"review" · cinema · foreign · recommend · wondermous

{film} the broken circle breakdown

Veerle Baetens (Elise) & Johan Heldenbergh (Didier), The Broken Circle Breakdown

When Sean and I saw the trailer for The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) some time back, we were fascinated by the idea of a Belgium film featuring blue grass. We wondered maybe that it was a Belgium film set in the American South, but no. It’s just that Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) is in love with blue grass music. Bill Monroe is his hero.

Director Felix van Groeningen’s film is about Didier and Elise (Veerle Baetens) who fall in love at first sight and, despite differences, begin to build a life together. They have a daughter Maybelle (“like Maybelle Carter”) played beautifully by Nell Cattrysse who manages both spunky girlhood and the deathly pallor of cancer. Maybelle’s condition tests an otherwise idyllic marriage, the differences surfacing in riveting explosions of rage and grief.

I described the film with a linearity it does not adopt. The transitions in and out of the present have an overall organic feel within the narrative, but are not easily anticipated (which is a praise, not a criticism). The story is easy to follow despite the time-shifts, or because of them. I can’t imagine The Broken Circle Breakdown told any other way. The simultaneity of lives being built and destroyed, the blossoming and the disintegration, is necessary to the complexity of the film and its story. Love and heartbreak are constant companions; you glimpse them in Didier’s look of adoration and fear when he watches Elise. Heldenbergh captures that sense of awe that love demands.

broken marry

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a moving and heartbreaking portrayal of a life. Didier and Elise live in a small haven with farm/ranch animals, good friends (the band), and a sense of humor about their needs. But the world intrudes, and their faith suffers heavy blows. Didier’s love for America and its ideals is particularly painful to witness in its disillusionment.

But Didier still has his music, his blue grass band adding singer/actress Baetens’ Elise as a vocalist. They harmonize well, singing the songs in their original English. They even affect the word “Alabama” with a near-perfect southern inflection. The music is used judiciously, reminding us that the blue grass is born in context, not just performed on a stage for entertainment. The songs add to the narrative texture of the film, posing as transitions, but are primarily situated as storyteller. The music and its origins are at the heart of the film. Didier explains the presence of blue grass near the start of the film as he describes his passion for it to his lover Elise. There is beauty and there is suffering.

broken screenshot_00003

A lot of stories want to open at the beginning of a relationship so that you can fall in love with the characters as they fall in love. Elise and Didier’s cute meet is certainly charming, but having our first introduction in the hospital with their 6-7 year old child and years into relationship creates a startling investment as well. You are asked to appreciate the first blush and the commitment. And we need to love them at the hardest times, because that first rush of blood to the head is too easy, too common. The shift in sex scenes from their romance through the test of their commitment is moving. The shifts in body language are remarkable in the actors’ achievement. Heldenbergh has the intense gaze, but Baetens vibrates with emotion, even when she is completely still and looking away. I appreciate that the camera afforded them their bodies, the present-day impulse for innumerable close-ups resisted. Of course, the tall and lanky cowboy and the tattooed punk/rockabilly look deserve their screen time.

I never shook the strangeness of witnessing that, which to me is so essentially American, performed and set in Belgium. The foreign and the familiar cohere in a large conversation in the film as to why we have our mythologies; when they work and do harm. The idealism toward America shifts necessarily toward the benefits of living in Belgium. The music, though Didier knows it history, has a quality that is transcendent of borders, of nationalities.

Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) w/ Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse)

A struggle in the film is in how to parse the hard surfaces of reality with its more extravagant acts of passion, etc. How and when to let go and allow the other the belief they need. The bird flying into the glass, the stars, the inked skin, The Broken Circle Breakdown establishes and explores conversations in images. You’ll note which images linger as the film whittles its way to the baring of bones. Too, we see the harsh realities (well-lit) take on the surreal in the sequences of disintegration—sequences that harbor a certain kind of joy. We’ve descended into night-scenes and rain, but the film closes in a day-lit room in white.

