February 22, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Christopher Castellani's poignant and nuanced new novel, All This Talk of Love, wraps up his epic Grasso family trilogy, and has earned the author further comparisons to Jonathan Franzen.
The Boston Globe wrote of the book:
"Castellani, artistic director of Grub Street writing center in Boston, juggles multiple stories and characters with remarkable deftness, never striking a false or forced note. His evocations of the love between parents and their adult children, the bittersweetness of age, and the ambivalence of immigrants toward their old and new homes is nuanced and original."
It wasn't until putting together my playlist that I realized just how discordant a novel All This Talk of Love turned out to be. I'm quite happy about this discovery Given that I wanted this book to be about a family in constant disagreement over something or other, stuck in various eras and places in their minds, subject to sudden shifts of emotion, and exhibiting a range of sensibilities, any playlist with a consistent mood would ring false.
Beniamino Gigli, "Mamma"
When my mother first emigrated to the US in 1953, leaving her entire family behind in her village to marry a man she barely knew, her one connection home was the Radio Italia program that came on every Sunday. She'd eagerly anticipate that show, even though when they played "Mamma," as they did most weeks, the song would overwhelm her with longing for her own mother, whom she feared she'd never see again. Instead of offering her comfort, her new father-in-law would ridicule her tears and sadness until she'd run up the stairs and close herself up in her bedroom, missing the rest of the program.
Mothers are central to All This Talk of Love. The first sentence of each of the four main characters' opening sections begins with an invocation of his or her mother; and Maddalena, the matriarch of the Grasso family, is the only character who can break into the other characters' sections. I elevated the mother figure intentionally because she is so central to Italian culture. And this song brings out the affection and love for the Italian mother better than just about any song I could think of.
Frank Sinatra, "As Time Goes By"
Maddalena's daughter, Prima dances to this tune with her teenaged son Zach at his brother's confirmation party in the opening section of the novel. I chose "As Times Goes By" for this moment not only because it was appropriate for the occasion, but because the lyrics – "a kiss is still a kiss" is a fun hearkening back to my first novel, A Kiss From Maddalena, the first in the trilogy. I wanted to remind the devoted reader, subtly, that they were at that party because of a kiss that happened over fifty years ago.
The Cure, "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep"
This song doe triple duty. First: the Grassos are all insomniacs. Many of the conversations and events in the novel take place between 11PM and dawn. Second: Midway through the novel, Frankie, the youngest son, pops Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me in his CD player, gets naked, and waits for his thesis advisor to arrive for one of their passionate afternoon trysts. Though I don't name this particular song, I imagine it's playing when she arrives. And, third, of course, there's that word "kiss" again…
Wyclef Jean, "Gone ‘Till November"
This song is so awful and annoying, I can't make it to the end as hard as I try. And then that phrase, "gone till November, gone till November," sticks in my head for hours afterward. This is precisely why I chose to insert it into what is certainly the most "shocking" and surprising scene in All This Talk of Love. I needed a song that might be played at a high school or college party in the mid-90s by suburban kids who didn't have a clue what it was about; and I needed a single lyric that was unpleasant, and a little bit creepy, for Allison Grey to repeat over and over in the basement of the Buckley house...
Joni Mitchell, "Court and Spark"
In another voyeuristic scene, Frankie listens outside his mysterious housemate's bedroom door trying to figure out if the person she's rolling around with in there with is a man or a woman. Then the housemate, Anita, puts in Court and Spark (one of my favorite Joni Mitchell albums), turns up the volume, and Frankie can't hear a thing but Joni. Frankie is happy for Anita, though; she's been lonely and, he theorizes, closeted. He hopes she'll soon be able to tell him, as Joni did, "Love came to my door."
Captain & Tennille, "Love will Keep Us Together"
Joy Division, "Love Will Tear Us Apart"
Neither of these two songs appears in the novel in any form, but together they make up its central tension: will love bring the Grasso family come together, or will it split them apart? Each member of the family has a different, and often conflicting, understanding of what makes a family, and how s/he should be treated within that family, and what ‘real love' and ‘tough love' might be. The goofy joy of the Captain & Tennille perfectly captures the Grassos in their more playful moments, when they are at their best; while the somber anxiety of the Joy Division song is the perfect analogue to the Grassos in their usual state, which is more melancholy and pessimistic.
Love theme from "Cinema Paradiso"
My recommendation for those reading All This Talk of Love for the first time is to sit in a comfortable chair in your living room with a glass of good red wine and Ennio Morricone's entire soundtrack from Cinema Paradiso playing in the background. Even if you don't know that gorgeous film, the longing and nostalgia imbued in Morricone's melodies will overtake you. Granted, the novel is already brimming with nostalgia and longing, so the music might be overkill, but think of this as "extreme reading."
Domenico Modugno, "Volare"
No Italian-American experience would be complete without this ubiquitous and iconic song, and so it's the one and only song that appears in a pivotal scene – the last scene, in fact, in which the Grasso family gathers for a happy occasion. "It will never happen again, such a dream," Domenico Modugno croons, and the Grassos sing along with abandon, all those "oh oh oh"s, relieved, for a moment, from many of the burdens it's felt over the course of the past year.
Ella Fitzgerald, "Every Time We Say Goodbye"
This is very much a novel about saying goodbye: to loved ones, to traditions and rituals, to a way of life, to certain ambitions and beliefs, to long-held regrets and secrets and hopes. It's also about making sure the ones you love know you love them. "You never know if you'll get the chance to say it – "Good-bye, I love you" – again," Maddalena points out. "You never know when everything will disappear."
Christopher Castellani and All This Talk of Love links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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