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August 8, 2008

Book Notes - Lucy Corin ("The Entire Predicament")

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

When I post these Book Notes essays, I always ask the author to recommend other writers for the series. I often find that artists whose work I respect often introduce me to my new favorite writers and musicians. Roy Kesey recommended Lucy Corin on the same day that I saw the results of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and made a mental note to add the books and stories to my reading list. I noticed that Book Notes contributor Elizabeth Hand won the award for her novel, Generation Loss, and that Corin's The Entire Predicament was a finalist for compilation.

The Entire Predicament is a rare combination of the wonderfully grotesque, humor, and an incredible attention to detail. Every year I discover an author who has somehow slipped under my literary radar, Lucy Corin is 2008's example. I cannot wait to read her novels after consuming this marvelous collection way too quickly.

The Portland Mercury wrote of the collection:

"Nearly every page of The Entire Predicament packs this sort of efficient wallop, where an economy of words lulls the reader into a false sense of the quotidian, only to be casually shanghaied with devastating information. Corin's characters have a hard time in the world: They obsessively report adulterers to cuckolded spouses, birth babies with "bendy bones," and organize their neuroses while bound and gagged in empty homes."

In her own words, here is Lucy Corin's Book Notes essay for her short fiction collection, The Entire Predicament:

I know some writers who do things like listen to music while they’re writing, but I never do that. Right now I’m trying to write this with the news playing in the background and it’s driving me nuts. I can’t fall asleep to music either. Or the TV. Whatever is happening, I’m dying to know what happens next and I am incapable of letting it seep into the background or effect me in any way other than to distract me from what I’m thinking. I never write in cafés, either. Just muddies my brain, like alcohol. I’m a lousy writer w/out all my pistons. I’m also very into the percussive qualities of prose, much more into that aspect of fiction writing than most fiction writers I know. All that said, it’s fun to look back at the stories in my collection and see the ways that music does come into it. Here’s a couple examples:

“First Person”: This is a tiny little story that’s basically an invocation. A first person narrator talking about the power of the first person. I realize, in retrospect, that when I imagine this one it has the feeling of listening for the first dozen times to “Ocean Size” from Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing Shocking. That song, and that record,felt enormous when it came out, as overwhelming to listen to as Public Enemy felt right about then, too, but in this whole other way. Jane’s Addiction never sounded the same to me after that record, never had that kind of enveloping reach, and I haven’t listened to the record in about 15 years. I’m afraid his voice is going to sound abrasive and annoying now and my memories of that record were not abrasive or annoying in any way.

“Airplane”: The soundtrack for my story “Airplane” is the plinking bong-bong sound of a seatbelt sign going on and off.

“Who Buried the Baby”: I wrote this story after listening to a radio report about the grand-niece or some such relative of a mildly retarded (term of the time) young man executed in Britain for a murder he was involved in though he might not have been the guy who pulled the trigger. Anyhow, what got me was the voice of the grandniece, who was speaking for his family, who had worked for years, generations it seemed, to get the government to apologize, which it finally did. She sounded so tired, and I pictured her standing there with this slim white envelope, with a little note from the queen or whatever, trying to feel righteous but mostly feeling wiped out. The case was the one narrated by Elvis Costello in “Let Him Dangle,” a song I always liked a ton. I wrote the story about a woman trying to decide if she’s really willing to use her life to look for this sort of “justice.”

In “Rich People,” if the girls in the story live in the same time periond as the girls they are based on, they have been listening to The Fixx (“Sign of Fire” over and over) and Stevie Wonder. But that was earlier in the day when it was hot out.

“My Favorite Dentist”: This one has innocuous classical music on in the background the whole time. Until the prostitute part.

In “Wizened” Jeff next door listens to the Grateful Dead. It’s obvious that he does: he named the dog Spliff. God I hate the Grateful Dead. I hate everything except “Althea.” But I always liked the way my friend Sned played it better than on his stupid tapes that he loved so much. Jeff’s sister Aimee probably feels as I do.

In “Some Machines” you have to be quiet so you can hear all the machines. But in the part about the amplifier the band is my friend Rima Fand’s band. It’s actually her old band in the story and I forget its name but her new band is the Luminescent Orchestrii.

“Mice” doesn’t have a song. It’s more about watching Blow up and Blade Runner.

It’s interesting to me, looking back at this exercise, which I totally recommend for all you writers, that the stories I named are the ones in the collection that are probably least consistently obsessed with their own musicality. Also, all the specific music that comes up them is distinctly from my past, which I think makes sense, because so much of fiction writing is about making something of what’s history.

Lucy Corin and The Entire Predicament links:

the book's page at the publisher

Publishers Weekly review
Portland Mercury review

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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