12 Tracks to go with ‘Belinda’s Rings’


Corinna Chong picBy Corinna Chong

Set in mid-1990s Calgary, Belinda’s Rings follows half-Asian teenager Grace—but she’d prefer it if you called her ‘Gray’ instead—and her mother, Belinda, in the midst of family crisis. When Belinda flies off on an impulsive trip to study crop circles in the English countryside, Grace and her older sister struggle to care for their young half-brother, Squid, and their manic-depressive stepfather, Wiley. Although Belinda and Grace set off on their own separate journeys, they inevitably find themselves circling back to each other.

Belinda's Rings coverThis playlist is an amalgamation of songs that echo the era and/or themes of the novel and songs that I listened to obsessively during the period in which I was writing. I usually write in silence, but I’m so fanatically in love with some of these songs that they no doubt infiltrated their way into my thoughts as I filled pages. I’ve sequenced my playlist in an attempt to paint an audio-landscape of Belinda’s Rings; what follows is a peculiar hybrid of rock, pop, folk, and classical that I hope manages to make itself complete as it runs its unanchored course.

1. “No Rain” – Blind Melon

This song opens with a catchy finger-snap riff – the perfect way to begin a playlist. In a similar way, I wanted the opening of my novel to draw readers in with the lively and enchanting voice of Grace as she tells a comical anecdote about shopping with her exasperated mother and wild little brother in the supermarket. Like the song, this opening scene is lighthearted in tone, but speaks below the surface of a profound loneliness and disconnection from the world. For me, “No Rain” encapsulates the experience of being a teenager in the mid-’90s.

2. “Bathysphere” – Cat Power

The central characters in this novel are part of a single family that grows increasingly fractured as Belinda, the only tangible link between them all, leaves them behind. All of the family members, including Belinda, seem constantly submerged in an unfamiliar landscape, floating aimlessly, unable to root themselves to a distinct role or sense of self in the family. Grace envisions each of them as “underwater, all separate, in our own little bathyspheres, […] looking for the same route to the surface.”

3. “Space Travel is Boring” – Sun Kil Moon

She’s the only rocketeer in the whole damn place / They gave her a mirror so she could talk to a face / She still got plenty lonely but that’s just the case / With time, time, time …”

Convinced that she witnessed a UFO, Belinda develops a passion for researching paranormal phenomena, which eventually leads to her crop circle journey. While she is desperate for a new adventure, she finds herself on a cyclical path. This song, originally a punky Modest Mouse track, is a gorgeous acoustic ballad about discovering a longing for home only once you have left it far behind.

4. “Octopus’s Garden” – The Beatles

“I’d like to be / Under the sea / In an octopus’s garden in the shade …”

Grace is an aspiring marine biologist, and her obsession with absorbing facts about the monstrous and misunderstood creatures of the deep sea reveals her deep desire to make sense of the unruly pieces of her own identity.

5. “A Mistake” – Fiona Apple

I’m always doing what I think I should / Almost always doing everybody good / Why?”

This might just be Belinda’s theme song. Also, I adore Fiona Apple more than words can say.

6. “Black or White”—Michael Jackson

I can’t help but imagine the music video when I think of this song; with the unmistakable opening guitar riff, the open-shirted, wind-blown Jackson striding through fire, and the rap interlude lip-synched by Macaulay Culkin, this song truly belongs to the ’90s. Most of the songs I knew growing up were about romance or heartbreak—experiences that didn’t really speak to me as a child. This was the first song I’d ever heard that dealt with issues of racism. In the novel, by virtue of her half-Asian ethnic background, Grace continually comes up against her own visible difference, and experiences as a result feelings of internalized racism that she fails to fully understand.

7. “Metamorphosis One”—Philip Glass

Belinda is stuck in a pattern of unhappiness that she’s determined to break, and the melancholic repetition of this instrumental piano piece reflects that feeling. While writing, I’m normally distracted by music (and completely avoid songs with lyrics), but Philip Glass’s wonderfully moody and rhythmical compositions set a tone that seems in step with my thoughts.

8. “Teenage Spaceship”—Smog

What makes this song so incredible is that it captures with exquisite simplicity the feeling of wanting to become something extraordinary that all of us experience as teenagers. My idealistic hope is that Grace’s story will resonate with readers in a similar way.

9. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” —Billy Joel

Here’s my tribute to the character of Wiley, who “practically lives for ’80s rock.” Wiley breaks out into this song anytime someone in the family mentions ‘fire’.

10. “Chinese Children”—Devendra Banhart

The song begins: “If I lived in China, I’d have some Chinese children.” As he sings about moving all over the globe to live in places like Ireland, Russia, and Greenland, Banhart admits, “I’d still have Chinese children.” Although such a seemingly simple and fluffy song, it expresses the important reality that in the eyes of society, race for non-white people trumps nationality, often pegging them as outsiders in their own countries. In the novel, Grace and her sister, both wrapped up in the adolescent desire to belong, are resistant to identifying with their father, and, by extension, the Chinese culture he represents.

11. “Undone (The Sweater Song)”—Weezer

“Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked…”

The faux-geeky-cool attitude of Weezer is perfect for Grace, as she strives throughout the novel to put on an air of unaffectedness as a way of masking her deep insecurity. Under the surface, she is being pulled by a single thread, unraveling slowly.

12. “Water From the Same Source”—Rachel’s 

Ultimately, Grace and Belinda are more similar than they care to admit. While Grace searches the ocean depths, Belinda searches the sky, and although they seem pointed in opposite directions, their goals are the same. Similarly, in this song, while the minimalist piano notes contrast with the long lines of the string instruments, they manage to come together in a way that seems natural and inescapable.

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Corinna Chong

Calgary-born Corinna Chong is a writer, editor, and graphic designer. Her first novel, Belinda's Rings, was just published by NeWest Press this spring. She currently lives in Kelowna, BC, where she teaches English literature at Okanagan College and edits Ryga: A Journal of Provocations. Visit her website at corinnachong.com.