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The title of the new Tim Green novel is a tale in itself.

This particular tale begins with one of my favorite songwriters active today: Jason Isbell. The man is a master storyteller whose songs are populated by Faulkneresque characters full of self-doubt and dark corners, either trying to find their way toward the light, or running from it. In his most compelling compositions, these characters are either himself or distorted mirror-images. Nowhere is this truer than on his most personal album Southeastern, whose 2013 release was celebrated last year with a 10th anniversary deluxe edition.

Southeastern is filled with songs about longing and transformation, an emotional travelogue of a momentous period in Isbell’s life during which, after more than a decade of hard living, he fell in love, got sober, wrote and recorded this album, and got married. The cornerstone of the album—and in my opinion, one of the great songs of the present century—is its leadoff track “Cover Me Up.”

Musically, “Cover Me Up” is simple and direct, built around a descending acoustic riff that feels itself descended from the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” Lyrically, “Cover Me Up” is an emotional piledriver, a song about discovering a path toward healing and redemption and making the decision to take it, about the transformative power of love and passion, and about a long wander in the metaphysical wilderness that ends with finding your way home.

The latter idea is one that resonated with me years before Isbell wrote “Cover Me Up.” In The Remembering I wrote about how, by the time I was 29 years old, I had moved 24 times. For me growing up, home was less a place than a feeling—of being safe and loved, of calmness and centeredness, coupled with a desire to stay, and the grounding belief that I would.

How does this all relate to the title of the new novel? We’re almost there, but first, kindly recall that (a) both of the first two Tim Green novels borrowed their titles from song lyrics, and (b) I have a thing for patterns and symmetry.

In Believe in Me Tim Green talks about the framed photo that sits on a table in the entryway to his LA apartment, of him with his father, saying on page 42 that “Every time I came home, it was the first thing I saw; I’ve never lived anywhere that it hasn’t traveled with me.” When he stops by the apartment briefly later in the story, he impulsively picks up the photo and stuffs it into his bag, signaling that the apartment is no longer his home.

In the new novel, Tim digs deeper into his father’s past and discovers an unexpected legacy: his grandfather Max was a Holocaust survivor. As Tim learns more about both men’s pasts, it becomes clear that the parallel quests Bernie and Max were on in their younger years were very different, yet in one vital sense also quite similar: each carries a deep sense of dislocation, of having come untethered from everything that once grounded them. As both search for a new center around which to build their adult lives, they experience a profound longing for a place that feels like home. Will they find it? And what might it look like? These are the questions this story ultimately asks and answers about all three men—Tim, Bernie and Max.

Cover Me Up” is filled with powerful moments, but for me the pinnacle of the song, the album, and maybe even Isbell’s songwriting career is its second verse:

Put your faith to the test
When I tore off your dress
In Richmond on high
But I sobered up
And I swore off that stuff
Forever this time
And the old lovers sing,
“I thought it’d be me
Who helped him get home”
But home was a dream,
One I’d never seen
’Til you came along

I’m deeply grateful to Jason Isbell for granting permission to quote his song in the new novel, as well as in its title:

Home Was a Dream

A Tim Green Novel

Coming April 9

* “Cover Me Up” Words and music by Michael Jason Isbell. Copyright © 2013 Southeastern Publishing LLC and Fame Publishing Co LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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