Didier’s lesson is one of letting go, of surrendering at key moments. Even so, The Broken Circle Breakdown settles into an acceptance and a celebration without turning up roses. But then, life is unresolved; the stories involve human beings. While we can write a synopsis in which the two protagonists are typed representational, the narrative is fairly muddied by human complexity nonetheless. The actors carry off self-possessed and memorable characters and they arrive at a decision of what they are able to abide in a relationship that is not only their own, but has their daughter ever in mind. Have those handkerchiefs ready. Listen and watch as they sing hymns amidst a disintegration of faith. The courage in the characters is marvelous. And, of course, there is the blue grass.

the trailer:


broken coverThe Broken Circle Breakdown (2012); Director Felix van Groeningen; based on the play “Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama” written by Johan Heldenbergh & Mieke Dobbels; adapted to screen by van Groeningen & Carl Joos, Charlotte Vandermeersch collaborating; Music by Bjorn Eriksson; Cinematography by Ruben Impens; Editing Nico Leunen; Produced by Dirk Impens, Arnold Helsenfeld, Laurette Schillings, Frans van Gestel, Rud Verzyck. Starring: Johan Heldenbergh (Didier/Monroe), Veerle Baetens (Elise/Alabama), & Nell Cattrysse (Maybelle).

Flemish w/ English subtitles; Running time: 111 minutes; No-rating, there is coarse language, sex, and nudity, plan accordingly.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · music · recommend · young adult lit

{comic} days like these

days like this coverDays Like This

Written by J. Torres

Illus. by Scott Chandler

Oni Press, 2003.

I slipped this one off the Library shelf, my eye caught by a cover with three young black women on it. 1960s isn’t a fascination for me as a general rule, music included, but I was curious. That it is J. Torres and Oni Press, didn’t hurt. Shall I just get it out of the way and say: I liked it.

It is the early 1960s and recent divorcee Anna Solomon is about to strike out on her own in her ex-husband’s world: the music business. She isn’t the only one launching her career. A fresh young female song writer is looking to sell her work where she can, and three high school singers are starting out where many do: the church choir and a school talent show. Its just good timing that the three paths should intersect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be easy.

Ben (the ex-brother-in-law: So I hear the little divorcee is starter her own record company.

Anna: With those ears, I imagine you can hear rhinos mating in Africa.”

Ben: Do you have any idea what it takes to run a record company?

Anna: I’ve been watching you Solomon Brothers do it for years. Learned what to do from Abe, what not to do from you.

Ben: Well, won’t you be surprised when it turns out to be more complicated than making meatloaf or starching a shirt…

Nice, guy, huh?! but such is the attitude with which Anna is confronted. Time is another conflict. Launching a record label and organizing a young up-and-comer is time consuming. Her daughter Ruth, who is the reason Anna was at that talent show, makes the introduction to lead singer Christina and her trio before fading into the background, reminded that if she gets hungry, they are well-stocked in frozen dinners. Illustrator Scott Chandler relates most of that story by placing and not forgetting a Ruth left behind and trying to negotiate her parent’s divorce and mother’s new career on her own. It is a testament to the book that Anna doesn’t come off as looking like an absolute villain; plenty has to do with her other admirable traits; much of it has to do with writer J. Torres’ decision not to moralize in that direction—and he doesn’t have to, you can sense an equilibrium of consequences in the offing… No, the stern frown is directed toward those conservative cultural notions that prove destructive (including self-).

Christina is the “Tina” of “the Tiaras,” and she dreams of being a star. We learn that she dreams this primarily through her mother who is valiant in her defense and encouragement of Christina signing with Anna. Her opposition? her husband Luther who thinks the choir should be the extent of his daughter’s ambitions, to say nothing of his feelings about the hell dimension that is the music world.

Have you heard about this Little Richard character? The man who wears make-up? Only man I know wears make-up is a clown! And then there’s Elvis! Stealin’ black folks’ music and gyratin’ on the TV, making all the young girls lose their heads… and speaking of young girls, what about Jerry-Lee-what’s-his-name marrying his teenage cousin!

