Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

« older | Main Largehearted Boy Page | newer »

May 13, 2021

Marisa Silver's Playlist for Her Novel "The Mysteries"

The Mysteries by Marisa Silver

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.

Marisa Silver's novel The Mysteries is a powerful and intricately woven story of friendship and family.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"From the mysteries that captivate two little girls to those that confound four adults, Silver's luminous exploration of foundational relationships catastrophically altered by a gut-wrenching accident reveals the poignancy and vulnerability that underlie so many human contracts. Whether writing in the precociously gleeful voices of two guileless children or the increasingly jaded tones of damaged adults, Silver achieves a powerful and gripping authenticity that captures the confusion and, yes, the mystery of both innocence and maturity.”"

In her words, here is Marisa Silver's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Mysteries:

The wonderful writer Antonya Nelson once said that every story is a coming of age story. I think this is true – we come of age over and over again in our lives, not only when we are young. The Mysteries tells the story of a group of people whose lives are destabilized by a tragedy and who all, in different ways, awaken into lives whose terms they don’t understand but must negotiate, none more than seven-year-old Miggy Brenneman, a vibrant, lawless girl whose awakening is the most profound due to the fact that she has so little knowledge and perspective with which to greet her radically altered world. The story takes place St Louis in 1973, a great music-infused town, a great year in music, and a year charged with destabilizations on many fronts – social, economic, and political. I like to think about the music the characters would listen to, at home or in the car on KSHE, what music would snag their souls. So here’s an imagined soundtrack for the novel:

In The Mysteries, Miggy spends a lot of time trying to decipher information and codes of behavior that she hears and sees around her that no one bothers to explain to her. In lieu of any concrete information, she draws conclusions of her own, some which are wildly and humorously off-base, some which lead her into dangerous play. When Three Dog Night sing Joy to the World, she would spark immediately to the lyric “If I were the king of the world.” Miggy’s raison d’etre: to figure out how to rule the people who rule her. But would she create joy for the world? Probably not. She’s out for herself, looking for her main chance, looking for trouble wherever she can find it, and if she can’t find it, she’ll stir it up herself. And “Jeremiah was a bullfrog”— she would not be able to resist that lyric. Nor would she be able to resist Brand New Key by Melanie. Another song that would be playing on the car radio that she would wildly misinterpret. A song about sex (what song isn’t?) but Miggy, of course, would want those roller skates, that bike, and she’d want to go around the world and “do all right for a girl.”

Miggy’s father, Julian, is a jazz enthusiast with a melancholy, introspective soul. He’d be listening to My Favorite Things by John Coltrane. This incredible version of the familiar song is, unlike the peppy Julie Andrews version, filled with a sense of loss and longing and maybe even a question about desire itself. And then, when he gets a little drunk, as he’s begun to do each night, he listens to the dark, mystical Badia by Weather Report and thinks about the kinds of questions he used to ask in college and wonder where the guy who used to think about those things went. Miggy, no sentimentalist, would want him to put on Bitches Brew by Miles Davis so she could, without repercussion, say the verboten word. And then she’d lie down on the carpet and let the weird, jagged, unexpected lines and rhythms was over here. The darkness of the music matches the overabundant feelings of passion and rage that course through her and make her into the kinetic, unpredictable live-wire that she is.

Julian has taken over his deceased father’s hardware story and his conflicting feelings about his father, and his reappraisal of the love he feels for the man are encapsulated in Everything I Own by, yes, Bread. David Gates wrote this song about his father. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and it would dig right into Juilan’s ambivalence about his life choices.

Jean, Miggy’s mother, is a devotee of the singer-songwriters of the era, none moreso than Laura Nyro. She’d put on Stone Soul Picnic and the nasal, not quite polished, not quite beautiful, voice of Nyro, which is filled with unapologetic strength, would intrigue and trouble her in the ways that music we become obsessed by can. When Nyro sings, she’s claiming her soul. Jean’s soul is itchy and ambivalent. Her desires confuse her. And so she’d listen to about any Joni Mitchell she could get her hands on, and especially Little Green. Jean would feel a strange connection to a song whose meaning she won’t completely understand until years later when it is revealed Mitchell wrote the song about a child she was forced to give up for adoption. But even without knowing the song’s literal meaning, there is something in the lyrics about mother love, and regret and untenable choices that Jean would understand. And there is no escaping Carol King’s Tapestry even though it was released in ’71. It was the album that wouldn’t quit. Way Over Yonder is a gospel inspired song about what happens after life, which is the mystery that stands at the center of the novel. And Jean would listen to Gladys Knight singing Midnight Train to Georgia because that song is irresistible.

Jean and Julian would listen to Taxi by Harry Chapin but maybe they wouldn’t want to acknowledge the lyrics to one another or how much the song hits them where they live. It’s a song about lost illusions, of lives that didn’t happen, something Jean and Julian both feel about their lives but are loathe to admit. And then, after events in the novel conspire to rock the marriage, they’d hear Art Garfunkel singing Jimmy Webb’s heartrending All I Know and they would each, separately, wonder if they could rise to the level of this declaration.

And finally, in a moment of marital harmony, and reaching back to their younger, looser selves, Julian would put Walk on the Wild Side on the stereo, and he and Jean would dance and sing it to one another, forgetting Miggy is in the room. And then Miggy will spend the rest of the day asking them what giving head means, and when no one will tell her, she’ll take the question to the school yard. Phone calls from the principal will ensue.

1973 Radio Playlist

Marisa Silver is the author of six previous works of fiction, including the novels Mary Coin, a New York Times Bestseller, and Little Nothing, a New York Times Editor's Choice. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and been included in The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. Silver has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Public Library's Cullman Center. She teaches at the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and lives in Los Angeles. https: //

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.