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February 14, 2020

Amina Cain's Playlist for Her Novel "Indelicacy"


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, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Amina Cain's novel Indelicacy is as inventive and assuredly written as any I have ever read. An exemplary contemporary novel from one of our most talented writers.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Bewitching . . . Cain’s concentrated, subtle, and intriguing portrait of an evolving artist resolutely rejecting gender and class roles, with its subtle nods to Jean Rhys, Clarice Lispector, and Octavia Butler, explores the risks and rewards of a call to create and self-liberate."

In her own words, here is Amina Cain's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Indelicacy:

Indelicacy is a novel about Vitória, a young cleaning woman at a museum who dreams of writing about paintings. And so she tries to write, and she wanders her city, and marries a rich man, and in that marriage gains a maid, a situation to which she never adjusts. The novel is set "atmospherically" in the 1800s and in some ways is inspired by the Victorian novels of that period, though it is not a historical novel in the traditional sense, and in writing it I thought a lot about time, perception, and the supernatural. It is a novel about seeing, finding one's true calling, class, desire, anxiety, pleasure, friendship, and the flawed self.

Sometimes I needed it to be absolutely quiet when I was writing Indelicacy, and sometimes I listened to music. But I couldn’t listen to just anything. It had to be music that, like my favorite books, made me feel a lot and want to write. I love every song on this playlist. Some of them I played over and over again during the time I worked on my novel. The others are for Vitória, because they remind me of her, or I think she’d like them.

“Two Weeks” by FKA twigs

This song pulses with both lightness and darkness. I love how slow the music is, and the precise, pronounced delivery of the lyrics. It’s dramatic and strange in all the best ways. I think Vitória would want to be friends with FKA twigs.

“Chosen One” by Smog

More than anything, I’m taken in by the lyrics in Smog songs. I like the music too, and the voice of Bill Callahan, but the lyrics are their own special thing: deceptively simple and unexpected. In “Chosen One” it’s the idea of the wild horse I love the most, wanting to ride a horse you know will throw you off. Indelicacy is interested in wild horses.

“Concerto For Two Violins” by Johann Sebastian Bach

I listened to Bach a lot when I was working on the book, tuned in especially to those elegant and expressive violins. They transformed my study and desk and what I was writing. They made me feel I was somewhere else.

“Tosca Vissi dâ ‘Arte” performed by Maria Callas

I can picture Vitória sitting in an opera house, tears streaming down her face, listening intently to Maria Callas sing this song. And then she goes home to write. Or she writes in the lobby of the theater.

“New Partner” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Coney Island extended version)

Can I just put these lyrics here instead of talking about the song? They say it all, truly.

“When you asked me to sing / Feels like my heart would burst with pride / And I look at your face / And tears come to my eyes / And all that’s harsh and wrong / In my life / Melts into one sweet song / And my love spreads wings / Like a blackbird flying over the road / Well I know you take pleasure in my singing / And I know that only when I sing do you hear me / Because then I touch things I can’t touch / I touch parts of you that I can’t really touch / And then drunk with this joy of singing / I forget myself / And call you my friend”

“Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” by Martha Wainwright

If Vitória has an anthem, this is it. She’s warm, but she’s a little angry too. She doesn’t mind telling men who bug her that their faces look like the butts of wolves. She wants to be who she is, always. Wainwright holds nothing back in this song, singing loudly with all that she has.

“Bad Girls” by M.I.A.

M.I.A is just the best, and this might be one of the best lyrics of all time: “My chain hits my chest / When I’m bangin’ on the dashboard / My chain hits my chest / When I’m bangin’ on the radio.” Who wouldn’t want to dance all night to this song, and feel free?

“Tecumseh Valley” by Townes Van Zandt performed with Nanci Griffith

A moving song about the daughter of a coal miner named Caroline who leaves home for work. I find some parallels here to the story I’ve told. Setting off alone, trying to make ends meet. Van Zandt and Griffith sound very nice together too.

“The Roving” by Bonny Light Horseman

This song is new to me, as is Bonny Light Horseman, and I can’t stop listening to it, or them. I feel some kinship with the ways in which their music sounds as if it exists in a couple of different times at once. Both old and new.

“All The Leaves Are Gone” by Josephine Foster and The Supposed

Josephine Foster’s music has always made me want to write. She is an artist in every way, and her music sends me to a place I could never imagine on my own. A trained opera singer, her voice is beautiful and haunting. This song is about sorrow, yet there’s something almost exhilarating about it.

Amina Cain and Indelicacy links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Bookforum review
Booklist review
Harper's review
Kirkus review
The Rumpus review

Full Stop interview with the author
Los Angeles Review of Books interview with the author
OTHERPPL podcast interview with the author
Paris Review 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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