May 14, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Ben Greenman's new novel The Slippage is a perceptive and eloquent depiction of suburbia and marriage.
The Kansas City Star wrote of the book:
"His sharp insights into suburban claustrophobia and impotent rage are highlighted by striking images and well-tooled prose."
In the past I have written book notes for What He’s Poised to Do and A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both, collections of short stories that came out in 2010 and 2007. This time, the book in question is called The Slippage, and it's a novel, and it's coming out as we speak from Harper Perennial. Other books I've written have been, sometimes, manic with regard to imagination, incontinent in various ways. This one is more controlled, largely because of its plot—it's the story of a forty-something couple in a possibly failing marriage in the suburbs, and a stretch of life during which the woman, Louisa, asks the man, William, to build her a new house. The suburbs are a major character: they help create a sense of emptiness and silence that gives the characters plenty of space to reflect but also oppresses them. As a result, I have picked songs about the suburbs, more or less.
The Kinks, "Shangri-La" (1969)
It's rare to be able to pinpoint an exact starting point for a writing project, but I know that this book had its start in this song, and specifically in a line that Ray Davies wrote that I think about all the time: "And all the houses in the street have got a name / Cause all the houses in the street they look the same." That's a perfect compression of one of the main ideas here, which is how we distinguish ourselves from one another. Our insides may be different (by insides here, I mean desires, fears, ambitions) but the skins are very similar. The suburbs is a particularly accurate illustration of this principle.
Dionne Warwick, "A House is Not a Home" (1964)
I named the second section of the book after this song. It seemed like a no-brainer: It's one of the towering achievements of the decade, possibly the best Bacharach-David composition. And it's thematically pertinent as well. A structure is only a structure, meaningless unless filled by meaning. William and Louisa, the central couple in my book, struggle with this distinction repeatedly, in the house where they live, in the house where they may one day live, and in many other houses they visit along the way.
The Residents, "Suburban Bathers" (1980)
It seems strange to write a more traditional work and then go looking to the Residents for inspiration. On the other hand, if you were going to pick a Residents album that follows conventions while at the same time subverting them, you'd pick Commercial Album. "Suburban Bathers" also makes some superb observations about self-knowledge: "If I'd learn to love myself / I might survive the murky depths."
Carole King, "My Simple Humble Neighborhood" (1975)
King's song is about the magic of home, the sense of hope that comes from comfort, the joys of dreaming big. My characters deal with their neighborhood differently. For starters, they're adults, not children, which means that their souls have ossified to some degree as a result of work and disappointment. Also, there's more responsibility than comfort, more pressure than freedom. These things reverse the circuit.
Ween, "So Many People In the Neighborhood" (2003)
This is the counterweight to the Carole King song above: there's no Really Rosie here, only really creepy faces peering from behind curtains, and the title repeated until it become a slogan and then a threat, and a final lyrical burst about "socks and locks and cocks and rocks." Those are, as everyone knows, the four building blocks of deceptive domesticity.
Tim Hardin, "If I Were A Carpenter" (1967)
I have written books that were overtly about music, like Please Step Back (a funk-rock novel about a fictional Sly Stone-type musician in the 1960s and 1970s), and books where music was referenced often (like Superbad or Celebrity Chekhov). In this book, there's only one song mentioned overtly, and it's this one. William is sitting on the deck and hears it coming out of a portable radio. The lyrics strike him as lyrical but also incomprehensible, a kind of poetry that doesn't solve anything in his increasingly claustrophobic life.
Jonathan Richman, "The Neighbors" (1983)
I was mindful throughout this book of not straining for effect, either via image or form or metafictional trickery. I wanted, to the degree that it was possible, to be straightforward about things. Is that what Jonathan Richman does? You could say that, though you could also say that he appears to do that while doing the diametric opposite. This song relates a dialogue between Jonathan and a woman in which his presence in her house presents some problems. He's worried that if anyone sees him leaving, they might tell his wife, and that would create marital discord. On the other hand, he doesn't want to let the neighbors run his life. My main character, William, faces a very similar situation, but he is not holding a guitar.
Little Richard, "Slippin' and Slidin'" (1956)
Recently, at an event, a woman I knew came up to me and asked me if she was the only one who thought the title of my book, The Slippage, sounded dirty. She wasn't. When the title was first announced, a British man wrote me to tell me that it was slang for screwing. I defer to Little Richard. Is there a more exciting, breakneck song about attraction and risk? No man can resist a solid sender.
Ben Greenman and The Slippage links:
Believer interview with the author
Cultist profile of the author
Forbes interview with the author
Interview Magazine interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for What He's Poised to Do
Miami Herald interview with the author
The Millions contributions by the author
Page Views profile of the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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