June 15, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Laura Boudreau's Suitable Precautions is a haunting short story collection, filled with unexpected turns and elegant prose, a smart and masterful debut.
Geist Magazine wrote of the book:
"The stories…are powered by narrative voices that move toward and away from their subjects effortlessly and withhold the certainty of solid ground; each story is an act of faith."
Suitable Precautions was written mostly in silence. I'm that writer who gets irritated by coffee shop chatter and library shufflings — generally speaking, I write alone, at home, with a pair of earplugs at the ready. But when it came to ordering the thirteen different stories into a collection, I was surprised to see how much music there was on the page, not only in terms of references to specific songs, but also in the way the pieces worked alongside each other. The pauses between the stories started to feel right and organic, like an old-fashioned mix-tape. Which, of course, nobody makes anymore. They make playlists. So here's mine: one song for each story.
"Fruits of My Labor," by Lucinda Williams, from World Without Tears
In my story "The Party," people are like molecules in a petri dish: bouncing off each other, fusing, recombining, until the night and the booze are done. For me, this slurred and sweet Williams tune perfectly captures that feeling you get at the end of the party, when you wrap your arms around your lover, or a stranger, and slow dance. You may have a hangover the next day, and yeah, the song is sad, but damn, are you happy now.
"The Coast," by Paul Simon, from The Rhythm of the Saints
This song broke the sound barrier for me, in that I listened to it on repeat while writing the story "Strange Pilgrims." The song says something to me about journeys, and about loneliness. If you read the story closely, you may notice that some lyrics slipped into my prose. (Mr. Simon, if you're reading, thank you. And please don't be mad. Or sue me for copyright infringement.)
"This Year," by The Mountain Goats, from The Sunset Tree
In 2008 I was finishing the book, and "The Dead Dad Game," which was one of the last stories, was not going well. I was struggling, not only with my fiction but also with the narrative of my own life, which had suddenly turned lovelorn, transatlantic, and anxious. I adopted "This Year" as my theme song: "I am going to make it through this year / If it kills me." Yup. Pretty much.
"Knock 'Em Out," by Lily Allen, from Alright, Still…
From the opening notes of the tripping-over-itself piano, we know we're in for a ride. The pulsing rhythms and the sassy boldness of Allen's club brush-offs ("I've gotta go, my house is on fire" / "I've got herpes, er, no it's syphilis") remind me of Lauren, the precocious twelve-year-old narrator of "Poses." When and if Lauren ever grows up, this'll be her.
"Chan Chan," by Buena Vista Social Club, from Buena Vista Social Club
Ry Cooder has called "Chan Chan" the Buena Vista Social Club's calling card, and, for me, it is evocative of the power and passion of Cuba, where my story "Hurricane Season" is set. If this song were a person, it would be a hypnotist. And wear a fedora.
"Sentimental Heart," by She & Him, from Volume One
Over at Consequence of Sound, Charlie Duerr has characterized She & Him's music as "utterly non-offensive twee-pop." Sounds like the right musical stylings for the gourmet dinner party club of pea shoot-eating, funky clothes-wearing, hipster-identifying thirtysomethings in "Monkfish."
"J'ai Dansé Avec L'Amour," by Edith Piaf, from La Vie En Rose
Art! Music! Paris! Death! This song is the soundtrack to the lives of my dangerously Wilde (as in Oscar) art critics in "Problem in the Hamburger Room." Fire up the gramophone, please, and pass the champagne. I don't care if it's flat.
"Heart of My Own," by Basia Bulat, from Heart of My Own
"The D and D Report" is about the dissolution of a friendship, and the folksy wreckage of this song — why am I picturing a dilapidated cabin on the edge of a cliff somewhere in Scotland? — reminds me of that destruction.
"City of Refuge," by Abigail Washburn, from City of Refuge
This song is insistent, persistent. It's a song for road trips across wide-open prairies, when you're not sure if you're running away from your refuge or towards it. In "The Meteorite Hunter," David hits the road in a rusted-out VW Rabbit with his estranged daughter Diana, and I'm pretty sure this song is on the radio.
"The Dress Looks Nice on You," by Sufjan Stevens, from Seven Swans
The haunting refrain of this song ("I can see a lot of life in you") speaks to me of regret and wistfulness and longing. It's the kind of song I put on repeat when I'm feeling low, and want to feel even worse, and so well-suited to a story called, somewhat misleadingly, "Falling in Love."
"I Feel Alright," by Steve Earle, from I Feel Alright
I play this when I'm feeling defiant, or when I need to walk down the street like I own the asphalt. Steve Earl is a rebel and a renegade, and an advocate against the death penalty. Who better, then, to sing for Franklin, the WWI pacifist-soldier of "Tick" who finds himself up against a firing squad? "Be careful what you wish for, friend / Because I've been to hell and now I'm back again" — exactly.
"Still Water," by Daniel Lanois, from Acadie
My family comes from New Brunswick, and my story "Way Back the Road" takes place in Campbellton. The Acadian intonation of this song, its repetition and its turn of phrase, has a whirlpool effect, drawing you deeper into the song; it reminds me of the Restigouche River.
"Alone Together," by Brad Mehldau, Lee Konitz, and Charlie Haden, from Alone Together
Once upon a time, I played saxophone. Not as well as Lee Konitz, but I could wail if I wanted to. Just saying. This live recording is improvisational and elastic, moving in ways that are both unpredictable and yet absolutely necessary. Its tensions and resolutions — its conversations, really — are fitting representations of the cacophony and intersection of characters in "The Vosmak Genealogy."
Laura Boudreau and Suitable Precautions links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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