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July 22, 2008

Book Notes - Jonathan Evison ("All About Lulu")

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

When it comes to literary fiction, I can always depend on Soft Skull to publish books I will enjoy. Earlier this year I received a box of books from Soft Skull, immediately dug into the fiction, and picked up Jonathan Evison's coming-of-age novel All About Lulu.

All About Lulu is an impressive debut novel, the moving story of a vegetarian, skinny boy in a family of bodybuilders who loses his mother and develops an obsession with his stepsister. Even the ancillary characters are well-written, and Evison shares surprises along the way in an incredibly satisfying read that seems way too short.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Evison provides readers a viciously funny and deeply felt portrayal of a blended family and one man's thwarted longing."

Jonathan Evison kicks off his book tour in Seattle tonight at the Elliott Bay Book Company.

In his own words, here is Jonathan Evison's Book Notes essay for his novel, All About Lulu:

I’m a weeper—there, I’ve said it. And it’s safe to say that nothing makes me weep more frequently, more effusively, and more gratefully than the volatile combination of music and beer. A lot of beer. I like to get real dumb and listen to music in my headphones under the stars, and have a nice weep—I find it regenerative. I also find that the process somehow informs my writing, though I’d be hard pressed to articulate exactly how, which I think is sort of the point. There’s something to be said for crippling one’s language centers with eight or nine beers and letting the world wash over you. I find the condition to be sorta’ womb-like. For all the sluggish meanderings of my mind, there is a lucidity to my world view when I’m in this prone, inebriated state listening at full volume to Steve Earle or Count Basie or Patsy Cline or Shuggie Otis. Perhaps, it is music’s intuitive approach to rushing at the unseen, and getting at the heart of the matter with chill-inducing precision. Whatever that means. The beer helps.

Like its protagonist, at its center, All About Lulu has a bruised heart and wants to be loved, thus many of the songs which have informed, inspired, or otherwise seem to jibe with the tone, content, or spirit of the novel, express a sad or wistful quality, which I can’t seem to elude, and don’t really care to. I’m determined to keep weeping.

Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Brown

What makes this song apropos to All About Lulu in my mind, is a certain white-haired boy quality to the lyrics, which express genuine disillusion and despair without expressing bitterness, as one who has been injured unwittingly, and is determined to make sense of his injury. Yet, beneath these despairing qualities, there is something ambiguously hopeful about this song with its upbeat rhythm, a sense that the heart will soldier on in spite of it all. That’s kinda’ how I feel about Will’s narrative voice.

The Adolescents – Kids of the Black Hole

Aside from being synonymous (for me) with Los Angeles in the early 80s, this anthem of teen angst possesses all the velocity of adolescence; all the angsty, restless yearning of teenagedom so desperately wanting voice. There’s something so urgent about it all. This velocity and urgency of heart are two qualities I was really aiming for with All About Lulu.

Detroit Cobras – Hot Dog

Given that the hot dog is awarded nearly sacrosanct significance in All About Lulu—indeed, it is deemed transcendent by Will’s mentor-turned-protégé Gerard—this one was a no-brainer. As Eugene Gobernecki might say: this song “is pledge of allegiance for Hot Dog Heaven.”

Summersong – The Decemberists

The infectious, spiraling chord progression of this song just speaks to me of Will and Lulu kissing in the pampas grass in high summer. This song makes me feel like I’m in love, and my heart is unsullied.

Someone Saved My Life Tonight – Elton John

It was impossible to avoid the music of Elton John in mid-70s California, and I’m guessing just about anywhere else. There is something particularly poignant to me about this song. But I gotta’ say, Bernie Taupin wrote some weird f*cking lyrics. His inexplicable reference to sugar bear in this song, makes me think of a box of Super Sugar Crisp, which is pure, unmitigated nostalgia for this 70s survivor.

The Eels – World of Shit

This woeful self-indulgence lament, with its disaffected drama, reminds me of Lulu in her later adolescence.

These Days – Nico

Funny, that in essence, Jackson Brown should make this list twice, being that he wrote These Days, which Nico wields with her signature antiseptic approach (from a great distance), yet still cannot belie the tenderness at the song’s core. I think of Nico’s tonal distance as being something akin to Will’s sarcasm, a defense mechanism.

Paradise City – Guns n’ Roses

I quite simply can’t conceive of L.A. in the late 80s without thinking about Guns n’ Roses. In one of his many incarnations Ross (going by Alistair at the time), discovers Guns n’ Roses “just as the rest of America’s Appetite for Destruction was beginning to wane.”

In California – Neko Case

This song has a haunting, sad, homesick quality which makes me think of Will driving around endlessly in the L.A. basin at night searching for he knows not what. The song’s fundamental tension lies between what is and what could be, which is also the fulcrum of William’s despair, and everybody else’s, too, I suppose.

Jonathan Evison and All About Lulu links:

the author's website
the book's page at the publisher
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Joshua Ferris review
Powell's Books review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Seattle Times review

The Inside Cover interview with the author
KUOW Sound Focus interview with the author
L Magazine review
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
Powell's Books blog posts by the author
Publishers Weekly review of the book
Three Guys One Book interview with the author
Writers Read post by the author

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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