J.S. Breukelaar’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Bridge”

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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.

J.S. Breukelaar’s novel The Bridge is an inventive and captivating work of literary dark horror.

Brian Evenson wrote of the book:

“A startlingly original novel that dizzyingly takes apart what it means to belong or not belong. Incandescent and deadly.”

In her own words, here is J.S. Breukelaar’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Bridge:

We Are Family, Sister Sledge

This song was my mental epigraph for the entire novel. I have always found it both joyful and terribly sad. It’s anthemic for family, lost and found, I guess. Because abracadabra your sisters are there and avada kedavra they’re gone. Kathy Sledge’s voice is bourbon smooth and then it bites like sisters do. And there’s Bernard Edwards’s bass solo, the funk undercut by unhinged laughter—joy? Madness? Inebriation? “And we flock just like birds of a feather” is 100% written for my story—you’ll see why. I got all my sisters with me, yeah, alive, dead and somewhere in between. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Enter One, Sol Seppy

From the elegiac piano chords to Sophie Michalitsianos’s dreamy vocals, this is Meera’s song, the song of the guilty survivor—the song of “I wanna let go of the things that I’ve done,” but can’t. Meera and her twin, Kai, are Mades—AI/organic uploads created by a scientific mastermind—the Father—until they are not. Then they are unmade. Meera obsessively returns to those seconds before the death of Kai, when everything she wanted to be, “brave, to keep you warm,” was possible. I lost a spiritual twin at Meera’s age—and this song perfectly expresses in music and lyrics, that undying need to follow the dearly beloved into the light:

I want to be shameless like the sun
Moving into you

Asleep, The Smiths

This is Kai’s song, the song for the one who got away. “Deep in the cell of my heart I will feel so glad to go.” Kai is the good twin, larger than life and always one step away from death. She is the twin killed by bad intent, some of which is hers, and this is a song that belongs to death-driven youth, the song of someone on the brink of an adulthood they didn’t ask for and don’t want. A life on terms not their own. It is the death wish of wanting all the shit to be gone, all the betrayals, especially your own. The rushing wind sound effects, the gorgeous piano, Morrisey’s gulpy echoey vocals, the punk chromatics—it all perfectly captures the gravitas of adolescent yearning for a better world. There must be that at least. Listen, is that bells?

Burn the Witch, Radiohead

Poor Narn. The world is literally at her once winged heels, everything and everyone who wants this bitch turned to ash. Her entire existence over the millennia has been one of furiously trying to outrun her fate, trying to outrun her two sisters, Mag and Tiff. Not to escape them but to save them from what lurks in the shadows. Also I love the description, “low flying panic attack.” What other kinds are there?

Radiohead is good to write to, at least for me. It’s all mood. But Yorke’s voice is a sly, lying instrument that deforms the lyrics, and reforms them into something else, a nonverbal monster always threatening to outrun its own breath.

Bitch Better Have My Money, Rihanna.

I like this song cos Tiff is the rock chick of the three sisters, who I based loosely on the Furies. And Rihanna is a rock chick for the ages. This isn’t Rihanna at her softest, most badass best. But it’s her at her smartest, saying one thing and meaning another. It’s bossy and posturing trap rap, cock-rock chick rap, an edge of doubt creeping in at the edge of all the repetition, much as there is with Tiff’s shtick. Tiff is a dealer too, not in drugs, but in revenge and her thousands of years of raising hell have gotten monstrously old. Because well, getting old isn’t for pussies. If she’s said ‘Bitch better have my money,’ once, she’s said it thousand times.

“I call the shots, shots, shots
Like bra, bra, bra.”

Is anyone even listening anymore?

Partita for 8 voices, Roomful of Teeth (Caroline Shaw)

This is Mag’s song, the song of caves and wings, and because Mag has no tongue, it’s nonverbal expression is perfect for this third sister, the youngest, the one who wants to fix everything, the one through whom all the other voices flow. It’s a divine piece of music (Caroline Shaw received a Pulitzer for it), full of joy, but also full of teeth. And fear. I love the breathing and the whimpering sounds rising to a crescendo where they’re met by male voices, whether in unity or violence it’s hard to say.

I wanna break my baby, Kaleo

Sasha’s song. Sasha isn’t a nice person. I mean she was never a nice person, not in the original short story and not here, not even before her body is no longer her own. I love this Icelandic duo, love JJ’s bluesy, folksy tenor—it was a real sacrifice letting Sasha have this song. But sacrifice is the name of the game in The Bridge, the only game in town, and Sasha likes to think that it’s her town. Cos she’s a bully and a breaker of souls—that’s why it was so easy to break hers. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy that.

Sinnerman (Will Holt) sung by Nina Simone

The Father’s song, of course. Where you going to, Father, oh my Father? Is there anything that can be said about this song that hasn’t already been said, or Simone’s performance, which is definitive for me. Nowhere to hide, Daddy, not even in paradise. You wanna confess, Daddy? Tell that to the birds. Caw fucking caw.

Doesn’t Matter, Christine and the Queens

I love Heloise Letissier’s voice in my head when I write. It’s frothy and its fun but here she gets her Patti Smith rage on, lyric-wise anyway, I wish she was singing this in French instead of English, so the words wouldn’t make me cry. Every time. This is the tragic Malemade Marvin’s song, partly because at its fake-it-till-you-make-it core it’s a deadly serious search for a door.

‘And if I could just push this door chalked on the wall
And if after the void there’s somewhere else to fall
Forget I said it
I soliloquize’

Familiar, Agnes Obel

In The Bridge, Eric is a necromanced thylacine. He is Narn’s familiar—she was the one who brings him back from a bunch of bones she finds in her cave. But at heart he is Meera’s and from the moment she arrives at the Starveling Hills lair with her dead twin in her arms, he sticks to her like glue, helps her find the healing lichen she needs to shut Narn up, puts the revenant Kai in her place, and tears Meera’s attackers limb from limb. And then Meera abandons him.

Eric was my Staffordshire bull terrier. He lived until he was almost 18. That’s two kids and three books, yo.

(Oh what you do to me)
Gonna be the death of me
It’s a danger
Cause our love is a ghost that the others can’t see.

My Friend, Groove Armada

Dani is the Father’s pet raven. His prize. The ravens, like the Mades, are AI-organic hybrids and he thinks that Dani is his bitch. He couldn’t be more wrong. Narn has seen to that. By the time I’ve reached this song in my playlist, I’m foetal. Dani was the name of the Meera character in the short story which I adapted into the novel. I can never throw away my characters. There’s too much of that going on in the real world. And fiction is a better place, right? Or tries to be. So I reincarnated her as the Father’s unmaking.

We’ve all lost someone. My best friend, who I lost in high school lives in everything I try and do and can’t, and do anyway.

Whenever I’m down, I call on you, my friend.

Unmade, Thom Yorke

This is the final song for this mini-version of The Bridge playlist, the version I play on loop just to get in the right headspace before I write. Unmade, from the Suspiria Film Soundtrack is a conjoining of lyrics and melody at its most creepy, duplicitous, diabolical. And from the title to the lyrics, it is like it was written for the novel. The song of creation and destruction, attraction and repulsion, filth and purity. Hell’s own anthem.

J.S. Breukelaar is the author of Collision: Stories, an Aurealis Award winner, a Shirley Jackson Award, Shadows Award, Norma K. Hemming Award, and Ditmar Award finalist; Aletheia, an Aurealis Award finalist; and American Monster, a Wonderland Award finalist. She has published stories, poems, and essays in publications such as Gamut, Black Static, Unnerving, Lightspeed, Lamplight, and elsewhere. She has a PhD in creative writing and film and is a columnist and regular instructor at LitReactor.com. California-born and New York raised, she currently lives in Sydney, Australia with her family where she teaches literature and writing at the University of Western Sydney. You can find her at www.thelivingsuitcase.com and on Twitter @jsbreukelaar.

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