Mixtapes, Reviews

Empire Falls by Richard Russo: A Literary Soundtrack

Empire Falls by Richard Russo is one of my favorite contemporary novels by one of my favorite contemporary authors. It’s one of the novels I love so much that I can’t actually articulate why I love it. As an alternative for a review, synopsis, or anything of the like, I decided to create a soundtrack for the book. I can’t be the only one who reads a book and sets it (mentally) to music…right?

Empire Falls

Please note with the literary soundtrack series (do two posts make a series?) that quite a bit of this is intended to be playful and irreverent. I’m rarely serious and this is no exception. Because really, do I believe that Empire Falls (which won the Pulitzer Prize) should feature both The Stooges and Van Halen? No, probably not, but they’re on my soundtrack nonetheless…

1. The Lumineers – Stubborn Love

By nature you instinctively seek out the middle road, mid-way between dangerous passion and soul-destroying indifference. Your whole adult life has been a study in deft navigation, and I don’t mind telling you I’ve long admired the way you’ve charted your course. You chastise yourself – and don’t pretend you don’t, because I won’t believe you – for making a poor marriage, but that’s foolishness. You merely saved yourself, and self-preservation is the design feature we all have in common.

2. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Come Undone

She gave him a smile in which hope and knowledge were going at it, bare-knuckled, equally and eternally matched. There was a God after all, Miles concluded, as he took his leave of her. The misery was His plan for us.

3. Timber Timbre – Lonesome Hunter

After all, what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their heart’s impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility, and even the passage of time, as eternal as polished marble.

4. Nirvana – You Know You’re Right (admittedly this song is not quite right, but if I’m going with the theme of choosing between wrong, more wrong, and as wrong as you can get, I might as well choose one I like)

Of course, the other possibility was that there was no right thing to say, that the choice wasn’t between right and wrong but between wrong, more wrong, and as wrong as you can get. Wrong, all of it, to one degree or another, by definition, or by virtue of the fact that Miles himself was the one saying it.

5. My Morning Jacket – I’m Amazed

Miles couldn’t help admiring women for their ability to dismiss the evidence of their senses. If that’s what explained it. If it wasn’t simply that from time to time they were unaccountably drawn to the grotesque…

6. The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog

To his surprise, she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, a kiss so full of affection that it dispelled the awkwardness, even as it caused Miles’ heart to plummet, because all kisses are calibrated, and this one revealed the great chasm between affection and love.

7. Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now

Not giving a shit, she decided, is like the defrost option on a car’s heater that miraculously unfogs the windshield, allowing you to see where you’re headed.

8. Van Halen – Why Can’t This Be Love?

This was just one more way, Miles supposed, that his own marriage had fallen short. He and Janine had always had trouble making themselves understood to each other, even when they spoke in complete paragraphs. It was Janine’s position that if they hadn’t fucked that dozen times or so, there would’ve been no reason for them to go through the motions of divorce. They could have had the marriage annulled, the church’s acknowledgement that in twenty years no intercourse of any significance, sexual or even verbal, had taken place between them.

9. Bob Dylan – I Want You

How in the world, she wanted to know, had she managed to put into a situation where the person she most wanted to unburden her soul to was the man she couldn’t wait to leave so she’d be free to create the mess? These were all ironies, no doubt about it, and she hated every one of the fuckers

So should I keep this series? Yes, no, maybe? I won’t be offended no matter the opinion and I’m genuinely curious (and if I am offended I’ll keep it to myself). Either way, I’ll likely keep doing it – as it happens in my head, so I can’t exactly stop – but I could stop posting it and stick strictly to all things bookish. Or, if none of that strikes your fancy, you could tell me something funny, because my day wasn’t great and tomorrow’s not looking any better. My co-worker is choosing the music – the library’s closed to the public for the day – and it will probably involve Enya. And Kelly Clarkson. This is my roundabout way of telling you to say hi.

If you’re an Empire Falls fan, are there any pivotal scenes I missed? Because if I had a song for the banty little rooster scene, I totally would’ve posted it.

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