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October 24, 2016

Book Notes - Courtney Elizabeth Mauk "The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things"

The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things

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.

Courtney Elizabeth Mauk's novel The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things is compelling and poignant.

Kirkus wrote of the book:


In her own words, here is Courtney Elizabeth Mauk's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things:

I've long had a fascination with missing person cases. I think this interest originates in the seeming implausibility that anyone can disappear, especially now, in our over connected age. But it does happen. People are taken; people decide to leave on their own accord; people slip through the cracks. And what of those left behind? How do they cope with a loss that may or may not be final? How do they mourn and keep hope at the same time?

These questions are central to my third novel, The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things. The Bauers—mother, father, and son—are struggling after the disappearance of twenty-year-old Jennifer. For a year, the remaining Bauers have been holding still, waiting for Jennifer to return or her body to be found, but now they are set in motion, each member unraveling down a separate path.

Writing their story meant going to some very dark places. Music served, as it often does, as a catalyst, helping me channel the emotion and amplifying the mood.

"Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush

And if I only could

I'd make a deal with God

And I'd get him to swap our places

Be running up that road

Be running up that hill

Be running up that building

This is the song of the book—I wanted the chorus to be the epigraph. Around the time I started thinking about these characters, I heard the Placebo cover of "Running Up That Hill" at a lot of parties. In clubs and apartments all over New York City, I was getting a little too drunk while this song soaked through my skin, turning my mind maudlin. Later, as the story crystalized, I switched to the original Kate Bush. Her voice became the voice of the mother, Carol. While this song is for all the Bauers, it's especially for Carol, her sincere wish that she could trade places with her daughter and the extreme lengths to which she is wiling to go to make that happen.

"Laughing With" by Regina Spektor

No one's laughing at God

When it's gotten real late and their kid's not back from the party yet

Tragedy always happens to someone else. The Bauers' lives were chugging along, full of little dramas and slights, all the petty baggage of family, when Jennifer disappeared and everything changed. Now, in the aftermath, they are left in an altered reality. Carol avoids the grocery store, unable to make small talk with the moms from the neighborhood, who don't know what to say to her. The father, Drew, skips work, while the brother, Ben, shuts down at school, taking solace outside of it in Jennifer's friends. The Bauers remember who they used to be, what life used to be like, but they can never return to that innocent state.

"You Said Something" by PJ Harvey

I see five bridges

The Empire State Building

And you said something

That I've never forgotten

The magic and import of a New York City night. "You Said Something" is Jennifer's secret song, a view into the life her family didn't have access to, the life she was creating on her own. It's also Carol and Drew's song, a relic of their own youth, when they were falling in love and the city held so much promise.

"Wake Me Up" by Avicii

Feeling my way through the darkness

Guided by a beating heart

I can't tell where the journey will end

But I know where to start

This song is for fifteen-year-old Ben. Within the family, he had the closest relationship with Jennifer, and because of this connection, he has a deeper understanding of what has happened to her. Isolated from his parents, he creates his own ways to cope, turning to Jennifer's best friend, Sandra, whom he watches with the forgiving eyes of a first love. Sandra takes him under her wing and out into the night, where, with some chemical help, he is able to let go of his grief and, briefly, live the uninhibited joy of youth.

"I'm Your Man" by Leonard Cohen

I've been running through these promises to you
That I made and I could not keep

This one's for Drew. He is the provider of the family and views himself as the leader, the protector. Yet throughout her adolescence, Jennifer and Drew butted heads, causing riffs in his relationship with Carol, and he feels that he doesn't know his son. Although Drew loves his family, he isn't good at expressing it and his many failures sting. He feels he's failed Jennifer most of all, and so, as penance, he shoulders the responsibility of Jennifer's loss, talking to the police and press, acting as a solid, stoic rock for his family, doing anything he can to save what remains.

"Let Go" by Frou Frou

So, let go, let go

Just get in

Oh, it's so amazing here

It's all right

'cause there's beauty in the breakdown

I gave birth to my first child while revising The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things, and "Let Go" was on my labor playlist. I remember pushing to this song. Its refrain helped me surrender when I most needed to. After becoming a mother, I looked at the book differently; I understood Carol and Drew's loss much more sharply. There's extraordinary beauty and pain in parenthood, and sometimes surrendering to both is all you can do.

Courtney Elizabeth Mauk and The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things links:

the author's website
the author's blog

Kirkus review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Orion's Daughters

also at Largehearted Boy:

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