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April 6, 2011

Book Notes - Jim Krusoe ("Toward You")

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

JIm Krusoe once again proves himself a master of dialogue, sublime wit, and unforgettable characters in Toward You, the final book in his trilogy of novels that includes Erased and Girl Factory.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"The final installment in a trilogy by the California writer, following Erased (2009) and Girl Factory (2008), this is a masterpiece of deadpan absurdism that recalls the domestic works of Thomas Berger.

A seriously strange, funny and affecting novel about imagining another life while being stuck in this one."

In his own words, here is Jim Krusoe's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Toward You:

Unlike my previous novel, Erased, where the musical impulse of the book was dictated more or less by me, the music of Toward You has its origins in the characters themselves. The results, I'm sorry to report, are that the play list for this book ranges from the very good to the completely reprehensible. In brief, Toward You is the story of a guy, Bob, who tries to contact a dead girl, Dee Dee, in order to restart a relationship with her mom. Here's the list:

"I'll Be There" by The Jackson 5

Bob has their poster on his wall, and, I suppose, to him the phrase, "I'll be there," represents some sort of fidelity he hopes to emulate. Maybe he hopes it will even overshadow the fact that he's probably responsible for Dee Dee's death in the first place. I don't know that he actually listens to this song (I sort of hope not), but there the poster is hanging, right next to the one of old Roman roads, reminding him of better days and a supposedly brighter future, too.

"Carnival of the Animals" by Saint-Saens

This is the other song Bob actually references in the novel, not so much because he loves it, but because he's trying to throw Steadman, the detective who is bent on arresting him for crimes he didn't commit, off his track. I remember this particular piece of music because in my third grade class we performed it to a record and I got to hold up a paper cut-out of a swan which I moved back and forth on a tiny cardboard stage as that section of the piece was played. I had wanted the lion instead.

"The Door" by George Jones

In addition to Bob the human, there is also a dead dog who shares the name of Bob. This canine Bob likes George Jones' voice in almost anything, but specifically the lyrics of this song, where "the closing of the door" reminds him of the many times his owner, Dennis, who was off being stoned somewhere, forgot to take him for walks, and Bob would have to lie there in front of the door for hours, trying not to pee.

"Light My Fire" by The Doors

Is it a coincidence that doors figure in the favorite songs of both the dog and his owner? I don't know, but certainly the fact that Dennis is a pyromaniac is part of it his love for this number. More than the actual lyrics however ("The time to hesitate is through"), it's the particular stoned quality of The Doors in general, combined with their undercurrent of violence, that attracts Dennis to the group's music.

"Hey There, You with the Stars in Your Eyes" by Rosemary Clooney

This one is Yvonne, Dee Dee's mother's, favorite song, maybe because its so sappy and full of yearning. Yvonne actually had a whole chapter in the book where she sang the song to herself, and then a bathroom mirror talked back to her and gave her advice. My editors wisely forced me to remove it, but Yvonne still likes the song. She hums it when she's alone.

"You Are My Sunshine" by Mississippi John Hurt

The greatest version of a sweet great song, and Hurt makes it heartbreaking, as well. Yvonne used to sing "You Are My Sunshine" to Dee Dee, so this is the song that Dee Dee remembers after she is dead. Just where Yvonne heard this version is hard to say. It must have been from somebody she dated in college, but certainly not Bob, it being way over his head, musically speaking.

"Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music original soundtrack album

If there's a villain in this novel it's Howard Bonano, the former head of the Mind/Body Institute where Bob and Yvonne first met many years ago. Bonano is a rapist and embezzler, and has been in prison for at least seven years at the time of this novel. Had the parole board known about "Edelweiss," they probably would have kept him locked up for another seventy. And would have been right to do so.

"Moon River" by Andy Williams

This is another song that's sort of a drag, but it's a favorite of Steadman, the policeman in pursuit of Bob. Steadman likes a mellow sound because it reduces the stress he feels chasing criminals, and in the easy-listening genre "Moon River" is one of his favorites, not only for its blood-clotting slowness, but for its promise of "crossing it in style" even though the river itself is "wider than a mile." How one can cross such a tributary "in style," is a source of constant speculation to Steadman, as is the question of how exactly a river of this magnitude has managed to go undetected by cartographers.

"Glory Box" by Portishead

Dee Dee's third grade teacher, Miss Zachman, does what she can for her students but sometimes has to admit, she gets discouraged over the unworkable class size and the poor attitudes of her students' parents. Here is a woman, I think, who is much too classy to be spending the rest of her life teaching third grade, and I wish her well. In life, Dee Dee loved her. I did too, because Miss Zachman was the name of my own third grade teacher.

"Helenenmarsch" by German Military Marches
Farley is Bob's interfering next-door neighbor, and a taxidermist, to boot. He likes the cheerful quality of this march, along with the added bonus of its implied threat to crush all that comes before it. Farley also thinks the Nazi had by far the best-looking uniforms.

"Frodo, Don't Wear the Ring" by Flight of the Conchords

George, the desk officer at the police station where Steadman takes Bob, is a big fan of Lord of the Rings, and he couldn't agree more. He's beginning to reconsider his career in law enforcement. Maybe he'll open a comic book store, he thinks, or a tanning salon.

Jim Krusoe and Toward You links:

Wikipedia entry for the author

Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for his novel Erased
Skylight Books guest post by the author
The Page 69 Test guest post by the author
Tin House guest post by the author
Tin House interview with the author
Writers Read guest post by 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)
musician/author interviews
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