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August 17, 2012

Book Notes - Miranda Mellis "The Spokes"

The Spokes

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Solid Objects continues its streak of publishing impressive short volumes with Miranda Mellis's magnificent novella The Spokes.

Kevin Brockmeier wrote of the book:

"The Spokes is as elegant as it is daring, as arresting as it is mysterious. It seems to me a truly timeless story, which is to say not only that it removes itself from time--though it does--but that its pleasures, enigmas, and meanings ought to be as accessible fifty or a hundred years from now as they are today."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Miranda Mellis's Book Notes music playlist for her novella, The Spokes:

"It's My Delight" by The Melodians

"It's My Delight" is being played at the beginning of The Spokes as the narrator embarks on a ferry to cross over a mythic river to the afterworld. "It's My Delight" by The Melodians is a rocksteady song, good for going forth with. You could dance your way to the other side of anything with this tune: "It's only a matter of time." The musicians from the ferry wander, playing music in front of stations where the dead congregate. The stations are named after and are presided over by a range of paintings. At the Lautrec "station," named after the painting At the Moulin Rouge, I imagine they play the Cancan music heard at the Moulin Rouge cabaret in the early 1900s. Or perhaps they're rendering songs from Baz Luhrman's 2001 musical Moulin Rouge, with its re-up of Labelle's 1974 hit "Lady Marmalade." I hear all sound in the story as chaotically layered. The voices of the dead, for example, sound like an orchestra tuning ("like crying, and a drill, and a xylophone, a chorus of one").

"Lover's Holiday" by Peggy Scott

Later the musicians play "Lover's Holiday," a Peggy Scott song about romantic longing. The chorus croons, "maybe we can slip away." That's one way that people describe dying: she slipped away. Slipping and falling are central in The Spokes. Like "Lover's Holiday," the story is propelled by longing for a reunion that will require "slipping away" to an afterworld that has the hallmarks of a holiday, or a festival, with music, paintings, and films.

In The Spokes, the dead suffer from being driven, as if still alive, without the rationale that life would seem to provide for being driven. Being dead feels similar to being alive, only because it is death, the habits of life make no sense. What may have seemed normal in life – rushing forward to do this or that – is incoherent in death. In the story, music, films (dreams of the living), and paintings could help the dead to "wake up" to "where" "they" "are." Through acts of attention something else might become possible, a different becoming, or un-becoming.

Our dying processes are pretty random. But for ten thousand years, human traditions have seen fit to include specific aural instructions, music, sounds, and other types of ritual equipment for the dead, so that they don't get confused and "lost." They say that when people are dying, hearing is the very last sense to go. What we are given to listen to and the capacity to listen are important to what is central to this story, "learning how to die."

Miranda Mellis and The Spokes links:

the author's website

3:AM review

The Believer interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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