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August 26, 2009

Book Notes - Brian Evenson ("Fugue State")

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

Brian Evenson understands that true horror lies within ourselves, and he brings his masterfully reserved storytelling skills to his latest collection of short stories, Fugue State.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote of the book:

""These 19 satisfying and surreal stories plumb the psyches of murderers, paranoids, frightened children, bitter ex-husbands, religious zealots in post-apocalyptic worlds and people whose fleeting sanity will be gone by story's end. Evenson takes even his most fanciful characters seriously even as he partakes of gallows humor; this book is as packed with subtly hilarious sentences as haunting images.""

In his own words, here is Brian Evenson's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, Fugue State:

I thought a lot about what stories would go into Fugue State. What I was interested in was trying to put together a book of stories that would have a rhythm and texture to it, that would allow for both dark and humorous pieces but do so in that felt natural and integrated rather than choppy or schizophrenic. Fugue State at once has some of my funniest stories in it and some of my darkest ones. It ranges from simple, painfully honest pieces about children struggling to understand the world around them to baroque post-apocalyptic nightmares, with a satire of the publishing industry, explorations of mime sex, and a collaborative comic shuffled in between. Here's my playlist, story by story. Hopefully it's something that will take on additional resonance and tension if you end up reading the book.

1. Younger: "Wild Horses" by The Rolling Stones. This slow and mournful ballad has nice echoes with some of the events of the story itself. It also serves as a kind of consolation for what the younger sister in the story has gone through. It's as much a kind of moment of gathering breath after the story as a reflection of the story itself.

2. A Pursuit: "I Can't Get Over You" by The Monks. What I like about this song is its slightly manic quality, the way it takes a traditional sort of pop song and inflects it to make it just a little off. I hesitated between this song, Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," and The Grassy Knoll's "Driving Nowhere." Probably what I want is to be in a club and hear a perfect but impossible mix of all three.

3. Mudder Tongue: "Naked, Whooping and Suchlike" by Wir. Wir is the name the band Wire went by for an album or two after their drummer left. This track consists of a man telling a story that includes lines like "The rum-gagger was about to shake the bullet" and "Peeled eyes were the order of the day"—lines that I can imagine "Mudder Tongue"'s narrator saying.

4. An Accounting: I went back and forth between Nick Cave's "Messiah Ward" and his "Cannibal's Hymn," both of which have something to offer for this post-apocalyptic tale of an unwilling Messiah and the gospel he seems to have unintentionally (if we believe him) created.

5. Desire with Digressions: Since one of the themes of the collection as a whole are holes and gaps, I'm going to leave a hole here. This song is directly based on a song that I was obsessed with and I think I wrote it largely to try to figure out what it was about that song that amazed me. If you know the song, I think you'll see that I'm responding to it.

6. Dread (with Zak Sally): Zak Sally's images appear at the head of each story in Fugue State and for me really add something. Here, the story wouldn't have nearly the same resonance without them. I like the starkness and spareness of his images, the near absence of human figures, and think something similarly spare and with a fair amount of silence and openness, like Scott Walker's "Cue", would be a good pairing.

7. Girls in Tents: "Never Be Lonely" by The Feeling. I can't decide if I mean this somewhat ironically or if it's wishful thinking, a way of projecting past the story's end. For me, this story and "Younger," despite their simplicity and the fact that almost nothing (let alone something violent or visceral) happens in them, are the most wrenching pieces in the collection.

8. Wander: "Atomic Lullaby" by The Blow Monkeys. "Wander" is a retelling of an old tale but projected into the future after an undefined disaster, the past and the future dovetailing together. I like the way this song breaks open in the middle and then gradually returns to calm, in the same way as the mysterious but deadly object within the story.

9. In the Greenhouse: "Opus 24" by Arnold Schoenberg. Any story that contains a character sporting Lederhosen deserves to be paired with Austrian music. This Schoenberg piece, at once complex and very light on its feet, provides a good representation of the kind of dance going on between the narrator and writer in whose grasp he finds himself.

10. Ninety Over Ninety. Half Japanese's "Curse of the Doll People" gives, I think, serves as a window into the antagonist Cinchy's mind…

11. Invisible Box: "Glory Box" by Portishead. I like the dreamy, hazy quality of this song, the way it sleepwalks its way along, and the sense it gives of almost being performed within someone's head. It's just the kind of song that would lead you to do something foolish.

12. The Third Factor. I'm tempted to use Hall and Oates's song "Private Eyes" for this story, but that seems like maybe going a little too far. Instead, I'll suggest J.S. Bach's "'Little' Fugue in G Minor," since this story plays both with the psychological meaning of Fugue State and might be thought of (very loosely) as a transposition of a musical fugue.

13. Bauer in the Tyrol. "12305(te) Nacht" by Einsturzende Neubauten. I think the whispery lethargy of this song and its sense of frustration and dissolution is a good fit for Bauer, considering his circumstances.

14. Helpful. Two songs came to mind for this story. One is the excellent "Why We Hide" by Zak Sally's Fear of Song, which starts with the line "What if the lights go out?" The other would be David Bowie's "Breaking Glass."

15. Life Without Father. How about the bittersweet and quietly ironic "Good Lies" by The Notwist. "We'll remember good lies / when they live in a room / with us, use our kitchen table / and our little beds."

16. Alfons Kuylers. "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me" by Tom Waits.

17. Fugue State. Again two possibilities for this long story about a plague that seems to be stripping people of their identity. Either "Nobody Is My Name" from the Ammer/Einheit/Haage's opera, Odysseus 7, or The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" (whose chorus captures the dilemma of this particular storyworld).

18. Traub in the City. I have composer Manuel Sosa to thank for turning me on to Irvine Arditti's performance of Luigi Nono's "La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura." It's a haunting, silence-filled, dialogue between a live violinist and pre-recorded materials and its abstraction is something I'd like to capture in the story itself.

19. The Adjudicator. "DeJesus" by the Psyclone Rangers. There's an nice tension to that song that I think echoes in the tension of the story itself. And I like parts of the chorus: "Deliver me from evil / But still I hear the Devil / Calling My Name".

That's it. Happy listening and/or reading.

Brian Evenson and Fugue State links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Barnes & Noble review
Blake Butler reviews of the stories in the book
BookFox review
Bookmarks review
Bookmunch review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
The Collagist review
Flavorwire review
The Goalie's Anxiety review
Los Angeles Times review
Open Letters review
Publishers Weekly review
Time Out Chicago review
Time Out New York review

Apostrophe Cast reading by the author
Bookslut interview with the author
Largehearted Boy music playlist by the author for Electric Flesh
Largehearted Boy music playlist by the author for Last Days
Largehearted Boy music playlist by the author for The Open Curtain
The Living Dead interview with the author
OF Blog of the Fallen interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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