“Sentence by sentence, rhythm for rhythm, Robertson’s prose can stand alongside any writer I think to name. But her style and her stories are uniquely her own, at once observant and playful, sometimes wise, sometimes ironic, always lyrical and always haunting. These aren’t just windows into characters’ lives: they're windows into human experience.”
— DW Wilson, author of Ballistics

Click the song titles to hear the tracks.

Story: Who Will Water the Wallflowers? (Read it here) | Song: “Uja” by Tanya Tagaq

I can’t say it better than Weird Canada: “Nature, ‘the eternal other,’ is fractaled through the prism of abstraction and projected onto the sonic canvas for our colonial ears to interpret.” Tanya Tagaq combines Inuk throat singing with exploratory electronic. This song builds such force during its 2 minutes and 49 seconds, it could induce a panic attack… or launch a story collection. I wanted to approach a similar crescendo with the rising river levels in “Who Will Water the Wallflowers?” The last line of the story is, “The peonies open their petals and sing.” When I ordered the stories, I interpreted that period as a colon. The peonies open their petals and sing:

Story: Ship’s Log | Song: “Way Down in the Hole” by Tom Waits

“Ship’s Log” is about a boy who digs a hole to China, so I am being literal about this one. I love the Blind Boys of Alabama cover, but Tom Waits’ voice is so loamy and transporting. My second choice would have been his “Singapore,” which is even more otherworldly (matching the entries in Oscar’s log). “Way Down in the Hole” splits the difference somehow. It’s just a good song.

Story: L’Étranger | Song: “Dans Mes Poches” by Scarecrow

I first listened to Scarecrow in a Charleston class with Bernard Cavasa in Toulouse. I loved his classes because sometimes we shimmied to “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and other times we shimmied to hip hop. The anachronism made the movement more real. Less saccharine and nostalgic. Scarecrow describes their sounds as “Blues Hip-Hop”—a natural pairing, I think, given the two genres share an ancestry. “Dans Mes Poches” is groovy and grimy, and I listened to it while living in my (grimier) hole in Toulouse. The same hole inspired the setting for “L’Étranger.”

Story: My Sister Sang | Song: “Cheerleader” by St. Vincent

In the video, Annie Clark is an installation in an art gallery. Pulleys raise her body into an upright position, but eventually her plaster cracks and crumbles. The video matches the lyrics, which express that moment where someone has formed an ideal mirage you and you don’t want to play along anymore. In “My Sister Sang,” the character mourns the loss of his sister through a surrogate loss: a country singer who dies in the plane crash he is investigating. Both the crash victim and his sister made a living selling the ideal, porcelain casts of themselves. “I’ve told whole lies / with a half smile / held your bare bones / with my clothes on / I’ve thrown rocks / then hid both arms…”

Story: Nightwalk | Song: “Lungs” by Townes Van Zandt

The main character in “Nightwalk” is a sex trade worker from Vancouver. The story is about her and “Milkman Cliff,” a veteran who lives on the beach near Stanley Park. If any musician can reflect the desperation of these lives for me, it is Townes Van Zandt, who struggled with addiction during his adult years and died in 1997 at the age of 52. “Lungs” is a mining ballad, and he picks that guitar the way you hear at a camp fire. The final lyrics could be spoken between my characters: “Keep your injured looks to you / we’ll tell the world that we tried.”

Story: Where have you fallen, have you fallen? | Song: “Cherry Tree” by The National

It's possible I’ve only paired these two because I wanted to squeeze in The National. But there is something about the whispered “loose lips sink ships” refrain that works on an instrumental level... not simply lyrical. (The first time I heard this song, I didn’t even notice the words.) “Where Have You Fallen…” is a story that reads in reverse, and that may lend a kinship to “Cherry Tree” via the merging of lyric and instrument, story and form. There is also something about narrative here. Loose lips sink ships… story telling. “Where have you fallen” opens with a story that is not the character’s (or writer’s) own.

Story: Roadnotes | Song: “Spider and the Fly” by the Rolling Stones

This is a road story, and none of my childhood road-trips began until we played Forty Licks. But, enlivening though “Start Me Up” may be at the beginning of a road-trip, my brother and I started to prefer their bluesier stuff. Their honky tonk stuff. The golden, sometimes achy, tracks on Beggars’ Banquet. (Talking for you here, Jess.) “Spider and the Fly” is from an early album (Out of Our Heads, 1965), but Mick’s harmonica sets the mood. Mick describes it as “Jimmy Reed blues with British pop-group words,” so I suppose that sums it up. Sidney, the narrator in “Roadnotes,” could be the fly, Mick’s “rinsed-out blonde.” Equally, she could be the spider. You’re not sure who is who at the end of the song either.

Story: Worried Woman’s Guide | Song: “Ramblin’ Man” by Hank Williams

I knew right away this story had to be soundtracked by Hank Williams. A country twang seeped into my protagonist’s voice… I was reading a lot of Flannery O’Connor at the time. The instrumentation in “Ramblin’ Man” is simple: two-chord rhythm guitar with accompanying steel guitar, fiddle and yodel. “Worried Woman's Guide” is about a woman who has to be cared for by her ex-husband's son—her ex-husband who left their home in the Okanagan for the west coast.

