May 5, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jennifer Weiner's novel Big Summer is a thoughtful and entertaining exploration of female friendship.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"Weiner is deft at plumbing the depths of female friendship and developing characters readers will care about. This highly recommended book will appeal not only to the author’s fans but also to a new audience looking for a fresh take on women’s fiction."
I built Big Summer to work exclusively on the pleasure-producing part of your brain (which I know makes it sound like the literary equivalent of a vibrator, but here we are). I’d just finished a long historical novel that spanned 70 years, was set in places where I’d never lived, and had a very intricate timeline. I was burnt out and exhausted, and there was an election coming up. I decided to give myself a break, and write something over a more compressed period of time, in a place I knew well. I was going to embrace all the descriptions – frothy! Fizzy! A page-turner! A romp! – that usually make me cringe a little when I read them. I was going to write a delicious souffle of a beach read – something that was pure escapist fun -- and have a good time while I did it.
Then two things happened. The first is that the book ended up being more than that, as the books always do. Yes, Big Summer takes place mostly over a three-day weekend on the Cape, and yes, there’s a plus-size heroine and a happy ending, but it turns out that the book wanted to also be a story about social media and Instagram influencers and the complicated way that friendship can twist love and envy together until you can’t tell which is which. It’s about aspiration and belonging and the choices we make to fit in. In the end, Big Summer is absolutely fun and frothy and escapist, but it’s got some meat on its bones.
The second thing is the pandemic. Which means that a book I wrote as escapist fun is being released into an unprecedented moment of anxiety and uncertainty.
I hope the book works the way I meant it to. I hope it gives readers some joy and some fun and a little bit of escape. Here are the songs that played in my head, or the ones I imagined playing in my characters’ heads, while I wrote it.
“The Tide is High” by Blondie
This reggae-inflected song about a woman who won’t give up on a fickle lover is bright and bouncy, but also poignant (those violins!) and a little heartbreaking (why is she working so hard for a man of whom she says “it’s not the things you do that tease and hurt me bad?”) I associate it with all things beachy and delicious, but it’s also the first song you hear in the movie “Longtime Companion,” playing over scenes of handsome young men cavorting on a beach. A fun song for happy times, but you know something dark is beneath those waves, and that something bad is coming.
“It’s Raining Men” by the Weathergirls
If you’re on the Outer Cape, you go to Provincetown. Maybe you’re there for the Pride or Carnivale parades where every float has its own DJ, or maybe you’re just walking down Commercial Street and hear dance remixed top 40 pop blasting from the parking lot of the Boatslip, where they hold afternoon tea dances. No P-town party or drag show would be complete without this one.
“Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks
There’s a woman we meet at the very beginning of Big Summer who has moved to the Outer Cape with her baby, by herself. She’s left her big life and her married lover back in New York City, and she’s trying her hardest to be an Independent Lady. I imagine that she’s listening to lots of Stevie Nicks and Ronnie Spector while she does it.
“Mortal City” by Dar Williams
My heroine, Daphne, is a young woman in New York, longing for love and connection and feeling very alone. When I imagine her alone in the apartment she shares with a roommate, yearning for love, this is the song that I hear – especially the refrain of “we are not lost in the mortal city.”
“Knowing Me, Knowing You” – Abba
What kind of musical is this?!” demands Little Sally at the end of the musical Urinetown. “The good guys finally take over and then everything starts falling apart.!?”
“Like I said, Little Sally. This isn’t a happy musical,” Officer Lockstock says.
“But the music’s so happy!” Sally moans. (To which Lockstock says “Yes, Little Sally. Yes, it is.”) A lot of the Abba catalogue is like that – the lyrics are about breakups, betrayal, resignation and loneliness. But the music’s so happy! I think this is a song that Daphne and Drue, her fickle BFF, would dance to while they pre-gamed, but only Daphne would hear the lyrics (“This time we’re through, we’re really through.”) They would play in Daphne’s head like a refrain, knowing that Drue will always betray her and that Daphne will always take her back.
“Daughter” by Loudon Wainwright III
As the mother of two daughters, I know the fear and pride and trepidation of watching your child attempt something on her own, whether it’s trying to walk or learning to swim or moving out into the world without you. Daphne, like so many of my heroines, loves the water, and loves how free it makes her feel. I imagine her father thinking of this song when he thinks about her.
“Jealous” by Beyonce
Daphne knows exactly how her BFF Drue makes her feel – smaller, less-than, inconsequential – but she’s powerless to resist her. “Sometimes I wanna walk in your shoes/Do the things I could never ever do” is something I imagine her feeling – if I had her face, her body, her money, her life, then everything would be perfect. And who hasn’t, at some point in her life, felt that way about a friend?
Colbie Caillat: “Try”
“You don’t have to try so hard/You don’t have to bend until you break.” One of the conflicts in the book is between artifice and authenticity and how much of your real self can you show on the Internet. I imagine Daphne hearing this song as she tries to present her best possible version of herself, wondering, as she does it, what the younger girls who watch her are thinking.
Nick Lowe: "All Men are Liars"
“All the ones not choking on the words they ate/Are sweatin’ on gettin’ their stories straight.” When you wake up in the morning after a perfect one-night stand to find that the guy has disappeared and that nothing he’s told you, including his name, was the truth, this is the song your mental jukebox would serve you. At least it’s got a good beat.
“Maybe This Time” from Cabaret
One of the themes of Big Summer is learning to let go of a toxic person – someone who you know doesn’t belong in your life, someone who only hurts you, but to whom you’re still desperately attracted. For Daphne, that’s Drue – at least at first. For Drue, that’s her father. She knows he’ll never love her the way she wants to be loved; she knows she’ll never matter to him the way she wants to matter, and yet she never stops trying. I think of this song, and the way Liza Minelli sings it, all optimism and cool control at first, until we get to “It's got to happen, happen sometime/Maybe this time I'll win” and you can hear how her heart is breaking, how she knows it won’t happen, not this time and not ever; how she knows it’s futile, and how she still forces herself to believe. It’s a song a woman sings about a lover, but also a song I imagine a girl singing to a parent, or to a best friend.
Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of seventeen books, including Mrs. Everything, the children’s book The Littlest Bigfoot, and an essay collection, Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. A graduate of Princeton University and contributor to the New York Times Opinion section, Jennifer lives with her family in Philadelphia. Visit her online at JenniferWeiner.com.
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2018 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2015 - 2017) (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
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Flash Dancers (authors pair original flash fiction with a song
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists