Book Notes – Rob Roberge (Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life”)”

Book Notes – Rob Roberge ("Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life")

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

Rob Roberge's short story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life is as dark and intense as anything I have read all year. Roberge's deft humor and compassion balance his dark themes well as he illuminates his characters dire predicaments and bleak lives.

Matt Bell wrote of the collection:

"Roberge excels at placing his characters in situations that test the limits of their personal ruin, offering them the possibilities of improving their lives while acknowledging that, for most of them, more failure will likely be required before hitting the mythical bottom they seem so desperately to be seeking. Luckily for us, these myriad falls from grace are broken up by moments of sincere compassion and genuine wit, letting us laugh along with the characters even as we reservedly cheer on their crackpot schemes. These are characters whose lives teeter between mistake and miracle, and even if eventually they mostly fall to the one side, it is the hope for better endings that keeps us and them going forward from scene to scene."

In his own words, here is Rob Roberge's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life:

Music always plays a large part in my writing. I write to music. I tend to think about the form and structures of music when I revise. I read a lot of music theory—not as much as narrative theory, but close. I'm obsessed with dissonance and resolve (or lack thereof and what happens either way) in both narrative and music. So, I really can't imagine thinking about writing without thinking about music. That said, it's fun and kind of difficult to think of songs that go with the stories in my last book. For my last novel, More Than They Could Chew, it would have been pretty easy, as that book had music playing in most every scene. It was a novel with a built-in soundtrack. For this list, though, I'm going to be less literal than I might have been with the novel.

"Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life"

Since this story concerns itself, at least in part, with hermaphrodites and botched suicide attempts, it might be tempting to go right to a thematically linked tune. Say, your classic chicks with dicks songs such as "Walk on the Wild Side" or "Lola," or, going the suicide route, a tune by Joy Division or something. But I wrote the song around a structure inspired by some noir work—the book The Big Clock and DOA (the source book and the movie), where they open close to the ending, and then go backwards and get the audience/reader up to speed on what brought the narrative to that hideous moment that opens the piece (like Sunset Blvd, too).

So, I'll probably pick something sort of noir for this. I'm thinking Miles Davis' Ascenseur Pour Lechafaud (Lift to the Scaffold), which is one of his greatest albums. It's a soundtrack to a French film I've never seen, but the playing is incredible. Miles is in high form. It's the only album I like as much as the "in"' albums on Prestige (Cookin', Relaxin', Smokin' and Workin') and the first half (side one of the vinyl, to date myself) of Jack Johnson.

The music is stunning…and the record has several takes of many of the tracks that make it seem like an audio memory, going over the same thing over and over, with slight changes every time. Like memory itself. Which seems to fit this story. Both the story and the Davis' album seem haunted in some way. And the music has a great combo of dissonance and melody that sort of fits the story's ugly subject matter wrapped in a pretty (at least in structure and sentences) package.