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November 10, 2014

Book Notes - Brock Clarke "The Happiest People in the World"

The Happiest People in the World

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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Brock Clarke's latest novel The Happiest People in the World is a marvelously absurd literary satire.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A whiz-bang spy satire bundled in an edgy tale of redemption . . . Clarke dazzles with a dizzying study in extremes, cruising at warp speed between bleak and optimistic, laugh-out-loud funny and unbearable sadness. His comedy of errors is impossible to put down."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Brock Clarke's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Happiest People in the World:

My new novel, The Happiest People in the World, is about a Danish cartoonist who draws a controversial cartoon and whose house is burned to the ground in protest and who then fakes his own death, and, protected by CIA agents who also are history teachers, diner owners, and state forestry managers, emerges under a different name and altered physical appearance as a high school guidance counselor in upstate New York. I know what you're thinking: "No! I was going to write that book!"

Don't worry. There's plenty of room in the world for more novels just like the one I described. And while you're writing it, I hope you listen to and like these songs.

"Pray them Bars Away," by Lee Hazlewood

This song is from Hazelwood's 1970 classic album Cowboy in Sweden, and it obviously was great inspiration for the creation of one of the main characters in The Happiest People in the World, who has two names—Jens and Henry—but who also might be known as Fake Swedish Guidance Counselor in Upstate New York

"Waterloo Sunset," by the Kinks

The most beautiful, melancholy-yet-hopeful song in the history of pop music. I listened to it a lot while writing what I think is a melancholy-yet-hopeful novel.

"Don't Make Me a Target," by Spoon

My novel is full of paranoiacs—CIA agents, high on drugs high school students, their cheating parents--and I struggled throughout writing the novel with the knowledge that most paranoia is intensely boring, but this song gave me hope that you can be paranoid and catchy, both.

"Surrender," by Cheap Trick

"Mommy's all right, Daddy's all right, they just seem a little weird." Well, in my novel, they're not all right, and they're more than just a little weird. They aspire to being all right and just to be a little weird. Me, too.

This is the song I wish was playing on the bar jukeboxes during all the underage benders of my youth. In fact, what was playing on those bar jukeboxes was probably the poet Seger and his awful "Turn the Page." But the bars, and my childhood, would have been much better if it had been "Surrender."

"The Needle Has Landed," by Neko Case

"If I knew then what's so obvious now, you'd still be here, baby." This is the song that pretty much all the characters in my novel would be singing to each other if they were lucky enough to know this incredible song.

"Mess Me Around," by the Babies

This is not the bad John Waite fronted band (spelled "The Babys") of my youth. This is the fantastic young band of my middle age, once that speaks to a lot of the youthful frustration and gobsmackedness in The Happiest People in the World through the immortal lines, "You're a dumb fuck, you fucking idiot. You're a dumb fuck, you fucking piece of shit."

"Myriad Harbour," by the New Pornographers

Another beautiful, haunting, yet hopeful song, full of humor, full of longing. Dan Bejar asks the question "Is this anything in particular I can help you with?" and then answers thusly "The only thing I wanted help with was you" and that's the answer most of my characters would give, too, if they were lucky enough to be Dan Bejar

"It's Summer Here," by the Ass Ponys

My novel is set in the hinterlands, in two hinterlands in two continents, and this song is the anthem for people who end up living where most other people do not live, and would not want ever want to live. I love this band, this song, those places.

Brock Clarke and The Happiest People in the World links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Boston Globe review
Portland Press Herald review
Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review

Boston Globe profile of the author
GQ interview with the author
Kirkus profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

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

List of Online "Best of 2014" Book Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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guest book reviews
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musician/author interviews
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weekly music release lists