Interns Blog: Marie Cummings, College Sales and Marketing
Written by: Marie C.
It has come to my attention that not only am I a methodically drifting reader, but I am also a musically-inclined reader. You may be saying to yourself, “How does reading have anything to do with being musically-inclined?” Well, you, a lot. Have you ever really thought about the different ways that people read? Some people need to read in vehicles, some need absolute silence, some need a blanket and light rainfall outside their window, while others need to be sitting upside-down in a chair wearing fuzzy socks with a puppy obediently laying on their bellies. All in all, we readers are a needy bunch. Everything must be perfect in order to fall deeply into a good book. I like to find a song or album that practically syncs up to whatever I’m reading, like a soundtrack. You may not even realize what odd things you do while you read; I didn’t know that my slight quirk was, well, a quirk until my co-worker pointed it out. We were talking about a really great novel she lent me called In the Woods by Tana French. I was telling her that I listened to Florence + the Machine’s “Between Two Lungs” album while I read the entirety of this book. She’s one of those readers that needs silence, the opposite of me, so she was interested by what I consider a normal reading routine. Remember, we’re a needy bunch. The haunting quality of Florence Welch’s voice mixed with the intensity of her lyrics really fit this book to a tee.
Winner of 2008 Best First Novel Edgar Award, an honor which is bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America for exemplary work in the mystery genre, French’s novel follows the life of Detective Rob Ryan as he works to solve the murder of twelve year old Katy Devlin in Knocknaree, Ireland. Katy’s murder carries eerie similarities to an unsolved mystery from his past. When Rob Ryan was twelve years old, he went into the very same woods where Katy Devlin’s body was found with his two best friends, Jamie and Peter. When the three children didn’t return for tea time, their parents launched a search effort. Only Ryan was found—with blood-filled shoes, clutching a tree so tightly that bark was embedded in the skin under his fingernails. Known as Adam back then, the young boy blocked out all memories from that day and was therefore no help to the police in the course of their investigation. His parents sent him away to an English boarding school where he picked up an English accent and changed his name to Robert. With the knowledge that his true identity as Adam Ryan would kick him off of Katy Devlin’s case, he keeps his involvement in the earlier case a secret as he tries to solve the two crimes.
Now that you know the gist of the story, I can explain its soundtrack. Katy Devlin’s body was found at the site of an archeological dig at the edge of the woods of Knocknaree next to a very old stone believed to be a sacrificial altar for the druids. Ryan always points out in the course of his narrative that the woods seem to have an ancient life—more than just birds chirping and rabbits hopping. Two of Florence + the Machine’s songs fit perfectly with this scenario: “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)” with the lyrics, “You made a deal/and now it seems you have to offer up/but will it ever be enough?/Here I am, a rabbit-hearted girl/frozen in their lights, it seems I’ve made the final sacrifice” and “Howl”—“I’ll hunt for you with bloody feet across the hallowed ground”. Katy’s case is called Operation Vestal, as in the sacrificial vestal virgin. It was named as such because of the druidic altar where her body was found. Also, remember, the final sacrifice is death—Katy—and she was out near that sight on the night that she died on the premise that a beautiful locket that was found at the dig would be given to her; and when he was found, Rob Ryan’s shoes had been soaked in blood. As a detective, he carries that blood on his feet metaphorically, reliving that old case, in pursuit of the truth of what happened to Katy and his friends. In “I’m Not Calling You a Liar,” Florence sings, “I’m not calling you a ghost/just stop haunting me/I love you so much, I’m going to let you kill me/[…]There’s a ghost in my lungs and it sighs in my sleep/wraps itself around my tongue as it softly speaks”. Rob spends a lot of time at his partner’s apartment. Both are haunted by their pasts. Cassie, his partner, is deeply affected by any case that involves psychopaths and frequently has nightmares that jolt her awake in the middle of the night. Rob’s memories come back in his sleep; sometimes he cries out details of his youth. At one point in the novel, Rob decides to spend the night in the woods in hopes that the memories will come back to him, but he is instantly terrified as the memories threaten to “swallow him whole”—similar to the theme of “Drumming Song,” “I go to the river and dive straight in/I pray that the water will drown out the din/But as the water fills my mouth/it couldn’t wash the echoes out/I swallow the sound/and it swallows me whole/until there’s nothing left inside my soul/I’m empty as the beating drum, but the sound has just begun”. He calls Cassie to pick him up and he spends the night in her apartment. They sleep together in an effort to calm both of their fears and, “between two lungs/it was released/the breath that passed from you to me/it flew between us as we slept/it slipped from your mouth into mine it crept/[…]I have this breath/and I hold it tight/and I keep it in my chest with all my might/I pray to God this breath will last as it pushes past my lips as a I gasp,” “Between Two Lungs”.