And there is no convincing him after he finds out they’ve taken the “Christ” out of “Tina.” Even so, it is a study in marital dynamics the way two very determined parents pursue what they think is best for their child; especially the mother—who is finally fed up talking around one of the central issues in the story. What is a concern other than dreams? money. She is going to see to it her daughter will rise out of poverty and if she can do it while doing something she loves? The manipulative tactics may be uncomfortable for some, but for most: all too familiar. However, this is an issue upon which Christina’s mom is willing to take risks. All the women in the Days Like This have reached a decisive moment (Christina on the cusp) and prove self-determining.

The third path, which is actually the first one we meet, is Karen Prince age 17 and a go-getter in her own right. Along with the “Tiaras” (who are brilliant), she makes up the lighter, more comedic moments—well, when Anna isn’t telling some man what she thinks, that is. Karen bridges Anna’s boldness and Christina’s youth. She has just sold her first song with persistence and happenstance. But she crushes on boys and admits her own father had his doubts when trying to envision her future—a new golf-bag helped. In the end, you understand what Luther and other must: there is no stopping these women.

Not that all the men in the story are discouraging. Anna’s ex does not share his brother’s view of Anna’s capabilities. And Anna has made contacts in a male-dominant industry, with strings she can pull. One resource is a song-writer whom she wants to pair with Karen—as her b-side of the record. Ben, for all his “rat faced” remarks, bought Karen’s first song. And even Luther is complicated by what he is unwilling to say…those manipulative tactics look less manipulative as time passes; the wife is just giving him his plausible deniability—until she is no longer willing to give him that.

days like this prv51_pg1

The artwork, all in black and white, is reminiscent of the 60’s if not earlier. There is a nice balance of text and illustrated expression; engaging and easy to follow.  Torres references ‘60s culture, but most of the historical weight is in Chandler’s clean-lined renderings. And while Torres tries to off-set the serious with quick wit, Chandler provides his own sense of well-timed humor. Days Like This is a beautifully plotted out piece in form.

That the story is set in the ‘60s creates a nice conversation about that time in our country and in the music of the times; however, plenty of it still resonates today. Women and men both are faced with difficult decisions under the pressures of a lot of cultural baggage. The development of the girl’s image (weight, song choice) are abbreviated allusions any reader of the present will pick up on and connect with.

The story is a quick read, Torres choosing his moments carefully. The book ends as Tina and the Tiaras are properly launched, however it creates enough momentum behind a positive trajectory that you understand how it will all play out for our protagonists. The optimism isn’t in the present day reader, but in the characterization of the women (and men) in story.

"review" · cinema · music · recommend

{film} broken hill

…and an absence of glamour.

Luke Arnold as Tommy McAlpine and Alexa Vega as Kat Rogers in Audience Alliances musical drama Broken Hill. Image: Matt Nettheim

A gifted teenage composer (Tommy), dreams of being accepted into the famous Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Unfortunately, a good band is hard to find in the middle of Outback Australia – until a strange incident involving flying watermelons leads him to a group of talented prison inmates. ~published summary by H. Rose (IMDb)

Plenty have pegged Dagen Merrill’s 2009 film Broken Hill as a formulaic small-screen feel-good drama—as if this is necessarily a bad thing. Nor is the accusation wholly accurate. A family channel submission would have a excluded two important aspects to the film. As it is, I think the film works for young audiences.

Luke Arnold as Tommy plays the Dreamer convincingly. With a faraway gaze, a youthful (almost childlike) verve, a smile of absolute delight he transcends the limits of his rural home in Australia. Even as the inescapable is acknowledged, Tommy’s determination is equally impossible. He is driven, partly because he is impossible—wonderfully improbable. Or is he?

