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July 23, 2020

Rose Andersen's Playlist for Her Memoir "The Heart and Other Monsters"

The Heart and Other Monsters by Rose Andersen

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Rose Andersen's memoir The Heart and Other Monsters is one of the most poignant books of the year, a book both memoir and murder mystery.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Combining the agonizing emotional intensity typical of narratives about losing a sibling with the memoiristic style of a murder investigation successfully complicates the reading experience. A literary grief memoir combined with a skillfully unfolded murder mystery."

In her own words, here is Rose Andersen's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir The Heart and Other Monsters:

The Heart and Other Monsters is a memoir about my younger sister, Sarah, who died of a suspicious overdose in 2013 when she was twenty-four years old. The book serves as a love letter to her life and an investigation of her death. I explore our childhoods and what led us each to seek out drugs and alcohol, how and why I turned to sobriety, and the grief of losing a sister.

My sister liked to drive around with the windows down in her big truck, drinking a Red Bull and smoking a cigarette while blasting music. When I am having a hard day, I take a drive and play music she loved, let the wind whip around the car and let the noise and air drown out the grief.

I listen to music when I write, put on headphones and disappear into words and other worlds. I have different playlists depending on the mood of the scene I am writing.

“Ophelia”- The Lumineers

There’s an interesting friction between the upbeat feel to this song and its melancholy lyrics that has always resonated with me. It opens with “Oh, oh, when I was younger, oh, oh, should have known better,” a feeling I often have when reflecting on my early life as an addict. Sarah and I both struggled with addiction but only one of us made it out.

“Lying Beast” Run River North

There is a chapter in the memoir titled “The Liar Gene” where I write about our father’s pathological lying and his influence on Sarah and I. Do we inherit these behaviors? Are we born bad people? Before I was sober, lying came easily to me. My sister was the same. I listened to this song a lot when grappling with this section of the book, trying to understand where my father’s personality ended and where mine began.

“Whole Wide World” Big Tree

Big Tree was a college band from my undergrad, Sarah Lawrence College. I obsessively listened to them in the year after I got sober and went back to finish my degree. When I listen to them, I can smell snow, feel the chill of the first big storm, see the blanket of white that covered the campus that first winter back. It was like all my senses were crackling, coming awake after years of numbing them with alcohol and drugs. I would take long, anxious walks listening to Big Tree as loudly as I could handle and repeat the mantra you can do this, you can do this.

“Please Speak Well of Me” The Weepies

I have a deep affection for The Weepies and their Indie-Pop aesthetic. Here, The Weepies sing, “Looking back now, I only wish I had been kinder.” My sister and I were estranged when she died, the last time I had seen her was at a failed intervention for her about six months prior to her death. There are many regrets when someone dies, and none so more for me than wishing I had been more empathic and less critical to Sarah. My fear turned into anger and that is something I can never undo.

“No Children” The Mountain Goats

If there was ever a song that accurately represents the despair, shame and inner conflicts of an alcoholic, it is this one. Did I listen to this on repeat while secretly drinking whiskey I had hidden in my closest and doing lines of coke until my vision was blurred? I wish I could remember! But really, if I needed to tap back into those feelings while writing, I turned on this jaunty, dark song.

“Paint” The Paper Kites

This is a song for everything that could have been. “I’m always wishing I was walking that road,” Sam Bentley sings, which is how so much of grieving has felt. I like to believe there are alternate universes where Sarah is still alive, where she knows how much I loved her, where I don’t put this song on and quietly weep.

“Long Time Traveller” The Wailin’ Jennys

An elegy for the dead, a farewell hymn, a song to provide solace. I wrote four versions of my sister’s death, trying to understand what happened to her. I will never know definitively the circumstances that lead to her death. I became obsessed with uncovering the details surrounding her overdose. It gave my grief my purpose, a direction, a task. But the fact is, she is gone and no amount of investigation will undo that. This song reminds me to live in the known, the sadness, the finality.

“Sea of Love” Cat Power

The song my spouse and I danced to at our wedding, one of the bright spots of joy in an otherwise dark story. We got married on the edge of the bay in a grove of Eucalyptus trees. We had one of our favorite couples officiate the ceremony. The fog rolled in on what was supposed to be the warmest day of the year and I have never been colder or happier. I had been supposed to get married at the courthouse on what ended being the day we scattered my sister’s ashes. That relationship fell apart and years later a joy of a person came into my life. The hurt never really goes away but being able to build light around that pain has been the only way for me to move forward.

Rose Andersen received her MFA in writing at California Institute of the Arts, where she was awarded the Emi Kuriyama Thesis Prize. Her essays have appeared in The Cut, Glamour, and elsewhere. She lives in LA with her spouse, Josh, and their dog, Charlotte.

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