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July 15, 2010

Book Notes - Doug Dorst ("The Surf Guru")

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

Last year I was greatly impressed by Doug Dorst's debut novel, Alive in Necropolis. His debut short story collection The Surf Guru has just been published.

In this collection of diverse tales, Dorst's ability to engender empathy for his flawed characters is both great and greatly moving, and further entrenches him as one of the most innovative young writers of fiction.

Read one of the book's short stories, "Little Reptiles," at Five Chapters.

The Austin Chronicle wrote of the collection:

"The fineness of the language, the specificity of the worlds created within, and the astonishing, deeply imaginative variedness of them are all that link the stories, which experiment with form, with subject, with tone, from the funny and spry "Splitters" (which Dorst calls a "love letter" to his botanist wife), a series of poison-pen biographical sketches written by a taxonomist with an axe to grind, to the dreamy but chilling "Jumping Jacks," a three-page memory piece linking a childhood firecracker fiasco to Bush Junior's Gulf War."

In his own words, here is Doug Dorst's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, The Surf Guru:

When I put together the playlist for my novel, Alive in Necropolis, I focused on music that inspired me while I was writing. I figured I'd take a different approach with The Surf Guru—something more like a soundtrack for each of the stories in the collection.

Story: "The Surf Guru"
Song: Calexico, "Sunken Waltz"

This is a story about a champion-surfer-turned-surfwear-entrepreneur who's having an existential crisis of sorts, trying to reconcile his sense of himself with his corporate, commoditized alter ego.

Story: "Dinaburg's Cake"
Song: Willie Nelson, "We Don't Run"

The main character is a cake-maker in Austin who loses out on her dream gig but doggedly refuses to give up her fight(s). She's a native Texan, and while I don't think she's a particularly musical person, I'll bet she's got a soft spot for Willie.

Story: "La Fiesta de San Humberto el Menor"
Song: Alejandro Escovedo, "Paradise"

"Paradise" was literally the inspiration for the story; I'd fallen hard for the song, and I decided to take some images and phrases from the lyrics, literalize them, and then build a narrative around what I found there. I started hearing Manolo's voice pretty quickly, and I let it guide me through the story. One of my goals was to try to capture in prose the way the slide guitar part made me feel.

Story: "Vikings"
Song: Emma Gibbs Band, "California" and "Hole in the Dark"

A few years ago, two students from the North Carolina School of the Arts adapted "Vikings" into a short film for their senior project, and these songs were part of the soundtrack. I think the filmmakers knew the band; if I remember correctly, it's the band's manager who plays Phil, the story's narrator. I'm fond of the adaptation, and I think these songs fit well.

Story: "Jumping Jacks"
Song: Roger Waters, "The Bravery of Being Out of Range"

This story was written for Stephen Elliott's Politically Inspired anthology. I was trying to make sense of my feelings about the war that the administration at the time had chosen to fight and for which some good friends of mine were cheering, much to my bewilderment.

Story: "Twelve Portraits of Dr. Gachet"
Song: Robert Plant, "Funny In My Mind (I Believe I'm Fixin' to Die)"

Dr. Gachet was the doctor (and aspiring artist) who treated Van Gogh in the last months of the artist's life. He (my version of him, anyway) is deeply afraid of his own mortality, and he believes that artists can make themselves immortal through their work. If he can't be a great artist himself, he at least wants to be along for the ride.

Story: "The Monkeys Howl, the Hagfish Feast"
Song: Phosphorescent, "Not Right, You Know"
Song: Blitzen Trapper, "Furr"

The story is about war and also about coming of age. Figured I'd choose a song for each.

Story: "Splitters"
Song: Beethoven, Symphony #6

"Splitters" is the story of a surly, misanthropic, vindictive botanist. I think he'd have liked Beethoven's Sixth. Especially that awesome stormy part. Alternate choice: the "Hammerklavier" Sonata.

Story: "The Candidate in Bloom"
Song: The New Pornographers, "The Laws Have Changed"

Introducing for the first time / Pharaoh on the microphone / Sing, all hail / What will be revealed today / When we peer into the great unknown / From the line to the throne?

Story: "What Is Mine Will Know My Face"
Song: Tim Easton, "Happy Now"
Song: Gomez, "Silence"

This story is a prequel to "Vikings," told by the same narrator. Phil is having a pretty rough time of things—rougher than he even understands—and these two songs, taken together, give a sense of where he's at.

Story: "Little Reptiles"

"Little Reptiles" is a story in five distinct parts. (I think of it as a Suite of Anxieties.) The pieces are different enough that I figured I'd pick a song for each.

1. "Boomslang" – Eddie Vedder, "Hard Sun"
2. "Galliwasp" – The Mermen, "Lizards"
3. "Argus Monitor" – Joe Pug, "Hymn #101"
4. "Daboia (The Lurker)" – Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, & Alison Krauss, "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby"
5. "Gharial" - George Harrison, "Beware of Darkness"

Story: "Astronauts"
Song: Little Feat, "Willin'"
Song: Lucero, "I Can Get Us out of Here Tonight"

Two songs about getting out on the road and leaving everything behind.

Doug Dorst and The Surf Guru links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book ("Reptiles" at Five Chapters)

Associated Press review
Bookforum review
Kirkus Reviews review
Los Angeles Times review
The Monster's Flashlight review
The Rumpus review
Sacramento Book Review review review

Austin Chronicle profile of the author
Austinist interview with the author
Jennifer Boylan interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for his novel, Alive in Necropolis

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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