July 23, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Gina Frangello's Slut Lullabies is a collection, of raw, intense short stories. The characters' search for identity and honest interactions with each other will have you searching out more of the author's work. Always surprising, witty, and refreshingly frank, Slut Lullabies is one of the year's strongest collections of short fiction.
ForeWord Reviews wrote of the book:
"Slut Lullabies is not a book that soothes; these stories of wreckage and turmoil will not sing the mind to rest. Rather, Gina Frangello jolts readers awake. She takes on weighty contemporary topics—mental illness, domestic violence, suicide, and poverty. Issues of identity are at the forefront of this book. Class, race, gender, sexual preference, and ability are all explored through a diverse cast of characters and Frangello's wry voice. "
The stories in Slut Lullabies were written and published over a decade before being compiled in a collection, so the musical influences are a little over the map, the way someone transitioning from mid-20s to mid-30s is for much of the journey . . . they're also 1980s and 90s heavy, because who we were when we were young always deeply impacts the whole.
The title story takes place in 1986. Emily and her best friend Sera are "heavily into partying, dancing, dressing to the nines even to sit around at McDonald's or study hall, and doing "everything but" with guys we picked up at parties, since dating per se did not much exist among our crowd . . . You made out once, and then you either automatically became boyfriend-girlfriend (which did not necessarily involve dates), or you carefully ignored each other for the remainder of your teenaged life." The song "I Melt with You" by Modern English is actually quoted in the story, but when I think of Emily, Sera and their friends, the song that always comes most vividly to mind is "Kiss Off" by the Violent Femmes. I can see them, dancing in somebody's basement pumping their fists in the air to this song, in their silk and velvet vintage gloves and rhinestones . . .
"How to Marry a WASP"
Much of this story focuses on the spiritual war of how we conceptualize G/god. Miguel is a gay Latino man about to have an elaborate commitment ceremony with his affluent, idealistic lover, while meanwhile his devout family is boycotting the affair. As his older sister, who practically raised him, increasingly rejects his homosexuality in her efforts to find peace and banish the demons of their childhood through religion, I think of Miguel playing "Dear God" by XTC and trying to reconcile pursuing truth and happiness in his own life, vs. his family's behavior.
"What You See"
This story is all about the perceived, illusory differences between Beautiful Women and Intelligent Women—about the things women do to themselves and each other that can be as detrimental as anything inflicted on them from the outside. The quintessential song on this topic is Janis Ian's "At Seventeen." My mother loved it when it first came out, and I listened to it obsessively my freshman year of college more than a decade later. If the new generation of young women hasn't heard it, they should. The scariest part is how little being a girl has changed in the past thirty years.
Annette is in love with the one man she could never have: her cousin. "Untouchable Face" by Ani DiFranco . . . who was sort of an heir to Janis Ian anyway.
"Trilby in Brasil"
The unnamed female narrator becomes so attracted to a gorgeous, enigmatic woman who goes by the name "Merlot" that she completely uproots her life . . . not that her life didn't require a bit of uprooting anyway . . . before realizing things aren't what she believed. Because the attraction between the two heroines is never quite consummated, this song reminds me of some of Tori Amos' vaguely homoerotic, girl-on-girl songs, particularly "Caught a Light Sneeze." Amos following DiFranco and Ian provides a nice concentration on the musical evolution of a certain style of female vocalist, too.
This story, which is about chronic pain, pill addiction, and the rush of infidelity comes to mind when I hear a number of songs—there are so many great drug and self-destruction songs!—but especially "Junkie Girl" by Michael McDermott and "Under Your Skin" by Luscious Jackson," which on the surface have nothing in common. I love the line from "Under Your Skin" that says, "I burn everything frequently." If that's not what it is to have an addiction—to anything—I don't know what is. This story could have its own playlist in my head, though. "Slide Away" by Michael Hutchence, Aimee Mann's "High on Sunday 51," or almost anything by Kristen Hersh qualifies . . .
"The Marie Antoinette School of Economics"
This is a pretty satirical story about a wealthy, privileged woman who fears losing her social standing as a result of her husband's debilitating illness . . . when her real issues, both psychological and practical, are far deeper and darker than social concerns. In keeping with the story's tone, I like Eva Cassidy's "Penny to My Name," a ballad about a small-town woman whose life has truly been limited by economics and opportunities. Like a lot of the stories in Slut Lullabies, I think this connection underscores the way differences between people are often more illusory than we believe, and on a core level we all face the same struggles and fears—and absurdities.
"Attila the There"
Camden's another character with his own playlist in my head, even though he's sixteen and we probably wouldn't like the same music. Three songs that remind me deeply of him are "Katy Song" by the Red House Painters, "Chinese Summer" by A.C. Acoustics, and "Push" by Matchbox Twenty.
Well, this one's easy. "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police. The original version—the one I listened to in high school, even though it would be before my character Jenna's time.
The main character changes her name from Sophie Jane to just "Jayne," and I always think of her when I hear the song "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction. She's coming from a similar place of desperation, of not knowing what love is, only knowing when someone wants her, and wanting them if they want her. You know what, though—there's this other song I heard once on the radio years ago, by a female vocalist with a really intense voice, and the lyrics were about Lear's daughter Cordelia, with a refrain that kept repeating, "mad Cordelia." It was a crazy good song and I never found out who sang it. I thought at first it was Joan Osborne, but no. I've wanted to find it ever since. I think if Jayne from "Stalking God" heard that song, it would be her favorite. If any of you know who sang it, put it in the comments!
Gina Frangello and Slut Lullabies links:
Big Other interview with the author
Chicago Subtext interview with the author
Huffington Post contributions by the author
Knee-Jerk interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
Newcity Lit profile of the author
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)
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