Luke Arnold as Tommy McAlpine in Audience Alliances musical drama Broken Hill. Photo Image: Matt Nettheim

One of the wonders of the film is how much Tommy is a product of his surroundings. Not the “uncultured” small town, but the greater vista and history of his homeland. He isn’t impossible, and, ultimately, what he needs isn’t necessarily elsewhere. The story is lovely in how it strives to find value in what already exists, in places that are small or marked uncivilized. Tommy’s mentor and the music teacher at the school is aboriginal. Tommy goes to do community service at the prison, where unexpected beauty exists. Tommy meets and finds encouragement from a prisoner who “lost” diamonds he was accused of stealing and only seeks means of escape. The forgotten and the forsaken and the lost echo the feelings and trajectory of the hero, Tommy.

The echoes are transparent for the older, more critical crowd, and as devices they lack sophistication in the mechanics of plot. However, I prefer the error of accessibility in a film that would inspire young people to pursue their dreams both within their environs and beyond.

By finding an ending more probable than impossible, Broken Hill moves from a whimsy of dream to hopeful reality. We know the formula where some great talent, some diamond in the rough, finds his or her way to the great urban center where they obtain glory and redemption for all that hard work. And we sigh and rarely believe its potential in our own lives. The characters are mythical, legendary, other. After the marvelous experience of witnessing Tommy and his musicians glimmer in the stage light, the film settles. And while they do end up in a great urban center of Sydney, they aren’t in the iconic Sydney Opera House, and there is no Conservatorium scout in the audience. There is his father, and his teacher.  But what is hopeful about missed opportunities? Because there was a key opportunity missed, an initial goal unfulfilled. There is an absence of glamour. We return to the argument Tommy has with his father (Timothy Hutton) when the small-town hero shares the time-worn story of the injury that held him back from playing for the big leagues, from becoming someone. Tommy wants to know just how things went wrong for his father whom we have already seen to be a prince among the locals; he owns his own future, married well, has a gifted son who loves him, is a celebrity. Opportunities shift and dreams become flesh, and it is not to inglorious result.

The other unexpected aspect to the formula that is Broken Hill is in the romantic drama between Tommy and Kat (Alexa Vega). Tommy is obsesses over Kat from afar. His best friend Scott (Rhys Wakefield) pushes him to ask the American beauty out. Yep, a big school dance is in the offing. But Scott’s Cyrano approach is painfully embarrassing. And what gets Tommy on Kat’s radar is that he has a truck. It is actually his father’s, but he has the keys and the crush. He stupidly allows himself to be used. Kat would then leave Tommy to get arrested, obvious in her careless manipulations, and while his attraction isn’t fully extinguished, Tommy becomes wise, cautious, and repelled. Unlike Scott, Tommy doesn’t excuse her because she is “hot.”

The relationship between Kat and Tommy is given time for recalibration with each re-evaluating their assumptions of the other. The development works thematically, the initial daydream shifting into a workable reality that could still inspire a happy ending. Broken Hill is ultimately pragmatic. There could still be the romance, but Tommy isn’t completely the fool, no matter how hot Kat is. He would pursue his dreams, but it takes work,  humility, and great deal flexibility in vision.

With a film about a talented young composer, the music composed must be good. And it is. I like the different forms it finds, both elegant and rugged. I like the hands that carry it. And as a character in itself, the way the piece Tommy composes develops.

The photography is lovely. There is enough of the landscape to enthrall without becoming the main course. The pacing, editing…little if anything in the film is unexpected or erroneous. The transparencies, any predictability, they are not unpalatable. Even the young reader of film will be saying, “of course,” but to comforting effect.

That happy ending is noticeably off-center, unusual to formula. Yet, in the end, Tommy has everything that matters, including his dignity. His dreams now attainable are perhaps less glamorous, but they didn’t have to sparkle, they only needed to serve his desires—for acceptance, for freedom, to be.

Broken Hill (2009)

Directed by Dagen Merrill

Produced by Chris Wyatt, Julie Ryan

Original Music: Christopher Brady

Cinematography: Nick Matthews

Film Editing: David Ngo, Mike Saenz

Starring: Luke Arnold, Alexa Vega, Timothy Hutton, Rhys Wakefield

Rated PG for thematic elements and some language

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes.

