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February 13, 2017

Book Notes - Sari Wilson "Girl Through Glass"


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.

Sari Wilson's debut Girl Through Glass is one of the finest New York City novels I have read, a compelling book where sense of place is integral to the coming-of-age story.

The Los Angeles Review of Books wrote of the book:

"Masterful…Wilson’s New York City imagery is applied exquisitely and dynamically…In the end, the well-honed story line of Girl Through Glass is not unlike a certain kind of stylized psychological ballet, á la Antony Tudor, with heightened characters dancing along dire boundaries. Powerfully stark."

In her own words, here is Sari Wilson's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Girl Through Glass:

This playlist is a combination of songs that appeared (or, at one point, appeared) in Girl Through Glass, and pieces of music that I listened to while writing, looking for clues to time, place, character—for a way in. Together I hope they create a mood, and also a kind of narrative. The permissions process for song lyrics is quite onerous and a number of lyrics ended up on the cutting room floor. It's nice to invite them back here.

"Mandy" by Barry Manilow, 1974

At one point this song was in the novel. I can't remember exactly how it was used, but it was something like this: Oh, Mandy! they wail, as they tumble out of Carnegie Hall, their pocket money in the back pockets of their Jordache and Sassoon jeans, down a midtown street, the business people moving out of their way with annoyed glances. You came and you gave without takin'! At this moment, they feel something like demigods, half dancers and half girls, belonging to two worlds at once and so not having to observe the rules of either. "But I sent you away," moans Mira. "Fuck you," says Val and then they laugh and hit each other. Mira doesn't usually curse, she is too invested in her own goodness even then.

This is before, before her dad left, before everything.

"MacArthur Park" by Donna Summer, 1978

This song, too, was once in the novel. Donna Summer's voice blasted you out of yourself, out of your childhood. Her voice was full of strange and unknowable things—a cake, in the rain, in the park melting in the dark. Mira, Haijuan, Val, and the other girls others dare each to belt the song out—MacArthur Park is melting in the dark!—at the top of their lungs as they are getting ready for ballet class. Their Keds are off, their jeans down by their ankles, their leotards not yet pulled up. The ballet mothers look over disapprovingly, knitting and frowning. They girls sing out even louder—I'll never have that recipe again!—just to piss the mothers off.

A Chorus Line: "One" by Marvin Hamlisch, et. al., 1975

Mira's mother has commandeered "One," the most iconic of the A Chorus Line show tunes for herself. Since Mira's dad has left, her mom is frighteningly pleased with herself. Her mom is redecorating the living room. She is replacing chairs with throw cushions. Her mom is singing "One singular sensation/every little step she takes," off key. Mira plugs her ears.

Scherzo No. 1 in B minor by Frédéric Chopin, 1831-1832

Mira follows Maurice through the Manhattan streets. She insists on being an actor in her story, even if it leads to nothing good. The clouds are white, split-open looking, a storm has just past. At the entrance to Central Park, by some monument or other, Maurice turns, confronts her, asks her directly, with a small unreadable smile, if she has been following him. She does not have to say yes.

Romeo and Juliet Ballet: Dance of the Knights, Sergei Prokofiev, 1935

Mira and Maurice at Café des Artistes. Mira has been selected by the great Balanchine to study at his school. This is a pinnacle moment for young Mira, this 13-year old ballet girl, raised in privilege and pain. And also for her consort, and a wealthy middle aged man who favors capes and ascots. When I understand the destructiveness of their bond, I seek out this inescapable, propulsive Prokovief juggernaut and think, "Right. Exactly."

Piano Concerto no.2 op.18 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1900-1901

Mira walks through Central Park after she's been stood up by Maurice. The taxis rush by her, a blur of yellow, tires and swift metal, a plunge into darkness under the overpass, smells of piss, sweet and acrid. The violins swell through her new Walkman headphones as she passes out of the park onto Fifth Avenue. The stately stone buildings greet her. She pushes on East. She will find out what happened to him.

The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
Written for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. The original choreography for the ballet was by Vaslav Nijinsky.

How many times did I listen to "The Rite of Spring" while trying to get into Kate's head? Kate, in her opening scene, is preparing for her lecture on the birth of Modernism, this historical moment which has great personal meaning for her. I can see her in her simple study, at her glass desk, pushing back her unruly red hair while she works on her notes. She has always been a nervous over-achiever, going so deep into her work that she forgets herself. She moves to her ochre chair, cuing her laptop to a pirated DVD of a performance of Le Sacre du Printemps. The sunset is long gone.

"All of the Lights" by Kanye West, 2010

I listened to this one often, late at night, when editing the book. That was the year we spent in Michigan. The trees outside were so green they looked blue. It snowed, off and on, until May.

Sari Wilson and Girl Through Glass links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus Reviews review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Boston Globe profile of the author
Chicago Review of Books interview with the author
CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author
Writer's Bone interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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