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December 14, 2012

Book Notes - George Singleton "Stray Decorum"

Stray Decorum

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.

George Singleton is a master of the American short story, and with Stray Decorum he once again portrays hardscrabble everyday lives with his unique blend of humor, insight, and compassion. Whenever I think about underrated authors, Singleton is at the top of the list.

Paste wrote of the book:

"As always, Singleton leaves ’em howling with laughter, then comfortably numb with reflection. Singleton made a name for himself splitting sides, but he spins a serious story or two in this collection, the kind of 9 Stories fiction that would earn him an invitation over to J.D. Salinger’s deck some summer evening, were that old coot still with us. It’s all stray decorum with Singleton—he’s the realest real writer out there, no airs in person, none on the page. He deserves more attention."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is George Singleton's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, Stray Decorum:

1. "Vaccination" - "Vicious," Lou Reed, on Transformer

This story's about a crazy hoyden intent on either saving all the strays in the world, or running scams that part unsuspecting people from their money. I imagine that the narrator of the story, Edward Johnson, would cotton to the lyrics, "When I watch you come/baby, I just want to run far away/You're not the kind of person around I/want to stay."

2. "What Are the Odds?" - "(Let's Go) Smoke Some Pot," Dash Rip Rock, on Hits and Giggles (among others)

Here's a story about an unreliable dope-smoking dogsitter, a lost dog, a harried wife. The narrator finds out that some of his belongings - and his ID - have been stolen. And the missing dogsitter left his stash. Well, well, well - what to do, what to do?

3. "How Are We Going to Lose This One?" - "The Bottle Let Me Down," Merle Haggard, a number of albums

This is a third-person narration about a young man named Alex Mull, sitting around a mill village bar on the day that his ex-girlfriend is to marry another. Alex wants to find a find a bear suit, show up where the newlyweds will honeymoon, and scare them as they take a mountain biking tour. He has some other things in mind, too, about a dog he thinks has been adopted for pit bull-bait.

4. "The First to Look Away" - "Get Behind the Mule," Tom Waits, Mule Variations

Stet Looper, as a child, had a father with a dream to surround his house with a moat. Mr. Looper enlists his son's classmates to come over and "dig for gemstones," et cetera, just to get a headstart. They end up unearthing long-buried dogs from Mr. Looper's childhood. Not a happy sight, and certainly a moment that will scar these characters in the future.

5. "A Man with My Number" - "In This House That I Call Home," X, Wild Gift or - man, try this album - Live at the Whiskey a Go-Go

Jesus, what's with all the scams? I knew living in South Carolina all these years was good for something. In this story, a fellow goes around stealing people's house numbers, then comes back after a time and tries to sell them house numbers, seeing it's the law to have a house number should the fire department ever need to visit.

6. "Perfect Attendance" - "We're a Happy Family," Ramones, a number of albums

Another third-person narration: This kid Madison Kent is graduating from high school after not missing a day for twelve years. His wayward ne'er-do-well father arrives for the event. They meet afterwards at Cap'n Del Kell's Galley Bell fish hut. Madison's parents have been divorced for some years, and the father believes it necessary to impart wisdom, as ne'er-do-well absent fathers are wont to do.

7. "Where Strangers Claim the Tarnished" - "You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast," Buddy and Julie Miller, Buddy and Julie Miller

This story's got a stray monkey in it, hanging out at a lakeside bar where the owner has nailed garfish heads on the walls. Enough said, there. The song has nothing to do with monkeys or gar, but it's a great song and everyone should own this CD, I think.

8. "I Think I Have What Sharon's Got" - "Keep It to Yourself," Sonny Boy Williamson II, His Best

There's short scene in this story about a man who can't keep his dog from grazing in the backyard on what - how to put this delicately - dogs sometimes find palatable and irresistible. In the song, Williamson pleads, "Hey, baby, keep our business to yourself..." For a great version of this song, find a clip on youtube, where Mr. Williamson comes out on stage with a satchel and umbrella.

9. "Durkheim Looking Down" - Shostakovich's 8th Quartet, especially the 2d movement, any number of violin/viola/cello outfits roaming concert halls of the world

How come everyone gives me crap about writing in first person all the time? Here's another third-person narration, about an odd dinner engagement between two couples, before they attend a lecture given by a "scholar." Then there's an after-the-evening scene on one couple's houseboat.

10. "I Feel Like Being Nice Today" - "Folsom Prison Blues," Johnny Fucking Cash, a number of albums

Here's a story about a legendary environmentalist unafraid of politicians, land developers, oil companies, et cetera. He's in a bar called Gus's with the narrator - a college kid - and a man who's an adjunct instructor of English at a technical college, trying to act tough.

11. "Humans Being" - "If I Should Fall from Grace with God," The Pogues, Streams of Whiskey

This story should bookend the very first story. Again, there's a first-person narrator, Bobby, confronted by a scamming woman. She's got a stray dog that's not a stray, and a plan to rummage through the narrator's ex-brother-in-law's belongings that are being stored - kind of - in the den. Bobby's ex-wife and ex-brother-in-law had Human for last names. Bobby runs a scam, too, in that he owns a graffiti clean-up business, but he goes out at night spray painting nearby businesses and awaits getting hired out the next day.

George Singleton and Stray Decorum links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Book Fight! review
Heavy Feather Review review
The Literary Outpost review
Numero Cinq review
Paste review
The Quivering Pen review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Drowning in Gruel
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Work Shirts for Madmen
Largehearted Boy Why Obama essay by the author
Nashville City Paper interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists
The list of online "best of 2012" music lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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