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February 12, 2016

Book Notes - Kathy Page "Frankie Styne and the Silver Man"

Frankie Styne and the Silver Man

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kathy Page's imaginative and crisply written Frankie Styne and the Silver Man is one of the creepiest novels I have ever read.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Exquisite …[Page's] favored themes are here—the stark dichotomies of life, the power of language, the way the social system tries and fails to help people, and how saving grace can come from unseen places … A fierce writer; her relentless imagination and pure writing skills bring a broken, nightmare world fully to life."

Stream this playlist at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Kathy Page's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Frankie Styne and the Silver Man:

"Incubator" by Underworld

Monsters, hybrids and extraordinary beings of all kinds are an abiding interest of mine and so it's only natural that Frankie Styne and the Silver Man, especially in one of its later scenes, pays oblique homage to Mary Shelley's groundbreaking novel about a scientist and his botched creation. Shelley's novel was dramatized soon after its first publication, and the first movie of the book was made as early as 1910; many adaptations have since followed. Not so long ago I was able to watch, in the tiny cinema on the island where I live, a brilliant National Theatre Live production with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. The play begins with the creature emerging from an artificial womb and Underworld's "Incubator," by turns tentative and violent, plays as the audience watches the monster take his first steps.

"Nothing Compares 2U" by Sinead O'Connor

While Frankenstein strives to create artificial life, women create new beings all the time. Pregnancy and birth are often referred to as "miraculous," but there can be a fair amount of horror, suffering and ambivalence involved. Frankie Styne and the Silver Man comes out in North America this year, but I wrote it in back in the UK in 1990, when Sinead O'Connor was launching her career with the heartbreaking "Nothing Compares 2U," a song which because of the powerful simplicity of it's refrain still seems to me to encapsulate the myopic intensity of the bereft lover. My own love life at the time was chaotic and I was years away from being settled enough to have a child, but as is the peculiar way of things I found myself writing about a teenage runaway who becomes the mother of a newborn with special needs. I only experienced, much later, as a mother at the opposite end of the age spectrum, something of what I put this young woman, Liz Meredith, through.

"Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna
"Eat for Two" by 10,000 Maniacs

Liz does not triumphantly chose motherhood – or even chose it at all – and though she'd certainly appreciate the rebellious energy of Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach," "Eat for Two," by 10,000 Maniacs, a brave and honest song about teenage pregnancy, comes far closer to her initial experience, and makes great use of nursery rhymes to convey the shock of finding herself home to another person:

"Well, the egg man fell down off his shelf

All the good King's men with all their help

Struggled 'til the end for a shell they couldn't mend

You know where this will lead

To hush and rock in the nursery
For the kicking one inside of me..."

"Life on Mars?" by David Bowie
"Cardigan Weather" by Meg and Dia

Liz has to find her own way to fall in love with her child. She talks to her baby, as all mothers do, but she doesn't do the ordinary kind of chat. She figures that since she can't be understood, it doesn't so much matter what she says. She has watched a lot of films and TV and has a playful, if sometimes dark, imagination. She likes to avoid thinking about the situation she's in, and so she makes up fantasies about other worlds and extraterrestrial visitors. While it's hard to chose a particular song by the late and spectacular David Bowie, who so frequently mined the space traveller theme, "Life on Mars?" perhaps meshes best with Liz's story. I see her in Bowie's girl with the mousy hair, "hooked to the silver screen" and hungry for a new story. And I know Liz would appreciate Meg & Dia's "Cardigan Weather," which, despite the innocuous title and the perky tone in which it is sung, concerns a revenge killing in which an unfaithful lover is murdered and sewn into a mattress, on top of which his ex proposes to have sex.

"Hope There's Someone" by Antony and the Johnsons

Frankie Styne and the Silver Man plays with genre and with certain archetypical story tropes, such as that moment (maddening, I find) when a young woman foolishly walks into a monster's lair. But ultimately, it is a story about our need for connection and love, and for others to witness our lives, despite all the problems our less-than-perfect relationships sometimes bring. "Hope There's Someone" expresses this perfectly and so far as I'm concerned, there's no other voice like Antony's: so emotional and tender, so perfectly pitched.

Kathy Page and Frankie Styne and the Silver Man links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus review
Toronto Star review
Vancouver Sun review

The Malahat Review interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)