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May 19, 2014

Book Notes - Elizabeth Eslami "Hibernate"


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.

Elizabeth Eslami's short story collection Hibernate was awarded the 2013 Ohio State University Prize for Short Fiction, and is filled with everyday people, all drawn with a remarkable degree of humanity, facing life-changing situations.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A searing array of stories envisioned through crystal-clear eyes."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Elizabeth Eslami's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, Hibernate:

In "Jocko Hollow," set in and around rural Arlee, Montana, sixteen year old Micah, the older of two brothers, takes his newly won girlfriend, Josie, to the Jocko River. The river helps with wooing, of course, but so does Micah's boom box propped in the grass, playing late 80s anthems like GNR's "Sweet Child O' Mine" and Skid Row's "I Remember You." Like hairstyles or cars, these songs have already circulated for some time in the rest of the country, but are only now, a few years late, snaking their way into this tough Salish town, playing from the hidden speakers in The Buck Snort, their earnest, un-ironic, banshee power still potent, especially to Micah, who is trying his best, with this girl, this music, to drown out something horrible that happened at the river.

In "Continuity in Filmmaking," George Harrison's kooky, beautiful "Apple Scruffs," plays on a loop in the mind of a brain damaged woman waiting for her dog-trainer boyfriend to betray her. There's love, but there's also a healthy amount of obsession in all that watching.

"I Hung My Head," Johnny Cash
It's a story, first of all. Which maybe seems obvious but is important to say. Early one morning is when. The hill and the plain are where. Our young narrator makes a terrible mistake – which isn't itself all that remarkable – and this song is about the moment he learns shame. Not a revenge tale, not some amped up version of what we wish we could all do or be in the face of tragedy. This is an honest, simple, stupid act: "I drew a bead on him to practice my aim." This is us when we walk out into traffic. When we back the car up without looking. One of these days, there will be consequences like this. But the force of this song, and the force in stories like "Jocko Hollow" and "The Yana Land," is shame. Never to be shrugged off. "I felt the power of death or life. I orphaned his children, I widowed his wife. I begged their forgiveness, I wish I was dead. I hung my head…" I'm not interested in redemption, even if that judge is a Christ stand-in, even if our narrator hangs for his sin. The thing is, our young narrator doesn't require redemption, not in the true sense, unless you believe he deserves forgiveness for being what we all are, careless humans. What I'm interested in is that "trick of the brain." To run so you can "wake from the dream." The shame that you feel right along with him when he stands before the judge. The way the rider becomes a person by dint of his death, while our narrator loses some of himself via his own impending death. At the end, is that phantom rider there to collect payment? To usher him to heaven or hell? Or is he the fantasy of a terrible deed undone, the dead man put right? There aren't enough bullets to put down this narrator's shame.

"At Last," Neko Case
"I can say that I lived here, in honor and danger… But I'm just an animal and cannot explain a life." When I first heard this song – that lyric especially – I burst into tears in my car outside of a place called Dixie's diner. I was working on "Hibernators" at the time, living in Oregon, a landscape of lava rocks and secret caves that open up under people's houses. I wanted to write about the living thing a marriage is, the isolation that is paradise, the isolation that is self-abnegation. "Hibernators" is a story about two people who dig their way underground and want desperately to stay there, because they've had enough of "other people, with their eyeglasses and dune buggies and business hours." Because they're incredibly hopeful about the possibility of escaping into their marriage, that it is self-sustaining. Oregon is its own magnificent underworld, the fog and rain and boulders in the ocean, banana slugs spotted with pine needles. Here are two people for whom the adventure soon becomes an exercise in waiting. Case's song explores a similar darkness: "And if death should smell my breathing, as it pass beneath my window, let it lead me trembling, trembling, trembling…" Someone said once that this song is about a dog. I have no idea if that's true, but it only makes me love it more. Her voice is a hot bar that raises the skin.

"To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," Dave Rawlings and The Machine
I can never remember whether it's Ryan Adams who wrote this song and Rawlings who covered it, or vice versa, but it's the Rawlings version with Gillian Welch that I kept hearing in my head when I was writing "Victory Forge." I love the swing from ebullience to melancholy and back again, which seems exactly right for being a kid in a small town, no sense of a future, only now, killing time, only the previews one summer before the movies. There's real pain here: "Young boy, you done me bad, I went and did you wrong. Young girl, you done me bad, I went and did you wrong." I love the inclusion of both "done" and "did" – it's the wrong that happened, is done, but it's nowhere near over and done with. It's a "bone to pick," and a scab to pick, and that's what this story, "Victory Forge," is all about. A young woman who can't understand her brother's decision to join the military, and doesn't want to. It's about nursing that hurt when the one you love is still around and knowing that you've got a sour little fruit to keep sucking on long after he's gone. Sometimes that's the best you're gonna get.

Elizabeth Eslami and Hibernate links:

the author's website
the author's blog
video trailer for the book

Kirkus review
Luxury Reading review
NEON review

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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