Story: Electric Lady Rag | Song: Summertime by Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass / Janis Joplin

“Summertime” is one of the most covered songs in recorded music history— attempted 33,000 times, says Wikipedia. Billie Holiday's version will always be my favourite, followed by Janis Joplin’s take and the jangly Oscar Peterson / Joe Pass version (in which Oscar plays a clavichord.) “Electric Lady Rag” spans three decades, starting in WWII, so I thought two gestations of this song would be appropriate.

Story: We Are As Mayflies | Song: “Carbonated” by Mount Kimbie

Pitchfork describes Mount Kimbie’s sound as: “little tunnels of ambience, unimposing synth patches, and syncopated percussion that sounds like someone putting away the silverware.” The last detail is key… They use field recordings in many of their songs. There are a few moments in “Carbonated” where I am sure you can hear the gas misting from a can of coke. It reminds me of a kitchen sink science experiment, of which there are plenty in “We Are as Mayflies.” Also, the sound is a bit extra-terrestrial. The story goes to space too.

Story: Missing Tiger, Camels Found Alive | Song: “Why Don't You Try” by Leonard Cohen

This story is about a man who steals a tiger and two camels from a trailer in an attempt to woo a former beauty queen. For herself, the beauty queen is pregnant and escaping a loveless relationship. “Why don’t you try to do without him? / Why don’t you try to live alone?… Do you need his labor for your baby? / Do you need his beast for the bone? / Do you need to hold a leash to be a lady?…” New Skin For The Old Ceremony is one of my favourite albums by Leonard Cohen. It includes a broad range of instruments, such as viola, mandolin, banjo and percussion. This album is a bit brighter in mood than his earlier ones too, which matches the tone of the story.

Story: Sea Life (Read it here) | Song: “Deep Blue” by Arcade Fire

I wanted to use a track from The Suburbs because the characters in “Sea Life” are deeply suburban. The protagonist is a new homeowner. She lives next door to a pristine family of four, whose timed sprinkler still waters the lawn when it rains. “Deep Blue” is an appropriate song because there is a theme of windows in this story. And water. And the aquatic blue of summer dusk. The last lyrics imply there is something vital out there that we are missing behind the screens of our personal devices. “Hey! Put the laptop down for a while / in the night there is something wild / I feel it, it’s leaving me.” In an attempt to grasp that vitality, my character steals a dog.

Story: Thoughts, Hints and Anecdotes Concerning Points of Taste and the Art of Making One’s Self Agreeable: A Handbook for Ladies | Song: “River, stay ’way from My Door” by the Boswell Sisters

The Boswell Sisters were a trio from New Orleans who sang chirpy jazz melodies in addition to blues. “River, stay ’way from My Door” includes both upbeat and slow tempos. The lyrics echo that blend of resignation, resolve, and unhelpful desire when two people walk away from each other. “You keep goin’ your way / I'll keep goin’ my way / river stay ’way from my door.” The form of this story is playful (an etiquette guide), but the narrative is about a woman trying to exit an abusive relationship. The Boswell sisters inhabit a similar terrain of cheeky melodies that obscure a more somber core.

Story: Good for the Bones | Song: “Blue Moon” by Billie Holiday

Apparently this song sprouted from a commission for the film Hollywood Party. MGM wanted a scene in which Jean Harlow sang prayers to be a movie star. The commercially released “Blue Moon” diverges from those first sketches, but I find this history relevant to my protagonist, who used to be an actress. Now she lives in a retirement home with Alzheimer’s. The story bleeds in and out of recollection and present day, which is itself re-remembered. The phrase “once in a blue moon” acquires an interesting tilt when you consider people who retain memory differently than we do, or not at all.

Story: Here Be Dragons | Song: “You're the One” by the Black Keys

This story is about losing somebody and seeing them everywhere. The narrator, a globe-trotting geographer, recognizes his lover in waitresses, nuns, mothers and paintings in Lisbon, St. Petersburg and Arusha. Pitchfork describes “You’re the One” as “a slow honey drip of gorgeousness.” This song luxuriates in its rhythm. It sways like a heavy hipped woman on the dance floor—not lethargically, but with indulgence. The connection is in the title.

Story: Slimebank Taxonomy | Song: “Green Rocky Road” by Karen Dalton

Karen Dalton recorded this song (and album) from home. The quality is imperfect, but that creates an intimacy—as if these tracks were not meant to be heard by anyone else. The protagonist of “Slimebank Taxonomy” is wading through postpartum depression. Like the song, her story is personal and introspective. The other characters (and readers) are left to look or listen in.

Story: We Walked on Water | Song: “Water From the Same Source” by Rachel’s

Rachel's play minimalist neoclassical music. In this song, we hear the hi-hat, piano, and “a host of violins intertwining sadly with each other, all climbing to some kind of hopeful revelation,” as described by Scott Thill on PopMatters. “We Walked on Water” is about a young triathlete who loses his twin sister in the Penticton Ironman. I chose this song because the brother and sister are “water from the same source,” and the story starts and ends on that lake.


Purchase WALLFLOWERS from:

Powell’s | Indigo | IndieBound

Read a story from Wallflowers here at Little Fiction:



peonies open their petals 
and sing:

A story-by-story soundtrack for Eliza Robertson’s stunning debut collection, WALLFLOWERS (Hamish Hamilton/Bloomsbury).

by Eliza Robertson

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