IMDb. Wiki.

{photo images via Matt Nettheim at fanpix.net}



Natalya is gone…again.*

N flew** in from her 11 day trip to Oregon where she had spent her third year at camp followed by a camping trip with a group of families (who are our family) on the coast for the weekend into the 4th. I picked her up at the airport, stayed the night at the in-laws (who stayed up to wash her two sets of camp clothes), and then took to the road southerly for a 5-hour** road trip for her last trip this summer: 2 1/2 weeks with the others. After dropping the daughter off, I turned round and headed back for a long lonely wearisome drive.

The road trip would have been a lovely time to exercise my new found habit of listening to audio-books, but it is a new enough thing for me that I forgot to check one or three out. Instead, I had the company of the same discs that have lived in the car for the last year or more. (I broke our iPod connector early on.)

Sean and I dated long distance. I would get 4 day weekends at work (thank you ladies) and drive 12 hours to ABQ when it wasn’t winter. Oh the books I would have read if I’d used audio-books. Instead Sean wooed me through the mixed-cds he made me. (yes, they were that good.)

When we were married a year and I was stuck (for a brief time) in ABQ and Sean moved up to Bozeman for work, I would make the endless drive north for long weekends, again. By then I knew what to play at 5 in the morning (Green Day American Idiot) and what worked best for city driving (Juno Reactor or Prodigy) and that mid-afternoon slump (Slobberbone, Old 97s, Cake, Pete Yorn, or those good ol’ mixed cds).

Driving home the other day, I found I didn’t regret the necessity of listening through complete albums and singing maniacally at the top of my lungs, just letting the tears fall during the emotional parts, harmonizing at will… The cds Sean made will have to return to the car, I missed them. But I did have my Perfect Circle, Blink-182, Foo Fighters, Snow Patrol, Belly…and N’s mix we made for her when she turned 8. Will have to burn her 10th year compilation, too, now I think about it, now that I am listening to it, the ‘b-side’ was good.*** And maybe some Guster, I could sing the Keep It Together album quite energetically while winding through the passes (at a respectable speed and pitch)—“Careful” anyone?! Hmm, and maybe Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” for the straightaways with my Lover in the car with me this time…

May need to forget the audio-book on the return trip to get my baby girl again—the day before she turns 11! Maybe another compilation to celebrate– and wile away those long hours? again.


*Recalling, too, her 12 day trip to Berlin, Germany for an exchange program early June.

**I really should sit down and catalog the number of flights she’s taken in her young life so far.

***part 1 were female singers, part 2 male (mostly). Part 2: Stare at the Sun by Thrice; Closer by Kings of Leon; Bullet with Butterfly Wings by The Smashing Pumpkins; Call to Arms by Angels & Airwaves; Basket Case by Green Day; The Middle by Jimmy Eat World; The Love Cats by The Cure (one of her faves); Make you Smile by +44; Staring at the Sun by TV on the Radio; Obstacle 1 by Interpol; Where is My Mind by The Pixies (still trying to win her over to this band <sniffle>); and Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley.

above photograph by friend Ryan Shelburne. I call it “oregon” and it makes me homesick.

"review" · cinema · recommend · wondermous

crazy heart

Yes, there really is no excuse that it has taken this long to see Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart (2009). I was, of course, intrigued by the cast and all the raving in 2009. Between money and mood, I kept setting it aside. I am glad to have rectified the situation. If you have yet to see Crazy Heart, I strongly suggest you do the same.

Crazy Heart, written and directed by Scott Cooper, is a small movie perfectly scaled to the big performance at its center. It offers some picturesque views of out-of-the-way parts of the American West, but the dominant feature of its landscape is Bad Blake, a wayward, aging country singer played by Jeff Bridges.” ~A.O. Scott (NY Times Review “A Country Crooner Whose Flight Is Now Free Fall.”)

