August 25, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Cathy Stonehouse's debut short story collection Something About the Animal is filled with women in dire situations. These stories offer poetic peepholes into troubled lives, and include an abundance of dark humor and even occasional glimpses of hope.
Quill & Quire wrote of the book:
"Cathy Stonehouse's debut collection contains one heartbreaking situation after another: sexual abuse, mental illness, loneliness, and death pervade the book. However, Stonehouse's spare prose reveals the hidden layers of her vulnerable characters with great precision, making it difficult to turn away."
My first collection of short stories, Something About the Animal, came into being over the course of several years as evidence of my migration from poetry into prose. The stories are difficult, willful and passionate, and attempt to narrate the ridiculous and the unspeakable from the points of view of assorted stressed individuals both from Canada, where I live now, and from Britain, where I grew up. As you can tell from its noir-ish cover, this book is not exactly beach reading. In fact, it's so "heavy" it makes a hole in any coffee table. But there are funny parts, and a lot of grace is smuggled in. At its centre is language under pressure, all clashing registers and desperate metaphors, an experiment in hyperrealism that makes strange. The rhythm and intonation of the stories is inseparable from their content, so in this sense it's a kind of musical score. Assembling a playlist I think of specific stories, their possible theme songs, but also of what I listened to while I was writing it, often the same tracks played over and over again, as if to induce a very specific trance. I also think of my characters, and feel grateful for them, for their courage in coming into being and allowing themselves to be released into this world.
Rodney deCroo: "Gasoline"
If there was one CD that got me through the writing of this book, it was the brilliant, searing Mockingbird Bible by Vancouver singer/songwriter Rodney DeCroo, in particular this surreal, cascading track. No stranger to darkness and hard times, DeCroo is a poet who understands the disorienting beauty of broken-ness, and isn't afraid to celebrate it. Is that rain coming down, or is that gasoline?
PJ Harvey: "The Glorious Land"
Harvey's powerful new album Let England Shake came out just after I finished Animal, but her fierce, wild voice and unsparing lyrics cut deep in their disgust and adoration for what England, whatever that is, has become. Raised in rural Devon, Harvey retains a passionate attachment to the land while excoriating the destructive hypocrisy of Britain as a political entity. She's also just generally groovy, and quite possibly the soul of agoraphobic Beryl from "Beryl Takes a Knife", turned inside out.
Eliza Gilkyson: "Wild Horse"
This one's for you, girl--the anonymous protagonist of my title story, who hasn't quite come into her wildness yet, but will. Who loves a horse she does not own, and knows more than she can say about random cruelty … When she rides the wild horse she is free … Gilkyson sings of a girl's relationship to her horse and gets it right. A songwriter I admire deeply for her courage, integrity and wit.
Ferron: "Girl on a Road"
A profoundly generous, quietly devastating account of an all too common young woman's rite of passage, sung with such a very light touch you just might miss the decades of wisdom carried inside: a song which continues to bring me courage and inspiration, not least for its radically gentle point of view; also a gift to Shelley from "Salt and Clay."
The Beige: "The Exterminating Angel"
Another Vancouver band, this one headed by writer Rick Maddocks who succeeded me as Editor of Event magazine for a while. There's a lot of space in these (not so) "beige" songs, a lot of room for the imagination. I found myself returning to this one in particular when writing about Donny in "All Good Gifts," who has the unfortunate task of killing off his own cattle during the British foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001.
Richard Thompson: "Dad's Gonna Kill Me"
The twinkly-eyed, power-guitar playing Thompson is a songwriting wizard, and this angry lament by a soldier stationed in Iraq is one of the most unsentimental anti-war songs I have ever heard, and the double entendre of Dad/Baghdad is just a bonus. I dedicate this song to Kev, the Falklands War vet, in "Keeping Mum"—here's hoping for a speedy recovery.
David Bowie/Queen: "Under Pressure"
A number of the stories in Animal are set in the UK during the ‘80s and ‘90s, so it seems only appropriate to include this, which was one of my favourite tracks as a teenager. This one is especially for the anonymous narrator of "Where I Live Now," and his Goth pal Keith Harris, as they share a smoke and wonder what life holds. It's also for the whole book, written and revised under pressure—the positive kind.
Ivor Cutler: "Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Episode 1"
The genius of this squeezebox-playing Scotsman may be harder to appreciate this side of the pond, but his deadpan satire and utter absurdity are second to none. Cutler is also a fearless pun merchant, as am I. I include this track as a tribute to my absurdest heroines Aline the cougar, Gloria the pregnant hyena and Mitzi the psychic cockapoo. Luckily none of them have ever had to eat herring, intelligent or otherwise. At least, not to my knowledge.
Holly Near: "We are Gentle, Angry Women"
This is the only song named in the book, albeit ironically, as Jen the reluctant peace campaigner leads a serious sing-along in the women's peace camp she will eventually leave in the middle of the night. Yet in a way it underpins the whole enterprise. I spent a few weeks at Greenham Common in my youth. I even still have a lavender Xeroxed song sheet. Make of this what you will.
Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy: "The Bows of London"
And finally, a good old English folk song revived and made relevant again by the inimitable Martin Carthy and his fiddling partner in crime, Dave Swarbrick. Just to prove that gory, relentlessly bleak yet sweetly poetic narratives are entirely traditional. Not to mention making music from bones.
Cathy Stonehouse and Something About the Animal links:
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