Zoe Whittall’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Spectacular”

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.

Zoe Whittall’s novel The Spectacular is one of the most powerful books on motherhood I have read, it definitely lives up to its title.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

“Whittall is excellent at writing the small, intimate details and sharp dialogue, as well as the mostly propulsive plot, while making no bones about opinions on gender inequities. Whittall is a great storyteller, and her latest does not disappoint.”

In her own words, here is Zoe Whittall’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Spectacular:

To Bring You My Love – PJ Harvey

Because I’m a mixed-tape era kid, I have to think about the first sound you’ll hear on the mix. And the epic, crunchy guitar riff that builds with such a driving tension is a great way to start us off. This song is so sultry and sexy, and the novel can get quite dirty in hopefully the best way. It’s also the first album that comes to mind when it comes to defining the mid-’90s in both the indie rock and feminist scene of that time. It’s so raw in a way I think that Missy in the beginning of the book would appreciate.

Range Life – Pavement

After the glow, the scene, the stage / The sad talk becomes slow – The first section of The Spectacular is in part about a girl on tour with her band, and this song really captures the debauchery of that time and in that last verse, tour life in the ’90s. It’s also a bop.

Three Days – Jane’s Addiction

This song is a real temporality of drugs song – three days was the morning/ three lovers in three ways. I’d say this goes well with the climax of Missy’s journey in her 20s.

Our House – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

This song is for the character of Carola. I’m instantly brought back to my own childhood when I hear this song. Graham Nash wrote it for Joni Mitchell. I think it’s a nice soundtrack for the hope Carola had for her life at the commune with Bryce before she starts to unravel.

Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World – Neil Young

I saw Neil Young sing this with Pearl Jam in 1994, and it’s a song that resonates with Carola’s social world in the ’70s and with Missy in the ’90s, and it sort of embodies the attitudes of both eras, lyrically.

Fageterian and Dyke – Team Dresch

Team Dresch is my favourite band of all time and I could have chosen any song from their first two albums, but I chose this one for the line I Spent the Last Ten Days of My Life / Ripping Off the Smiths. I put this on the list for the moment Missy meets Andy for the first time in Las Vegas and they flirt and talk about being queer in the punk rock scene in the ’90s.

Gone for Good – The Shins

Excellent divorce song.

No Children – The Mountain Goats

Best divorce song after a traumatic relationship of all time? The rage! Missy listens to this song on repeat in the last half of the book when Navid leaves her.

Just One of the Guys – Jenny Lewis

This one is for Missy at 38, surrounded by musicians at midlife, feeling like just another lady without a baby.

Treacherous – Taylor Swift

This song is an anthem for a doomed, badly timed love affair, like the one Andy and Missy can’t get right.

All of the Lights – Kanye West

There was a week or so leading up to a deadline while writing an early draft of the book where I could only write if I was listening to this song, and Runaway, and sometimes all of the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, in headphones. There was something about the beats and intensity that made me able to focus. I learned later this can be an ADHD thing.

Femme Bitch Top – Tribe 8

The final section of the book Missy really comes into her femme identity. This is a classic femme-appreciation track from a dyke punk band I saw quite a few times in the ’90s, a band that in this fictional world Andy probably would have known.

Over – Syd (feat. 6Lack)

This song is a soul crushing break-up track at the same time as being chill, like the moment you’re coming out of it and back to yourself.

Racist, Sexist Boy – The Linda Linda’s

Undeniably, the song of 2021.

Be Afraid – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

I basically listened to Jason Isbell non-stop while writing this book. I’m a lyrics-first listener, and he’s one of the finest. He writes about addiction and anxiety so well, and I wanted to include a track that spoke to those issues Missy deals with in the book. I chose this song because of the chorus. When I was pregnant and terrified of doing it alone I drove around singing this chorus. It’s also a hopeful refrain as the last track on this list.

Zoe Whittall is the author of three previous novels, including the Giller-shortlisted The Best Kind of People, the Lambda-winning Holding Still for As Long As Possible, and her debut, Bottle Rocket Hearts. She has published three collections of poetry: The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life, Precordial Thump, and The Emily Valentine Poems. She is also a Canadian Screen Award-winning TV and film writer, with credits on the Baroness von Sketch Show, Schitt’s Creek, Degrassi, and others.

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