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May 1, 2008

Book Notes - Jami Attenberg ("The Kept Man")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

One of the first books I read this year was Jami Attenberg's debut novel, The Kept Man, and I felt the distinct possibility that everything else would be downhill in 2008. Attenberg's short fiction collection Instant Love showed her potential, and that potential is realized in The Kept Man. Most impressive was the way Attenberg incorporated Williamsburg into the book as a character in its own right, so I am not surprised she notes the music of Brooklyn neighborhood as an influence on her writing in this essay.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book:

Attenberg has an admirable sense of fun - every time Jarvis gets dressed up for a party, we wish we could go with her. "The Kept Man" also displays a keen ear for dialogue and a half-cynical, half-affectionate tone that makes even the most venal characters likable.

In her own words, here is Jami Attenberg's Book Notes essay for her novel, The Kept Man:

The Kept Man takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. It is impossible to talk about Williamsburg, not just the Williamsburg of right now, but of the past ten years, and not cite a few bands: TV on the Radio, Oneida, Oakley Hall, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. TV on the Radio I mention just because they are/were omnipresent and iconic. Seeing Tunde Adebimpe at Atlas Café in say, 2004, was like seeing Moby in the East Village in 2000, which is to say it was a regular occurrence, except of course TVOTR is awesome and Moby, not so much.

The other bands named all played at a show in a parking lot on the Southside of Williamsburg the summer after I first moved there. It was a hot summer day. There were gigantic rocks in the parking lot and also an abandoned car. Oakley Hall was slow and tangy and dreamy. Everyone drank and drank. Oneida was bewildering and brilliant. Some guy I was sleeping with at the time was there with another girl. The girl was wearing high heels. At a rock show. In a parking lot. He ignored me the whole day. What a dick. (As a side note he recently emailed me on Facebook and he's married now and has a kid, and he sent me some creepy note about liking a dirty short story of mine on Nerve. Still a total dick. I could really pick 'em then.) The Liars were brutal and messy. There was a girl dressed up as a bee running around like a madwoman. MTV showed up with a camera crew and Gideon Yago, who I believe at the time was thirteen years old. Karen O jumped on the abandoned car during their set and her whole act was one of the wildest things I had seen in a long time. The whole day, all of it, everyone felt high as a kite, on rock and roll and beer and the dizzying possibilities of life across the river.

That, to me, was rock and roll in Williamsburg in the early oughts.

As for the book, there are a few specific references worth noting:

The Hold Steady, Almost Killed Me
There's a scene early in the book where the narrator, Jarvis, is sitting in a laundromat in Williamsburg and she picks up a copy of the Village Voice. There's a band on the cover and a headline about how they're the next big thing. I believe there was an issue of the Voice that had The Hold Steady on it right around the time I was writing the book. I saw what I think was their second show ever at a now defunct venue called Mighty Robot, which was right across the street from the aforementioned parking lot. They went from zero to famous so freaking fast, which is one of the themes of The Kept Man. But damn, they were good right away from the beginning. They really deserved the attention.

Hole, Live Through This
The narrator of the book is a half-widow: her husband, an up-and-coming artist, has been in a coma for six years. Courtney's name pops up in the second chapter as an iconic American widow, especially with her performance art antics in Seattle at the time of Kurt Cobain's death. Anyway, I always, always, always enjoy Live Through This, especially when on a road trip. Maybe it's because I'm a girl. But whatever, I own my connection with it. This album rocks.

The Who, Who Are You + The Rolling Stones, Time is On My Side
Missy, the car service driver who regularly drives Jarvis to visit her comatose husband at a nursing home in Queens, always has some classic rock playing in the background. Thematically speaking, these two songs were right on the money for my anxious narrator trying to explore her identity while waiting for her husband to die. I always heard them playing when I was writing these scenes. Also: "Aqualung."

Fugazi, 13 Songs
There's some long winding story early in the book that ends with someone going on tour with Fugazi. I think Fugazi's stark independent streak aligns perfectly with the attitude of some of the fictional artists who appear in the book. Also that album totally changed my life forever during my senior year of high school, so I just wanted to record it somewhere in my writing.

Bob Marley, Three Little Birds
Reggae on repeat is my version of hell, and this song is playing in the laundromat Jarvis hangs out at one long, slow, hot summer day while she's in transition in her life. Reggae just reminds me of when I dated stoners in college. They'd be playing either reggae or the Dead on their stereo, and then there was somebody's hand up my shirt and all of a sudden I had to figure out how far I was going to go with this stinky, sloppy, long-haired guy who was never going to call me again.

Michael Jackson, Off the Wall
Jarvis makes a huge error in judgment and performs a completely morally questionable sexual act while listening to this album. But she never really feels particularly bad about it. MJ is the patron saint of this kind of activity.

Jami Attenberg and The Kept man links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the book's page at the publisher
promotional video for the book

Radar review
Reading Matters review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Time Out New York review
Washington City Paper review

Bostonist interview with the author
The Brooklyn Paper profile of the author
Edward Champion interview with the author
LAist interview with the author
Largehearted Boy: the author's Book Notes essay for Instant Love
Largehearted Boy: Ryan Walsh interviews the author about the book
Largehearted Boy: the author interviews Ryan Walsh (of Hallelujah the Hills)
Metromix New York profile of the author
The Page 69 Test for the book
Until Monday interview with the author
Whatever: "The Big Idea" behind the book

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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