. The ache and longing of her voice remains something to aspire toward. Don't know exactly where the ache and longing comes from, as is so often the case, but impossible not to feel it.

5. Proposals and Advice

Veedon Fleece/Van Morrison

I could list this album for almost everything I've ever written since one of my best friends gifted me with it years ago. Van the Man at his very best and his most literary, screaming about Blake, Thoreau, and other mystics. Van seems miraculously to be channeling the wisdom of the ages through his young self. Charlie Diamond, in this story, would love to channel a piece of that wisdom for his grandson. I've listened to this album countless times, over and over, more than any other album I own. Sometimes I listen to the words. Sometimes I just focus on the sound of Van breathing. It's the inarticulate speech of Van's heart that floors me, again and again.

6. Reunion

"Last Goodbye"/Jeff Buckley

A true and deep heartbreaker, the singer and the song. Saw him sing it in a bar in St. Louis and wish I had been more fully present. Assumed, idiotically, that I'd get to see him perform again.

7. What to Expect

"Beginning of a Great Adventure"/Lou Reed

A great song about making a family, and fantastic to hear it from Mr. Reed.

8. Spring Garden

"Forever Young"/ Bob Dylan (in all his versions)

Don't want ever to see Dylan in a retirement community, but hope he can visit them all and sing every resident this song and a million others.

9. Irreversible

"I Dream a Highway"/Gillian Welch

"I dream a highway back to you, love/a winding ribbon with a band of gold/a silver vision come and rest my soul…" One of the most haunting songs I've heard in years, and it goes on and on, and I never want it to end, and it reminds me of all the other things and feelings and people I don't want to end.

Edward Schwarzschild and The Family Diamond links:

the author's website
an excerpt from the book at Five Chapters

Chicago Tribune (pdf link)
Chronogram review
Daily Candy Philadephia review
Publishers Weekly review
Zeek review

American Jewish Life profile of the author
the author's Believer interview with William Kennedy
J. profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)