November 4, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jessica Francis Kane's debut novel The Report skillfully examines one of World War II's greatest civilian catastrophes, a London air-raid shelter stampede that claimed 173 fatalities, as well as its haunting aftermath. I rarely read or recommend historical fiction, but The Report transcends the genre with its riveting story and vivid characters in one of the year's finest literary novels.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote of the book:
"The novel is based upon a few facts and a report written about the worst civilian disaster of World War II. Kane does not give space to tedious documentation or immobilizing regret, but deftly makes a painful story whole by setting forth pitch-perfect portraits and tight scenes of candor between memorable, interlinked characters."
I have a hard time admitting to anyone the music I like, particularly popular music. I seem to be alone in this, but I know how I ended up here. In elementary school I had friends, but we were a minor constellation in the Popular Girls' universe. One day the queen of this universe, Susan Regezi, designed a popularity contest. There were four or five questions, but I only remember the last one: Who was the leader of the J. Geils band?
To this day I am astonished it is not a person named Jay Geils. Susan Regezi was not unkind, but I did not pass the test. That evening I told my mother the story and her solution, which I remember her delivering with angry indignation on my behalf, was to ask Susan the next day if she knew who wrote Beethoven's 5th Symphony?
If this were a cartoon, imagine the panel going black, the whites of my eyes large with alarm. Immediately I knew two things: My parents were no longer going to be a help to me, and it would be best from now on to hide my musical preferences.
I was raised on classical music and opera by my father, musicals and rock oldies by my mother. I had a classical training on the piano, played clarinet in a symphony band, and thought—for an inexplicably long time—that The Police really were.
You see the extent of the problem? And yet I love this Book Notes column, so here goes:
For a long time I was a short story writer confused about how to stretch a story into a novel. I had this idea that if I could get a good beginning down, a beginning that sounded later themes, I would be able to build from there. And so I listened to a lot of overtures, for encouragement and inspiration, I guess. "The Egmont" is my all-time favorite. I listen to it when I'm feeling triumphant or when I wish I were feeling triumphant. There is a part near the end, when the trombone section enters, suddenly and contrapuntally, that is divine. The Report ended up with its own overture, of sorts, but it was one of the last parts of the book to be written.
Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major
Beethoven only wrote one violin concerto, a fact I find poignant and intriguing. In The Report, Laurence Dunne, the magistrate who investigates the central tragedy of the story, loves this piece of music. I wanted Laurie to have sympathy for a work that was unique in some way so that it could serve as a metaphor for the report he writes about the accident. Late in the book, and late in Laurie's life, he cannot listen to the concerto because it reminds him too much of his own failures.
Bach's Cello Suites
I started The Report at the MacDowell Colony in May of 2004, though I had notes for a story using the material going back to 2000. My studio was Sprague-Smith and just outside my desk window there were three white birches in the woods. I stared at them and listened to Bach's Cello Suites over and over every morning for two weeks. The experience was hypnotic and grounding and helped me order my thoughts. Bach does the same for Laurie in the novel when he is trying to write the report.
Time Out, Dave Brubeck
I finished every one of those writing days at MacDowell with Time Out. But—poor Laurie—it would have been anachronistic to let him know the joy of Brubeck.
During the middle years of working on the book, I listened to the a capella Renaissance music of Desprez a lot, always at night. This is music that should not be played in the morning. It's moody and sad, evocative of other times and places, terrible for starting your day but terrific for thinking about the relentless nature of time. (Did I mention I worked on the book for 10 years?)
Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
To me there's no better, more elegant music for cocktail hour than Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. And letting yourself off the hook at the end of the day and pouring a drink is an integral part of the writing life. Right?
"Circle Dance," Bonnie Raitt
A modern alternative to the Mozart. Or sometimes Ella Fitzgerald or Norah Jones.
"Just Like the Rain," Richard Hawley
I'm a contributing writer for The Morning News and among the many treats of this are the (mostly) weekly mp3s the editors share with the writers. For me, a person hopelessly out of touch with contemporary music, it is an education. Last spring, when I was revising the novel for the umpteenth time, my TMN editor introduced me to Hawley and this song. Quite simply, I love it, and playing it over and over somehow got me to the novel's last draft.
Jessica Francis Kane and The Report links:
Beth Kephart Books review
Devourer of Books review
Erin Reads review
ForeWord Reviews review
His Futile Preoccupations.... review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Journal of Books review
Of Books and Reading review
Seeing the World Through Books review
Stiletto Storytime review
The Adams Report interview with the author
Louisville Courier-Journal essay by the author (about her influences)
The Millions essay by the author (on where she writes)
The Morning News articles by the author
Shelf Awareness interview with the author
Virginia Quarterly Review short stories by the author
Weekend Edition profile of the author
Writers on Process interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists