February 2, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Andromeda Romano-Lax's novel Annie and the Wolves brilliantly intertwines historical and speculative fiction.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Daring and imaginative Romano-Lax puts another provocative spin on historical fiction as she has both Ruth McClintock, a struggling small-town Minnesota historian,and her obsession, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, take turns narrating in this highly original time-warping tale . . . As she illuminates Oakley’s extraordinary life, Romano-Lax conjures supernatural dimensions in pursuit of psychological revelations, grapples with the sexual predation of “wolves” and the muzzle of shame, and dramatizes the slipperiness of memory and history, creating a compassionate, heady, and witty whirl of fact and insight, mesmerizing characters and suspenseful predicaments."
Most of my novels are historical but this one is braided with both historical (1860-1926) and contemporary (2013-2018) storylines, which I knew would give me some fun parameters for developing a playlist. I couldn’t wait to imagine the songs that might represent the spirit of Annie Oakley, even if they don’t come from her era or precise region. (Though she performed in the Wild West show, Oakley traveled west of the Mississippi only once and didn’t care for it. The two places where she spent the most time were rural Ohio and New Jersey.)
I had even more definite ideas for my modern historian, Ruth, whose life is collapsing while she digs into Oakley’s past, including a period when Oakley was forced to live with an abusive couple called “the Wolves.” Ruth herself had a troubled relationship with her sister, Kennidy who died five years earlier; they grew up listening to the music that Ruth liked in the early 2000s. Reece, a local high schooler and aspiring dancer/acrobat, helps Ruth with her research while also trying to keep an eye on Caleb, a shy and angry sophomore attracting unwanted attention from a sinister school coach. All of these characters’ secrets and frustrations are braided together in a plot that becomes increasingly fraught with the potential for violence. With so many POVs and a timeline spanning one and a half centuries, expect some acoustic that aspires to ethereal beauty and some bitter, noisy stuff from the shadows.
Cabin by The Secret Sisters
While making this list, I kept exhorting my husband to stop suggesting songs with lyrics that were too literally matched to my storyline. “Not the point!” I argued. “I’m looking for the right mood, not anything that’s too on-the-nose!”
Then I stumbled upon “Cabin” and my heart just about stopped. I read the lyrics. Oh my. The narrator wants to burn a cabin down; he or she talks of the cruel and callous man who “did not have permission,” and of others not believing. This could be sung not by just one character in my book—it could be howled by at least three. It feels like the songwriter was trying to tell essentially the same story as I was, except that I took about 100,000 more words. Lyrics aside, it’s haunting, intimate and catchy.
The Pretender by Foo Fighters
One of the only bands mentioned by name in the novel, Foo Fighters plays as Kennidy and Ruth head toward a cabin for reasons Ruth doesn’t understand, but someday will. The song opens quietly, gets loud later—much like that night in the story, and the novel as a whole. Does Ruth, who experiences strange premonitions following a car accident, ever notice that this song references “spinning infinity, boy/ the wheel is spinning me/ it’s never-ending, never-ending/ same old story?” No, I don’t think she does.
Underdog by Kasabian
This is a song by an underdog, the sort of thing that would play into Caleb’s earphones as he’s bicycling around his small Minnesota town, trying to get his nerve up to do something bad.
Feeling Good by Muse
Reece, meanwhile, is busy choreographing dance-meets-acrobatics numbers, trying to feel good about turning his life around even if he’s currently at a low-point, stuck in a small town high school. When I asked my adult son, a nouveau cirque acrobat, for a song Reece would likely be listening to around this time, he chuckled and answered without pause. This song pairs well with stage routines, and I think we can all hear why.
Strawberries by Caamp
I don’t know why this song can make me teary. Not always. Just when the world is seeing particularly horrible or dangerous. When Annie Oakley is undergoing the stress of traumatic flashbacks, visions, and the weight of the actions she is considering, I like to think of her hearing a song like this one: peaceful, acoustic, with lyrics reminding her she is loved. Fortunately, she was. Annie Oakley’s husband, Frank Butler, was one of the good guys. Too bad that in my novel, she can’t tell him what she’s going through. My daughter gets credit for introducing me to this one.
Take Me to Church by Hozier
The other band (and only song) explicitly named, this is the soundtrack for the dance performance Reece does as an audition for an arts school that ends up rejecting him. If you haven’t seen the video featuring Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin, whom Reece idolizes, go look it up. I can’t count how any times I’ve watched it. First released in 2013 and recorded as an emotive dance video years later, the song became an anthem for the LGBTQ community. Polunin’s own story as a troubled ballet dancer is fascinating. But I digress.
Wildflowers by the Wailin’ Jennies
In a novel that certainly has its grim parts, I find the need to mix it up and give Annie her peaceful moments, as she experiences briefly in the novel, when she is revisiting a picnic with friends. Take a breath with lovely sentiments of this cover, featuring violin, banjo and mandolin. The peaceful interlude won’t last long.
Like a Stone by Audioslave
Back in the Ruth years, this song captures her mood as a washed-up historian, with specific references to being lost in pages, a book full of death, and passing time alone in a house, patiently waiting. What she’s waiting for isn’t just new revelations in her Annie Oakley historical quest, it’s waiting to understand what happened to her sister, who died in the house Ruth has inherited.
The Day I Tried to Live by Soundgarden
Kennidy and Ruth, sisters separated by ten years, don’t talk frankly, but once in a while they go driving on long country roads—or used to. This, in addition to Foo Fighters, is the sort of music they listened to. Now, five years after Kennidy’s death, Ruth is still hearing fragments of that faded music—including that lyric, “One more time around.” Did I mention this is a novel about characters trying to get back to the past, wishing they could correct old wrongs? When Ruth meets Reece the first time, spots the infinity symbol on his wrist, and feels a shiver, there’s a reason. Spoiler: time travel ahead.
For Now by Kina Grannis
I generally picked acoustics for the Annie-POV songs, but this existential beauty of a song reflects the mindset of Ruth, as well, wondering if the present moment is truly enough—and hoping it is. Another of my favorites for those times you just want to let the big, hard thoughts bubble up.
Annie Get Your Gun by Squeeze
You know how you’ll sometimes watch a movie with a subtle, well-integrated soundtrack, and then the credits roll, and some pop number (usually sung by some celeb artist) starts blaring? The song, often written to accompany the movie, is often lyrically fitting—or at least a good try—but in terms of mood, way off. Well, if Hollywood does it, so can I—and it’s the only way I can justify this pop number that directly mentions Annie, plus a gun. It’s a bit of a joke, not really referring to Annie Oakley, but I can’t get the song out of my head, all the same.
Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow, a New York Times Editors' Choice that has been translated into 11 languages; The Detour; Behave; and Plum Rains, which won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, as well as numerous works of nonfiction. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers, a statewide literary organization in Alaska, and lives on a small island in British Columbia.