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April 4, 2018

Weike Wang's Playlist for Her Novel "Chemistry"


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 Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Winner of the 2018 PEN/Hemingway Award, Weike Wang's novel Chemistry is a startlingly poignant and impressive debut.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"The most assured novel about indecisiveness you’ll ever read. . . . An emotionally devastating novel about being young today."

In her own words, here is Weike Wang's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Chemistry:

Even though I'm not much of a "music person," music ended up featuring sort of prominently in Chemistry. Some of the songs or artists listed here are directly referenced in the book, while others fit in spirit. Classic rock and jazz are the main focus here, and songs that capture the narrator's struggles as well as her relationship with Eric.

"Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen
The narrator loves Freddie Mercury, and especially this song – as she believes it makes science sound cool, which not many rock songs do. It is a fun song, very upbeat which the narrator is also not. But she wishes she could be what Mercury sings about, a rocket ship on her way to Mars.

"Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix
I think that the narrator finds herself connected to this song on two levels. She first knows the song through Eric, and also winds up developing some ‘haze' in her own brain as her life starts to unravel towards the end of Part 1.

"Dear Prudence" by The Beatles
Eric's favorite Beatles song (with good reason), and what I imagine playing in the background as he and the narrator lay together in a dark hotel room.

"So What" by Miles Davis
There are two great recordings of this song (the original on Kind of Blue and the much faster version on Four & More), but the original recording fits the mood best here, and is the epitome of cool. If you have to ask, you'll never know.

"Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" by Chick Corea
In this song, Roy Hanes' ride cymbal sound is legendary among drummers, and perfectly exemplifies the "tah" sound that Eric describes to the narrator at the jazz club.

"Can't Stand Losing You" by The Police
This one is perhaps self-explanatory. While not featured in the book, I think it fits in with the kind of up tempo rock music that the narrator favors.

"Tied to the Mast" by The Fire and The Rose
The mood of this song, and the chorus lyrics "Oh, to be lost at sea," seems to resonate with the way that the narrator is often adrift inside her own head and also with her dream in which the advisor asks her to swim in a pool of dichloromethane.

"Raindrop Prelude" by Chopin
The narrator's favorite piece to play on piano. The song is difficult to play because it is in D flat major, which has 5 flats. Doing something difficult to prove that she can is part of the narrator's personality but also what she struggles with after she quits her PhD program.

"Hang on Sloopy" by The McCoys
The official rock song of Ohio. I don't think anyone in the book (or myself, for that matter) actually likes this song, but it seemed like a fun way to end this playlist.

Weike Wang and Chemistry links:

excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
New York Times review
Washington Post review

BU Today profile of the author
The Margins interview with the author
New York Times profile of the author
Weekend Edition interview with 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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