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March 4, 2021

Elisabeth Sheffield's Playlist for Her Novel "Ire Land"

Ire Land by Elisabeth Sheffield

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.

Elisabeth Sheffield’s novel Ire Land is a darkly comic and smart faery tale for our times.

Carole Maso wrote of the book:

"Elisabeth Sheffield’s Ire Land is an exquisite construction––as sly as Nabokov, as tender as Beckett, deeply intelligent and run through with heart and dark hilarity and great waves of rage and beauty. It possesses an undeniable cumulative power and a level of invention that is both thrilling and poignant."

In her words, here is Elisabeth Sheffield's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Ire Land:

“As Tears Go By” (Marianne Faithful, 2018 version):

“It is the evening of the day/I sit and watch the children play/Doing things I used to do/They think they are new/I sit and watch/As tears go by.” Marianne Faithful sang this song as a young woman but it’s the 2018 version I hear, the wondrously raspy yet still supple rag of her voice, a beautifully tattered banner rippling in the wind. Is it a surrender, or a final rally? This is where Ire Land begins, with Sandra Dorn watching the children who think they are new, doing things she used to do.

“Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen, 1980); “Ring Around the Rosies” (English nursery rhyme); All Fall Down (Mary Caponegro, Coffee House Press, 2009):

One night circa 1982 pogo-ing my young sticks to this song at the SUNY Purchase pub (“Are you ready for this hey are you ready for this”), I slipped on some fluid or semi-fluid and fell flat, smacking my chin against concrete. It was bruised to the bone for weeks, though it probably healed twice as fast as it would now. In Ire Land, the song precipitates Sandra Dorn’s first narrative downfall, the beginning of her spiral. That brings to mind the old children’s song/nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosies” (“Ashes to ashes/We all fall down”) which in turn summons up Mary Caponegro’s fabulous fictional meditations on the slinking, sloughing mortal coil in her story collection All Fall Down.

“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones, 1965):

And “I” never could.

“Fairy Tale of New York” (The Pogues, 1988)

Ire Land is a faery tale, and this is one that I love, the spry old junkies, the endearingly embittered joined at the hip if not the fist lovers and partners in substance abuse still sparring away after all these years (I’m thinking of Beckett here, I’m thinking Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). Such solidarity against/with the ravages of time might’ve been Sandra Dorn’s if she stayed with her long ago love Kevin Killeen, the one-legged mid-town Manhattan bartender slash poet from Belfast. “You’re a bum/You’re a punk/You’re an old slut on junk.”

“Gloria” (Patti Smith, 1975)

While it’s not in the novel, I think this is what the young, heavily pregnant and feeling very trapped Sandra Dorn hears as she takes Kevin’s even younger prod lover into his family’s heirloom four poster bed, as the rain runnels in correlative dissolution over the window panes and as Kevin, off in the city somewhere, drinks and schemes with the boyos.

“After the Gold Rush” (Patti Smith version, 2012)

“Look at Mother Nature on the run/in the twentieth first century.” Near the end of the novel Sandra Dorn, who has turned into a hare, tears over the grounds of an old mansion in upstate NY, fleeing her pursuers. Her pursuers are personal and situational, but at the same time, Sandra Dorn might finally be starting to slip the bounds of Sandra Dorn.

“Head Like a Hole” (Nine Inch Nails, 1989)

This is what the little man, in the drawing by Sandra Dorn’s “editor,” at the beginning of the final section of the novel, is dancing to.

“My Way” (Sid Vicious, 1978)

On the motif of dissolution/slipping the bounds of self, this song says it all. I love the way Sid Vicious turns Sinatra’s singular, melancholy pride inside out in the weird and warbling intro, pulling it like a pair of old man’s underwear over his head. And then he just cuts loose, shredding every vestige to pieces in a gleeful, centrifugal frenzy.

Introduction to Romeo and Juliet, the ballet (Prokofiev, 1935)

I first heard this in the summer of 1987 or 1988, opening an outdoor concert featuring the Smiths somewhere near Toronto. I remember feeling still irritated from the cramped ride up over the border in the back of a friend’s Volkswagen when Prokofiev’s prelude began pouring from the speakers overhead. As the decibels rose, in waves of sonic exaltation and dread, I was swept up and away and out of myself, all resentment of the longer legged occupants of the front seat washed away. This piece from Prokofiev is the sound of the end of Ire Land.

Elisabeth Sheffield is the author of the novel Gone. She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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