Guest Post: Julia MacDonnell on Sinatra’s Sweet Sound

In this special NOOK Blog Guest Post, author Julia MacDonnell shares how the music of Frank Sinatra influenced her latest novel, MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST!

4-24_MIMI-MALLOY_wAuthorSinatra Suite (Sinatra, Sweet!)

I always write in silence: the quieter, the better. But as soon as I got far enough into Mimi Malloy to know she’d become the mordant and mouthy narrator of my next novel, Mimi Malloy, At Last!, I also began to hear a soundtrack, full of lush orchestrations, the kind that have mostly withered into history, smothered long ago by rock ’n’ roll. Plying them, graceful as a schooner, was the syrupy, sexy voice of Frank Sinatra. Yes, the insistent soundtrack was made up entirely of Sinatra songs, ballads of tears and laughter that seemed to capture and comment upon Mimi’s long-courageous life, expressing all of its ups and downs.

Sinatra makes his musical entrance in the second chapter, when Mimi, on a Friday night, is drinking a Manhattan, watching the news on mute, and listening to The Very Good Years, a 1991 compilation that includes such evocative titles as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” and “All or Nothing at All.” Of this practice — the music, the Manhattan, the mute TV, she says, “‘Nobody knows, so I don’t have to explain.’” Before the chapter’s over, Duffy, the super of Mimi’s apartment building, stops by to fix a leaky pipe, and they end up chatting over a cup of coffee. That’s when she puts on another CD, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, an album, first produced in 1956, that has its own share of resonant titles: “Too Marvelous for Words;” “I’ve Got You Under my Skin;” “You Make Me Feel So Young;” “Our Love is Here to Stay.”

For me, the titles of those albums — The Very Good Years and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers – were, with their jazzy sophistication, irresistibly ironic: a poignant juxtaposition to Mimi’s loneliness, her anger at having been forced out of her federal civil service job and her sense of being de-sexed and unloved. Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, indeed!

Still, Sinatra’s music lured me. Browsing through his vast discography, I became more and more enchanted. I recalled how much my parents had loved Sinatra, how his albums had frequently been a soundtrack to my own childhood. The titles of the songs created a kind of poetry: “How Deep Is the Ocean?;” “Something’s Gotta Give;” “I’ve Got A Right to Sing the Blues;” “I’ve Got a Crush on You;” “Thanks for the Memory;” “You can’t Take That Away from Me.”

As I continued to work on my novel, I began to title every chapter with a Sinatra song. At first, this was a device to help me stay organized and on track: The title of the song had to capture the mood and movement of the chapter. Searching for the right song turned out to be a blast. For months, I had an excuse to dig on Ol’ Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board.

Toward the novel’s end, when Mimi is arguing with her sisters about the meaning of the Yeats poems their father read to them when they were girls, she declares, “Sinatra’s all the poetry I need.”

“Sinatra has never written a word,’” one of her daughters replies. “Not even ‘Nancy with the Smiling Face.”

“Who cares?” says Mimi. “He sings my own feelings.”

I couldn’t let the music go. I wanted readers to hear it too. So I left the song titles as the chapter titles. It just felt right. “All This, and Heaven Too.”