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February 24, 2011

Book Notes - Emma Straub ("Other People We Married")

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

A couple of years ago I received a review copy of Emma Straub's book Fly-over State in the mail. I can only compare reading her stories for the first time with hearing that initial song from what would become your favorite band. I obsessively searched out her other stories, and she has quickly become one of my favorite writers.

In the introduction to her 2009 Book Notes piece for Fly-over State I predicted she was a "writer to watch with a strong literary future." With Other People We Married, Straub proves that the future is now. Her eye for detail combined with a keen, pervasive sense of humor bring these engaging stories to life in one of the year's finest short fiction collections.

The New York Journal of Books wrote of the collection:

"First, some simple truths: Emma Straub is the real deal: a writer whose gift it is to take the ordinary and, through the selection of perfectly telling details and sublime and sometimes brutal observations ("Sometimes it was best to let people believe what they want to about themselves, especially Franny, who was held together with barbed wire and a thick coating of cream-cheese frosting.") transforms her material into the extraordinary."

In her own words, here is Emma Straub's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, Other People We Married:

The sad truth is this: I can't listen to music when I write. I'm already so easily distracted—oh look, a cat! A snack! Twitter!—that putting on music with words would be deadly. So instead of making a list of songs I actually listened to while writing this book, I'm going to pick a song that matches the mood of each story. Here goes!

Story: "Some People Must Really Fall in Love"
Song: "(Don't Stand) So Close to Me," The Police

This story is about a teacher who has the hots for one of her students. I could have flattered my character by choosing Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," too. Let's go ahead and call it a draw.

Story: "Rosemary"
Song: "The Stray Cat Strut," The Stray Cats

My brother used to have a Stray Cats poster in his bedroom. They had cool hair. This story is about a woman who hires a pet psychic to find her missing cat. I won't spoil it by telling you the end, but hey, The Stray Cats sure had cool hair, didn't they?

Story: "A Map of Modern Palm Springs"
Song: "In the Sun," Blondie

Do you think Deborah Harry spent a lot of time outside tanning? Neither do I.

Story: "Pearls"

Let's go with the peppy and bi-curious "I Kissed A Girl," Katy Perry.

Story: "Abraham's Enchanted Forest"
Song: "More Than This," Roxy Music

Greta is 16 and lives in her parents' low-rent roadside amusement park. I think she'd really like Bryan Ferry.

Story: "Fly-Over State"

I'm going to go ahead and pick one of the same songs I picked last time, because it still fits. "Psychokiller," The Talking Heads. Creepy? Yep. Apropos? You betcha.

Story: "Other People We Married"
Song: "A Little Respect," Erasure

When a woman brings her gay best friend on vacation with her husband, and it doesn't go so well, one might wish for both a little respect and a whole lotta Erasure.

Story: "Puttanesca"
Song: The Cat Power cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

When two young widows try to fall in love again, things don't go swimmingly. The Cat Power version sucks all the venom out of the Stones' song and turns it into a dirge. Perfect!

Story: "Marjorie and The Birds"
Song: "The Park," Feist"

God, I love this song. It sounds like birds and sadness and love and if this story were to burst into song, this is exactly what it would sound like.

Story: "Orient Point"

This story is straight-up Elliott Smith. Take your pick, make sure it's nice and depressing.

Story: "Mohawk"

This story takes place around a summer camp that is the complete opposite of the one I went to, where we all sat around and sang "The Circle Game" nine hundred times a day. I had never listened to the Beatles before I went to camp (I was seven, okay, and my parents only listened to jazz, so there were some pretty major holes in my knowledge of popular music), and I thought that the counselors had written "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Eleanor Rigby."

Story: "Hot Springs Eternal"
Song: "Happy to Be Stuck With You," Huey Lewis and The News

Yes, you've made it through all the sad stories, and we've got a happy ending! Phew. Some people might think Huey Lewis is a dork, and those people aren't wrong, but I don't care. I love Huey, and I love love. There, I said it.

Emma Straub and Other People We Married links:

the author's website
the author's Tumblr
excerpt from the book ("Marjorie and the Birds" at Fifty-Two Stories)
excerpt from the book ("Orient Point" at American Short Fiction)
excerpt from the book ("Puttanesca" at Five Chapters)

The Gutenberg Girls review
The House Next Door review
New York Journal of Books review
Pank review

Algonquin Books Blog interview with the author
Bookslut interview with the author
Currency from Amex interview with the author
Dossier interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Fly-over State
The Magazine of Yoga interview with the author
McNally Jackson Bookmongers guest post by the author
Paris Review blog essay by the author
Reagan Arthur Books Blog interview with the author
Smalldoggies Magazine interview with the author
Used Furniture Review interview with the author
Vol. 1 Brooklyn interview with the author

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Fly-over State

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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