This is the turning point, they think they’ll be happy together, but as the story goes, Rob will never be emotionally able to love her with this case looming in the distance. “The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out/You left me in the dark/No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight/in the shadow of your heart/[…]I took the stars from my eyes and then I made a map/if you left somehow, I could find my back/then I heard your beating/you were in the darkness too/so I stayed in the darkness with you,” “Cosmic Love”, after their night together, with no explanation, Rob stops talking to her, but Cassie tries their hold their friendship together by staying by his side through the darkness that is Operation Vestal. He spends his days in a dreamlike state, hoping that he’ll figure out what happened to his friends, desperately hoping that whoever killed Katy also took his friends away. The lyrics to “Blinding” seem to have been written for this book: “It seems that I have been held in some dreaming state/A twist in the waking world, never quite awake/No kiss, no gentle word could wake me from this slumber/until I realize it was you who held me under/I felt it in my fists, in my feet, in the hollows of my eyelids/Shaking through my skull, through my spine, and down through my ribs/No more dreaming of the day as if death itself were undone/No more crawling like a crow for a boy, for a body in the garden/No more dreaming like a girl, so in love, so in love with the wrong one/I could hear the thunder and see the lightning crack/All around the world was waking/I never could go back/’Cause all the walls of dreaming/they were torn wide open/Finally it seemed that the spell was broken/All my bones began to shake/My eyes flew open/[…]Snow White stitching up the circuit boards/Someone slipping through the hidden door”. In his pursuit of the killer, Rob becomes so entangled with Katy’s older sister, Rosalind, that he overlooks a lot of things that could affect the case and without giving anything away, all I’ll tell you is that the lyrics, “I’ll cut your little heart out ‘cause you made me cry,” Florence + the Machine, “Girl with One Eye”, strikes a cord with the reader, as it is reminiscent of her vindictive and manipulative ways.
Meanwhile, Cassie tries in vain to carry Rob and his issues through to the bitter end, “I was a heavy heart to carry/my beloved was weighed down/my arms around [her] neck/my fingers laced to crown/I was a heavy heart to carry/my feet dragged across the ground/and [she] took me to the river/where [she] slowly let me drown/[…]I’m so heavy, heavy in your arms/[…] and is it worth the wait/all this killing time?/Are you strong enough to stand/affecting both your heart and mine?/Who is the betrayer/who’s the killer in the crowd?/The one who creeps in corridors and doesn’t make a sound”, “Heavy in Your Arms”, the identity of the mastermind behind Katy’s death is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Cassie and she can’t carry Rob any further, she is forced to let him drown in the investigation. At the tail end of the novel, after both cases are wrapped up and Rob and Cassie go their separate ways as partners, Rob finds out that she’s dating a fellow detective, Sam, and develops an affinity for drinking, as in “Hurricane Drunk”, “I’m going out/I’m going to drink myself to death/and in the crowd, I see you with someone else/I brace myself because I know it’s going to hurt/but I like to think things can’t get any worse”.
My method of reading allows me to remember minute details in conjunction with the lyrics to perfectly fitting songs. They’re like puzzle pieces, and there’s always going to be a song that fits in with whatever you’re reading or studying. Let’s say you’re taking a political science class. Well aren’t you in luck because there’s a plethora of politically charged songs in the world. You could listen to Rage Against the Machine if you feel that someone is being taken advantage of or held down, or One Day As A Lion if you’re feeling like you need to listen to something America-specific. If you’re taking a class on Vietnam, you’ve hit the jackpot. Open up your history book and let The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and countless others teach you what it was like to be a young man going off to war in those years. If you’re a math or science whiz, you can listen to Kraftwerk, a freakish electronic-style German band that makes a lot of “beep, boop” calculator noises to help you through your tough equations. If, like me, you’ve decided to write your senior thesis on Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, (hey! That’s my idea! I already did that!), never fear because you can listen to the Ramone’s song cleverly entitled “Pet Sematary”. Or, if you’re feeling in the mood to read “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning and you’re not quite getting what in the world he is trying to say, perhaps Weezer’s song, “No One Else” will accurately sum it up in modern terms for you. There’s a piece of music out there for every topic, from leisure reading to hardcore studying, so crack open your books, put your iPod on, and get learning, people!