Bad Blake appears to be on his last legs, an old, multiply divorced drunkard playing bowling alleys and small, out-of-the-way venues, staying in seedy motel rooms, driving himself from one gig to the next in an old truck. He is listed amongst the remembered, and is seen, industry-wise, as a detriment do shows and record with. He’s of the old guard of hard-living rebellious country western musicians. Blake meets a young journalist Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who inspires him in more than a few ways and he is set upon a path of healing.

Drinking, cheating, love gone wrong — a lot of country music expresses the weary stoicism of self-inflicted defeat. Loss and abjection are two of the chords that define the genre. A third is redemption, which has also been a theme of modest, regionally inflected American independent cinema for quite some time. So even before Maggie Gyllenhaal shows up as Jean, a New Mexico journalist with a cute young son and some disappointments of her own, you can be pretty sure that you’re in for yet another drama of second chances and late-breaking epiphanies.~A.O. Scott

The story is refreshingly untidy. The romantic relationship between Bad and Jean is doomed, reconciliation with a son doesn’t look promising either, and his dying career is taking a major hit. He is tired of the road. He doesn’t care for the newest face of country music. His alcoholism isn’t remotely pretty. There is nothing glamorous to be drawn from his lifestyle, his life as gritty and real as his lyrics.

You will hear about Colin Farrell’s character Tommy Sweet long before you meet him. Bad Blake was his mentor and they recorded duets, but now it is Tommy’s turn in the sun and it’s left a bitter taste in Blake’s mouth. You begin to understand that Bad Blake is the singer/songwriter and Tommy Sweet is the performer. And while the criticism isn’t that overt, it is present. Blake and the film both do not want to talk about it, refusing Jean’s queries as to his opinions about the current industry and Tommy Sweet.

Still, there is the question about what inspires one’s Art. Blake’s lifestyle generates all kinds of material, and he draws inspiration like air into his worn lungs. And this ability to compose true country lyrics and sounds is a commodity. The industry and Tommy are eager for this resource. Country music is all about sincerity, after all. right? I know Crazy Heart is.

Roger Ebert observes in his review that “this is a rare story that knows people don’t always forget those who helped them on the way up.” This is true as Tommy Sweet determinedly fights on his mentor’s behalf. Nor does Blake disregard his predecessors, the long-time friendship with Wayne (Robert Duvall), or his beautiful but broken time with Jean. The impact of those people in their lives is felt, fully acknowledged and never without debt, nor is it capable of being separated from one’s art anymore than it is able to be separated from one’s future.



Jeff Bridges sings, having been coached, and he is magnificently credible. He is reliably brilliant. You truly forget he is an actor Jeff Bridges for the space of the film. Colin Farrell sings as well, and all I could think when he was talking and singing was where did he put that accent of his, and where was he keeping his arrogance? The cast stays small and is wonderfully played by all concerned. Even Jean’s son is so damn sweet and casual.

The camera isn’t interested in looking away from the degradation behind the grandeur that is a well-crafted work of art; in fact, it anticipates it. Where a fall may seem inevitable, the camera is waiting; which will not leave the film with a shiny red bow. It cannot, must not, subvert the realism it works so hard to capture (without the grainy, shaky documentary technique—bless them). That the camera rests at a distance at the end, as Blake and Jean converse, is not only to round out the film with the vista to rival the opening of the film. It seems to be unsure as to what comes next, and hope lives in those spaces.

Even if you are not a fan of country music (early or late), Crazy Heart will have a few things to interest you. There is a question of authenticity, the self-destructive reach of Art and loneliness, the changing and unchanging faces of culture and its humanity. And there is the acting. That most (if not every) review begins with Jeff Bridges presence and performance in the film is completely justified after viewing. He alone is worth the 112 running minutes of your time. But I think you will find more. Redemption doesn’t come easy in this film, but it is there.


Crazy Heart (2009)

Directed and Written  by Scott Cooper

Based on Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb

Produced by Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner, Judy Cairo, T-Bone Burnett, Jeff Bridges (executive), Michael A. Simpson (executive), Eric Brenner (executive), Leslie Belzberg (executive)

Starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall

Music by Stephen Bruton, T-Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham

Cinematography Barry Markowitz

Editing by John Axelrad

Running Time: 112 minutes

Rated R

Wiki page. IMDb page.

