Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Turtle Catcher:


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

The novel is an engrossing tale of immigration and assimilation in early 1900's Minnesota.

In her own words, here is Nicole Helget's Book Notes essay for her novel, The Turtle Catcher:

Let Me Go, by Cake (for Frieda)

Frieda is a feminist before the term feminism found meaning. She feels confined by her role as wife and mother. Her brain is a firecracker. She has ideas, good ones, but, because of the time, has to defer to her husband, who isn’t nearly as capable or strong as she. She’s a far better example of how to be a “man” for her sons than her husband, and in the end, she leaves her husband to try to change the world. So, this song is for her. When she moves, she swings her arms instead of her hips. She moves her mouth instead of her lips.

Love to Lay You Down, By Conway Twitty (for Pernilla)

In a different way than Frieda, Pernilla is a feminist, too. She’s sexy, unabashedly so in a time in which women were supposed to be demure and faithful. She has her heart set on Luther. She’s blunt, inarticulate, so like Conway Twitty, she’d not talk of poems and promises either. She’s just all about laying down Luther. I just love that Twitty performed this song at the time of the onset of the “Reagan Revolution,” a movement of conservatism and decency. This song feels wholly indecent for its time, like Pernilla.

Lions of the Kalahari, by Sam Roberts (for Commissioner Patterson)

Commissioner Patterson, the character in my book, came to me because my daughter, Isabella was reading The Lions of Tsavo while I was writing The Turtle Catcher. It’s a memoir about John Patterson building a railroad in Africa and having to ward off man-eating lions who ate something like 130 Indian and African workers. The movie, “The Ghost and Darkness” is based on these events. And while the movie character is a humble soul, the real Patterson was not this way. He represents himself as an imperialistic blowhard. A racist. So I poke fun at him in my book, but try to make him sympathetic, too, by giving him a wife whom he truly loved and was taken from him. This song by Sam Roberts is my gift to him. “If I die, won’t you please feed me, to the lions of the Kalahari.”

Crawling Back to You, by Tom Petty (for Liesel and Lester)

This is my favorite Petty tune from the most underrated album, Wildflowers. It’s sort of a sad album, which may explain why I’m so attracted and moved by it and why it didn’t catch on in the mainstream so well as others. I remember walking outside in the heat of Minnesota’s July to this song, Crawling Back to You, while I was 8 months pregnant, unemployed, separated from my husband, trying to finish this book, The Turtle Catcher, and just feeling so, so low and lonely. “Crawling Back to You” is a weird (is that a recorder or piccolo riff in the beginning?), slow, full of pain tune. I remember stretching out my arms to the sun and just surrendering to the heat and ache. And then I went home and gave all that emotion to Lester and Liesel, and let them literally and metaphorically “crawl” back to each other. People’ve asked me why my work is so dark and gloomy, and I’ve found myself in the position to have to defend that tone. I think because I’m a mother, I have to try and keep my mood up in the house, with the kids, and so I unload this doom and gloom on my literary work. Life is sad. And the more you make yourself aware of the pain in the world, the harder it is, for an artist, for me anyway, to write about happiness, redemption, forgiveness, and hope. I try to incorporate some of these sentiments, but having those elements be the crux of my work doesn’t feel honest to me. Perhaps Petty was in this type of mood while working on Wildflowers. I’d like to ask him.

In the Pines, as sung by Kurt Cobain (for Liesel and Lester) (ED NOTE: The Louvin Brothers too

I love Cobain’s rendition of this traditional song, written originally by a slave, I think. It’s a mournful tune, a lament about distrust, loneliness, and lying. If Lester had a more cynical way, or the articulation to express to Liesel his thoughts, maybe he’d sing this to her. “You caused me to weep/ And you caused me to moan/ You caused me to leave my home…/ In the pines, in the pines/ where the sun don’t ever shine/ I shiver the whole night through.” And of course there’s the fact that Lester is confined to a cold purgatory because of Liesel’s lie. This song’s nearly perfect.


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