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April 21, 2016

Book Notes - Jeff Zentner "The Serpent King"

The Serpent King

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

Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King is one of the year's finest YA novels, an impressive debut.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Characters, incidents, dialogue, the poverty of the rural South, enduring friendship, a desperate clinging to strange faiths, fear of the unknown, and an awareness of the courage it takes to survive, let alone thrive, are among this fine novel's strengths. Zentner writes with understanding and grace—a new voice to savor."

In his own words, here is Jeff Zentner's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Serpent King:

"Love Will Tear Us Apart"--Joy Division
This song plays a small but crucial role in the book. It's Lydia’s favorite song and therefore becomes one of Dill's favorite songs. It shows that Lydia is not one to just listen to whatever's on the radio. Also, through it we see how Dill has to figure out how to turn the names of normal bands into Christian bands on the spot when his mom asks.

"True Faith"--New Order
This song isn't specifically mentioned in the book, but New Order is, and I imagine Dill citing this song as an example that New Order is actually a Christian band.

"Serpents"--Sharon Van Etten
This is a gorgeous song about inner turmoil and demons. Sharon Van Etten spent some of her formative musical years in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a city that figures into The Serpent King. Her songwriting is similar to how I imagine Dill's would sound.

"Night Sky"--Chvrches
There's more than one pivotal scene in the book in which the characters are looking up at the night sky and reflecting on life and their place in the world. Chvrches is the kind of band Lydia would love--they're dark, intelligent, soulful, and romantic and their lead singer is exactly the kind of woman Lydia would have a crush on. And thus Dill would love them too.

Ditto everything I said about Chvrches above, plus this song speaks of breaking free from places, one of the biggest themes in The Serpent King.

"Jacksonville Skyline"--Whiskeytown
This is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever written about small town life. This song pulls my heart out. I tried to write The Serpent King so it read the way this song sounds. "I was born in an abundance of inherited sadness." Damn. That line.

This song sounds to me like finally coming to terms with faith--triumphant and soaring. Listen to this song as you read the last page of the book.

"Follow Your Arrow"--Kacey Musgraves
The character Travis is fairly indifferent to music for the most part. He likes his buddy Dill's songs, and that’s about it. But this song describes him perfectly. No matter what forces are arrayed against him, he follows his own arrow where it leads.

"Myth"--Beach House
This song makes me think of identity and the myths we built around and about ourselves. Identity is hugely important in The Serpent King.

"A World Alone"--Lorde
This song sounds to me like summer. Plus Lorde really reminds me of Lydia. In fact, a fictionalized version of Lorde ended up in the book.

"Cold Valley Rain"--Matt Bauer
This song is like “Jacksonville Skyline” in that it reminds me of small towns. It has a poetry to it that reminds me of Dill's worldview.

"All the Rope"--Michael Rank and Stag
This song sounds to me like how Dill feels about Lydia.

"Wayward Sire"--Pale Houses
This song reminds me of what I think Dill’s songwriting would sound like. And it's a song about wayward fathers, something Dill knows something about.

This song sounds to me like surviving personal demons. Imagine this song playing as Dill leaves the prison after visiting his father for the last time.

"Sprained Ankle"--Julien Baker
She wasn’t one of the models for Dill since she came up after I’d written the book, but she certainly resembles him. She's 19 and goes to MTSU.

"Cold Front"--Hammock
I hope The Serpent King reads like how this song sounds. Plus this is a Nashville band.

"Bleed for You"--Jeff Zentner
Sorry, but I had to. This song is how Dill feels about Lydia.

Jeff Zentner and The Serpent King links:

the author's website

Buffalo News review
Guardian review
Kirkus review
Nashville Scene review
Publishers Weekly review

Asheville Citizen-Times profile of the author
Mashable interview with the author
Mountain Xpress profile of the author
School Library Journal interview with the author
The Tennessean 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

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)