A.O. Scott’s NY Times Review. Roger Ebert’s Review


"review" · fiction · Lit · music · recommend · wondermous · young adult lit

this song is for you

7124053a little wanting song by Cath Crowley

I read the U.S. Printing: Knopf, 2010.

265 pages.

Novel was first published in Australia in 2005 by Macmillan

with the title Chasing Charlie Duskin.

A Little Wanting Song

It’s just a little wanting song

It won’t go on for all that long

Just long enough to say

How much I’m wishing for

Just a little more

I had read a review or two on Cath Crowley’s a little wanting song and was intrigued, but not too motivated.  I usually leave the music-centric reads to the husband. I was in the Library the other day and it came to mind just the same. If they had it in, maybe I would pick it up for Sean.  It sat in the  Library basket a few days. I picked it up Tuesday morning-ish and finished it at 1145 pm. Yes, this is a beginning to an apology, and an overall admittance to my idiocy. I’m sorry Cath Crowley, and sorry book reviewers who had nothing but raves for their experiences with the read. I am an idiot for putting this read off and shoving it down the TBR list where it was precariously perched to begin with.

An explanation as to my usual avoidance of Music Fiction. I love music, I do. I can even read music, and my singing in the shower is exceptional. And one of these times I would like to learn the guitar.

Like many adolescents I did listen to music most every waking hour and wished they’d quit play the Rembrandts on every station after I learned to drive. I mostly listened to country or pop music, though some alternative began to sneak in. I really did not discover the music that presently informs me until college, nor did I really go to any shows or learn any useful trivia for parties until then and after. My familial history involves old country music via dad and my mom grew up on Polka and American Bandstand (she will pretty much listen to anything now) and my brother had a Lost Boys soundtrack that I pretty much stole—no one touched his Def Leppard tape.

So my adolescence didn’t come with a soundtrack and the closest teen outing to a show was when two of my male classmates thought it would be great if I would go to a White Zombie concert with them in Dallas. There was a speculative gleam in their baby blues that I can now identify, but back then I registered as a “best not” sort of feeling. I think I may have missed out on a foolishly good time.

There is something a bit ‘too cool’ about music fiction, especially in Young Adult Lit. Then there is some envy. But primarily, the connections the characters are making to music, or are driven by, do not resonate with me. There is a glamour or sophistication amidst all the grit of these novels with which I haven’t the interest. The soul of the book doesn’t surface for me.  Maybe I haven’t given them a chance.

A response to a little wanting song:

Cath Crowley’s A little wanting song is unarguably a book saturated with music: music notes/keys as settings, band/song references often used similes or metaphors (“I gave them a look with a little attitude, though. Sort of like Shirley Manson, the singer from garbage, that time she lost it onstage” (19)), some of Charlie’s lyrics are included…

What is beautiful about Crowley’s music novel is how often it in itself reads like a song. The prose are lyrical, rhythmic and pretty; and poignant. What is lovely about Crowley’s story is that it doesn’t overreach and it settles for nothing less than Artistry in style and voice. This is Lit, not forgettable pulp writing Hollywood vignettes.

The characters and their stories create a lovely and familiar ache. Their stories are profoundly human, and they resonate.

Rose doesn’t want to become like her mother, getting pregnant before ever getting away, stuck in a small town going no where, reading magazines instead of books. Rose is intelligent, loves school, and has ambitions. She wants desperately to get away to the city where she can pursue her dreams.

Charlie (Charlotte) wants, too. She wants friends. She wants her dad to come back to life. It is a delightful aspect to the story that Charlie’s mother and grandmother talk to her. But they are more present and active than the still living Mr. Duskin’s is. At one point in the story the (paternal) Grandfather says “We have to [make new memories]. If you can’t do that, then you die” (98). The dead continue living in the memories, as do the living.  The act of living creates memories, and memories verify one’s existence.

