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July 12, 2016

Book Notes - Maryse Meijer "Heartbreaker"


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.

The stories in Maryse Meijer's debut collection Heartbreaker are dark, fierce, and sharply drawn.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"[Meijer] reaches into the darkest parts of the human psyche where sexuality, vulnerability, and violence commingle and simmer . . . Beneath these incendiary premises, the characters' relationships engender genuine empathy; Meijer is extraordinarily adept at tapping into a well of existential loneliness brought on by civilization’s tendency and shame."

In her own words, here is Maryse Meijer's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Heartbreaker:

I'm always making playlists for the projects I'm working on. I don't use music so much as a soundtrack for my own work as inspiration, something that helps create the work, not merely accompany it. Painting, film, and photography work the same way for me; of course, I take a lot of inspiration from other writers, but what I'm most interested in—a mood, an atmosphere, a feeling—is sometimes best expressed in non-verbal, or not purely verbal, genres. One thing I admire about music is the economy of the form; a four-minute song can do as much storytelling as a thirty-page story; a few chords can instantly create a mood that will energize, excite, terrify, seduce. When I'm trying to figure out how to do this with words—and I always am—I look to music for help.

Some of the stories in Heartbreaker were directly inspired by songs: "Rapture" grew out of a line from Moonface's "Yesterday's Fire" about two people breaking dishes; I wrote around an image of a broken white plate. The Knife's "Still Light" has a story I wish someone would write about—I couldn't quite crack the lyrics, but the mood of the music grew into the mood of "Fugue." And Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" probably inspired 90% of the stories I write, as the image of this love-sick loner obsessing over an unattainable girl blasted my brain cells at a very early age.

While I do work with/to/from a lot of music with lyrics, it's usually the sound of a song, not its "story," that speaks to me. Thomas Ades' "Darkness Visible," a piece for piano based on a John Dowland song, which in turn was based on a 17th century poem, sums up both an atmosphere I wanted to create with some of the stories and an idea about how all art comes from other art; creative fragments passed down from work to work, artist to artist, genre to genre. I'd known and loved the Dowland song for many years before I heard Ades' piece, and the ghostly echoes of the Dowland speaking through Ades' piano gave me chills. In the same way, I hope that certain echoes of the art I love—be it a photograph, a moment from a film, an idea from a song—are "visible" in my own work.

The other lyric-less piece on my list, Charles Ives' "Unanswered Question," was used for a Balanchine ballet that featured a dancer who never touched the ground—she hovers in the air, held aloft by black-clad men who struggle beneath her while another man tries—and fails—to get a hold of her. (Maybe it's the classical version of Bruce Sprinsteen's "I'm on Fire.") I listened to the Ives all through the many years it took to write Heartbreaker, and that image of the dancer floating above the mass of men is all bound up with it, too—the music, like the ballet, is half beautiful melody, half discordant nightmare, and it's the nightmare that interests me, and informed so many of the stories.

"Lions on the Loose," by The Mondal Family, resonates not just because the mood of the song captured the life I imagined the protagonist of "Heartbreaker" inhabits, but because the song itself was written by a band that didn't seem to exist. My twin heard the song on a soundtrack for the movie Tran, but when we looked for more information on the internet about where to find their music, we got zilch. Recently they put up an entire album online, but the version from the film is still not available. The mystery and elusiveness of that song in an age where everything is instantly accessible, is a big part of its appeal.

Heartbreaker is mostly about romantic obsessions gone a bit wrong, so most of the songs on this list reflect that preoccupation. The Zombies' song, "The Way I Feel Inside," is cute and earnest but also a bit creepy (what's up with the coin dropping a the end?), another effect I tried to adopt in my own work. EMA's "Marked" ups the creep factor by a thousand, as does Friends' "Friend Crush." Two of the songs on the list had specific lines that mirrored some ideas in the stories: "Clowns," by Goldfrapp, opens with "Only clowns would play with those balloons/What you want to look like Barbie for?" It's a song about breast implants, but the idea of someone wanting something that is actually a bit freakish or extreme, something that doesn't appeal to others, spoke to me and to these stories, as did Beth Gibbons' cover of "Candy Says," when she sings "What do you think I'd see/If I could walk away from me?" in that trembly falsetto teetering on the edge of collapse. That edge is the exact place I want to get to as a writer; if my stories could sing like Beth Gibbons, I'd be thrilled.

Home—Charles Ives, "The Unanswered Question"
Love, Lucy—Thomas Ades, "Darkness Visible"
Heartbreaker—The Mondal Family, "Lions on the Loose"
Stiletto—EMA, "Marked"
Shop Lady—Friends, "Friend Crush"
The Fire—The Zombies, "The Way I Feel Inside"
Fugue—The Knife, "Still Light"
Jailbait—Father John Misty, "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"
Whole Life Ahead—Fever Ray, "Stranger Than Kindness" (cover of a Nick Cave song)
The Daddy—Goldfrapp, "Clowns"
Rapture—Moonface, "Yesterday's Fire"
Stones—Beth Gibbons, "Candy Says"
The Cheat—Bruce Springsteen, "I'm on Fire"

Maryse Meijer and Heartbreaker links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

FSG Originals interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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