David Allan Cates: An Opera in Prose

David Allan Cates

When David Allan Cates was ready to start writing the novel that became Tom Connor’s Gift, he took himself to a remote location that wound up giving him more direct inspiration than he’d originally intended… and as the novel’s voices took shape, as he describes it in this essay, they felt as if they had an almost song-like quality.

Five years ago, I arranged to go to a friend’s cabin for a week because my previous novel had been out for a year and I felt pinched and irritated enough, confused, scared and sad enough, not to mention hopeful, grateful and earnest enough to want to start another one.

My three most recently finished novels were stylistically and formally, unconventional. But this time, I thought, driving from Missoula over the mountains toward Great Falls, and then north up the Eastern Front of the Rockies, this time I’m going to write a good old-fashioned love story.

I wanted to tell a long, adventurous and miraculous tale of how two people managed to stay in love over decades. I wanted to write a novel that sounded like somebody you know telling you their long story. I wanted it to be the kind of love story that would make me see things and feel things that I’d never felt or imagined before, and I wanted to write a story that could take the giant swirling storm of middle-aged feelings I’d been having lately—sadness, joy, anger, grief, gratitude—and allow me to spread my arms wide enough to hold them all close. I wanted to feel all there was to feel—all the good and the bad at once, the everything and the nothing at once—and still be able say: Yes Yes Yes! This too is love!

Well. With a goal like that, it’s pretty easy to make excuses not to start. I needed to go away. And I had to come back with something.

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16 December 2014 | guest authors |

The 9 Best Holidaysongs Albums of 2014

Every year, I add dozens of albums of holiday music to my massive Spotify playlist, and then I listen through them to figure out which ones I really love.

Top Holidaysongs 2014 (3)

Caitriona O’Leary, The Wexford Carols:The other eight albums are listed in no particular order, but this one is hands down my favorite of 2014. The most famous Wexford Carol is a 12th-century Irish song commemorating the birth of Jesus, and that’s on this album, but Caitriona O’Leary has also incorporated several other 17th- and 18th-century carols that haven’t been heard in a very long time, such as “Jerusalem Our Happy Home,” making this in some ways an album of new holiday songs. It’s also the most beautifully sounding record of this year’s holiday season, as Joe Henry’s production gives the proceedings an almost tangible atmosphere of place, with guest appearances by Tom Jones, Roseanne Cash, and Rhiannon Giddens. If you love the older, religious carols and seasonal folk songs, you will want to hear this album, and once you do, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

Various Artists, It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue: I don’t usually put multi-artist compilations on my best-of lists, but this assortment from the Mack Avenue Records jazz label is really top-notch, starting with a great jam on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” led by Sean Jones on trumpet. There’s also a great one-two Vince Guaraldi suite, with Hot Club of Detroit’s country-swing “Skating” immediately followed by vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s “Christmas Time Is Here.” And the Christian McBride Trio’s instrumental romp through James Brown’s “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto” is one of the most fun cuts from any artist this holiday season.

Anthony Hamilton, Home for the Holidays: This is easily my favorite R&B holiday album this year. “Spend Christmas with You” and the title track should immediately go onto pop radio’s Christmas playlists, and Hamilton’s cover of “What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?” rivals the original version by the Emotions. The groove on the opening track, “It’s Christmas,” is a bit too gritty for me to imagine it’d be a radio hit, too, but it’s awfully darn infectious.

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10 December 2014 | listen to this |

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