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August 18, 2017

Book Notes - Caitlin Hamilton Summie "To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts"

To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts

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.

Caitlin Hamilton Summie's To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts is an impressive short fiction collection that quietly explores themes of place and loss.

Foreword Reviews wrote of the book:

"What is remembered; what is missed; what will never be again . . . all these are addressed with the tenderness of a wise observer whose heart is large enough, kind enough, to embrace them all without judgment. . . . intense and finely crafted . . . . her stories reach into the hidden places of the heart and break them open to healing light, offering a touch of grace and hope of reconciliation."

In her own words, here is Caitlin Hamilton Summie's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts:

I don't write to songs. I write when I have time—at night, on weekends—and the music I hear as I write is kids laughing or bickering or throwing back the door and dashing through the house. TV. Cars revving up the hill in front of our house—and the school bus wheezing its way to the top. Lawn mowers. My husband typing in his office space. Birdsong.

My short story collection is about geography, about how where we live shapes us, but it's also about the landscape of loss and hope—what boundaries separate us and how we learn to walk across them.

The following playlist is for or from my characters, story by story.

The lyrics of some songs sometimes might be intended for lovers, and my stories are not about lovers, but the overall themes of the music/songs speak to my characters' conflicts. And my characters would change a few lyrics to fit their lives anyway.


The opening piece in the soundtrack to Dances with Wolves by composer John Barry would remind Dorothy of the kinds of classical music that seems to be in so many WWII movies. She'd be able to imagine, as she listens, the men posing for photos, then the planes flying off, high into the clouds. And those sad, high violin notes would be her father—the handsome, tall one in the back row with the cigarette almost falling out of his mouth because of his wide smile. He was the navigator, but he did not find his way home. He was the one whose plane became the fireball that tore open her heart.


If there was ever a song John needed—he who returns home after a two year absence to the loss of the sister he deeply loved—it is "Shine" by Mondo Cozmo. Oh, if he could just let it all go. But he can't. As a boy, he lost his mother. Sunk by his own grief, his older brother turned away from him. And now his sweet sister, Lonnie, is gone. How can one family attract so much lightning? John doesn't know. There is a lot he doesn't understand. No one talked to him about handling death and loss so it's awfully frickin' hard to let go. But, oh, if he could…The one thing he does know, though, is who is he is, and what goodbye means to him, and he is going to do his best to honor what is most beautiful in himself by creating a goodbye that he feels honors what was best in Lonnie.


American Mars, "Better Angels." Jenny yearns to escape the close, small community of women that raised her, then gets to the big city after college and realizes she isn't as strong as she thought. She's inclined to keep trying to establish roots, until she faces real trouble. Then she realizes her champions are back home. Her family will always let her go—but open the door wide if she wants to circle back, no questions asked, even Earl, so new to the family he shines.


American Mars, "If Monday Were Mine." If George could regain his sense of self, then maybe, maybe he could handle the rest. But his spirit is as damaged as his body. For now, he relies on being stubborn and on his dog, Jack, and his drink, sometimes also Jack.


Knots & Crosses, "Creatures of Habit."

"One night, no warnin', you walked away, the light come mornin', do you like it that way?"

"I reach out my empty hands, but all I touch is air."

Inter-generational conflict, all over how we are to be remembered. Who has the right to tell the family history? Which version is the truth? And why does the truth hurt so much more if other people know?


"I Still Believe" by The Call. What father doesn't hope? Aren't the fathers in this story hoping—to reconnect? To survive financially? To live?

Nothing is promised, little is fair, but God help them, the Kvists—failing dairy, fragile preemie—are going to hope. In the winter that is their world and also their lives right now, hope is all they have. And hope is enough.


Here are sisters in their 30's whose whole relationship is about to sink. Words are the only way back to each other, even if the lyrics aren't perfect. Like I said, my characters would make the lyrics suit them.

Sarah to Glennie: After years and years of caring for her family and worrying about Glennie's health, Sarah would sing Janis Joplin's "Take A Piece of My Heart" to her beautiful, wildly successful sister. The song is rough, broken, pleading. Done. Sarah is done. This is her last effort to reconnect.

Glennie's reply? John Hiatts's "Have A Little Faith in Me" would be Glennie, speaking to Sarah, asking for a break from her expectations. Asking for a chance to reconnect as she is, not as the person Sarah wants her to be.


"Into My Arms" by Nick Cave. Another song for lovers, but Carol changes the lyrics in her mind so that the singer is a mother speaking to a child.

Plaintive, lonely, simple—all this makes sense to a woman whose world is fading away, child grown and gone, landscape lost to development, home irrevocably changed.


Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Sufi devotional music would be played in John's house, and he would have liked listening to it, though he came from another religious tradition.

Fiedler's Greatest Hits—for a retired military man who lived his whole life in Boston, Fiedler would be a tonic, reminding of him of how many Fourth of July evenings? How many songs that reflect his life?

"Song for My Father" by Horace Silver. It's got a beat and is a bit chirpy, but it would have soothed. He would like it to be his sound, to walk out –a final walk-- with that spirit.


Al and Sarah have lost their baby, a second child.

For Al, one has to list The Gopher fight song. He's lived in Minnesota all his life. And he needs a fight song right now.

The only other song that fits is "Amazing Grace." Which shocks him as much as it might you. Really? Faith? Yup. Faith.

Caitlin Hamilton Summie and To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Beth Fish Reads review
Booksie's Blog review
Centered on Books review
Chapter 16 review
Foreword review
Hungry for Good Books review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review

Beatrice essay by the author
Bloom interview with the author
Deborah Kalb interview with the book

also at Largehearted Boy:

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