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July 8, 2016

Book Notes - Rikki Ducornet "Brightfellow"


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.

Rikki Ducornet's novel Brightfellow is surreal and vivid, and cements her status as one of the most talented writers working today.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Bursting with vivid imagery, beautiful language, heartbreaking characters, and the striking perspective of an emotionally stunted man in a carefully controlled society, Ducornet's tale is unique and captivating."

In her own words, here is Rikki Ducornet's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Brightfellow:

If my new novel, Brightfellow, is not exactly autobiographical, it does take place on the Bard College campus where my father taught social philosophy, and where I grew up. He was Cuban—as was his mother; his father was Viennese. My father suffered chronic nostalgia for a Vienna he had not known.bIf prodded he would sing songs from The Fledermaus with great feeling:

When we are gone,
Where do we go?
Below! Below! Below!
We will meet everyone that we know
Below! Below! Below!

He also loved Caribbean music--not just the music of Cuba, but everything and above all the music of Trinidad. He had a fantastic collection of Folkways records, including Lord Invader -–who I resembled. When my grandmother—and her name was Emelina Carmen Dionysia —admitted to an African ancestor, I knew why.

Lord Invader, hold me tight
Squeeze me with all your might!
I won’t tell me mother
I went romancing with
Lord Invader.

At the age of eight I knew this was ribald somehow and pondered. It occurred to me that Lord Invader possibly referred not just to the singer, but to the singer’s penis. And there was the hilarious "Macbeth The Great":

Hold him Joe,
Hold him Joe,
Hold him Joe,
But don’t let hom go…
…When me donkey want water
Hold him Joe!
Better hide your daughter!

It continues:

Some say me donkey is bad
Because he came from Trinidad…

I was curious about my African ancestor who I knew had been a slave. But the always existentially compromised (she was a racist) Emelina Carmen Dionysia regretted the leak and had clammed up. Because I could not find out more, I listened very attentively to my father’s records for clues. And when I stumbled upon Atilla the Hun’s song called "Professor Carver" I became very excited. It was a great thing to be Negro, a thing I already knew because I was growing up in a fully integrated campus. But I also knew outside things were very different. And then there was the question of my grandmother’s uncanny shame…

Mourn every Negro mourn
Professor Carver is dead and gone.
Mourn every Negro mourn,
Professor Carver is dead and gone…
…He was an honor to his race,
For although born in advesity
He became the wizard of Biology…
… The first Aborigine Biology!

I loved this song, dearly. It was something like a call to arms. I informed Emelina Carmen Dionysia that a Negro was responsible for the peanut butter in her sandwhich.


When you are a child of eight or so, nothing is funnier than hearing Lord Kitchener sing "Sugar Bum Bum." Or Sir Lancelot sing "Ugly Woman":

If you want to be happy and live a king’s life,
Never make a pretty woman your wife…
…from a logical point of view,
Always marry a woman uglier than you!

The Caribbean which was so wondrously tangible during my childhood shows up in Brightfellow in the shape of a phantasmagorically questionable and erotically stimulating collection of Jamaican stamps. In such ways do novels upend the writer’s own story.

Rikki Ducornet and Brightfellow links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Deep Zoo
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Netsuke
PowellsBooks.Blog essay by the author
Publishers Weekly profile of the author
Victoria Advocate profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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

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