Charlie: I want a whole lot more. I want someone to talk to. I want someone who can fix things when they’re broken. I want to scream and have someone come running down the hall in their slippers, out of breath with worry. […] The world has lost its ears today. I’m screaming and no one can hear me. (141)

Rose’s best friend and Charlie’s romantic interest, Dave Robbie may be too cool. He may be just too much sugar. He is wonderful. And his relationship with his dad …

Luke, Rose’s boyfriend, and overall troublemaker is the least developed character of the three, but we are limited for a long time by Rose’s narration where he is concerned. It is the later Charlie narratives that he is pulled from cliché/device and confusion. Throughout, however, there is little doubt he is a good foil for Rose, and an excellent conflict.

Charlie writes a wonderful song for Rose and Luke (227), here is the chorus:

She can’t start with him again

He’s got the end of her

He can’t give her ocean

And he can’t give her her

Every character drawn has a longing. Their venues in which to explore differ. Rose uses science to make sense of the world. Charlie uses music. Mrs. Butler uses domesticity.  Dave and cars. You want for them, and for yourself, and the pain of it feels like living (not dying).

a little wanting song has humor.

I told Luke and Dave about Mum getting pregnant before she was married. They looked at me, burgers halfway to their mouths. “Unbelievable.” Luke said. “They did it in a car?”

“What sort of car was it?” Dave asked.

“A Holden.”

“That’s a good car, Rosie,” he said through a mouthful of food.

The only thing that mattered to Dave was that they did it in a great car. The only thing that mattered to Luke was that they did it at all. My best friends have their secrets written on T-shirts. (49)

It has lovely images.

“He followed her like a long dress dragging in the dirt” (32).

“I’m her turned inside out.” (87).

“That music folded Louise in two and put her in a drawer” (121).

a little wanting song is told in alternating first person narratives of Charlie and Rose. At times a snippet of a conversation at the end of one narrative is revisited in the next character’s providing a differing perspective. Just the same, the novel is limited to the two voices, and their perceptions of the world and its events. But they are determined to find their way, courageously taking the risks to pursue life, to not sit out or follow suit. In their pursuits realizations are met and neither character is left to their own charms or vices.

Despite the differences that have long kept them to their sides of the fence, similarities are drawn between Rose and Charlie. Both have images of their mother and make the inevitable evaluative comparisons. “I feel like we’re chasing each other. I’m chasing her to find the rest of myself and she’s chasing me to show me who I was meant to be.” ~Charlie about her mother (36); easily applicable to Rose and her mother’s relationship. Both long for parental approval (the parental relationships in this YA novel are refreshing). Both want, and know action is required are pretty much striking out alone—or are they.

Crowley accomplishes a great deal in the quick 265 page read. The alternating chapters are short, a couple pages each at most. Contemplations are interlaced amidst action creating a constant sense of movement forward. Will Charlie find out Rose was using her? Will Rose ever get out? Will Dave get past his shyness? Will Mr. Duskin’s come back to life? Will Charlie Duskin get what she wants? The tension is quiet, but ever pulsating. The balance this book maintains is fantastic!


So slowly, really slowly

I’m all the chords there are

So slowly, really slowly

I’m keys I never heard

So slowly, really slowly

I’m spinning song and dancing

Rising voice beneath my skin.


Cath Crowley’s a little wanting song was a joy to read. It is one of the best reads of my year. Don’t be the idiot I was. Put this book on your list and don’t let it slip.

If you loved Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road you will love a little wanting song, they have several sensibilities in common.


check these out:

Adele @ Persnickety Snark, review. “If there is one word that encapsulates A Little Wanting Song – it would be delicate.” After reading this, you’ll see what a complete idiot I was to have almost missed this read (though I came across it somewhere else first, even before Steph’s wonderful review).

Steph @ Steph Su Reads, review & author interview.

My on-and-on gushing review of Jellicoe Road, here.