May 13, 2014
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.
George Singleton once again proves himself one of our short story masters with this darkly comic collection.
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
"No Shade Ever" - "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself," White Stripes
This story's about Stet Looper's wife taking a hiatus from the marriage, and about his having a dream that involved making furniture out of car lighters. He's at loose ends, and can't figure out anything better to do but visit an auto salvage store, where he uncovers two men scamming each other, among other things. They're at loose ends, too--thus the song.
"Traditional Development"- "House Where Nobody Lives," Tom Waits
Here's a little tale about a man named Mal Mardis, whose wife forever renovates rooms in their house. She takes photos of the old rooms, then frames said photos in the new room. On and on. Mal can't get her to understand that, say, the new Deep Forest Green kitchen is compromised by photos tacked above the stove of the old Baby Diaper's Yellow paint job that once held the walls.
"Which Rocks We Choose" - "Get Behind the Mule," Tom Waits
Sorry about the Tom Waits repetitiveness--I don't listen to Mr. Waits as much anymore seeing as I tend to get depressed--but this story starts off with a grandfather taking heed to a talking mule. What the mule tells him--"Don't throw away the rocks"--hurtles a farmer into a river rock business that lasts three generations.
"Operation" - "Holiday in Cambodia," Dead Kennedys
This kid named Start--his real name is Saint Arthur Waddell, but he chose to go by St. Art--is being brought up by his ne'er-do-well Uncle Cush. A Department of Social Services caseworker drops by to investigate some false accusations from the townspeople of Poke, South Carolina. During the Q&A, Uncle Cush finds it necessary to tell a story about performing cunnilingus on a woman in southeast Asia, during the Vietnam War.
"Bait" - "MamaDaddyDid," Paul Westerberg
The narrator, Jerry Ecker, relates something that happened to him as a child in Chuckatuck, Virginia, when an older kid named Frankie Hassett shows up for the summer. Jerry understands, later in life, that Frankie might have been an illegitimate child of his father and Ms. Hassett. Jerry's mother, Rosalind, remains patient until Frankie crosses a line.
"Tongue" - "Tongue," REM
These two guys work at a car rental agency and see who can collect what's been left behind. They have ways to distract people in a hurry. These guys meet in a bar, and through a gentleman's agreement decide who has the best prize each late afternoon. Loser has to buy drinks. I don't want to spoil the story, but the title pretty much explains what one guy finds on the day this story takes place.
"Between Wrecks," - "The Sunny Side of the Street," The Pogues
Stet Looper gets hoodwinked into mentoring a woman's son. The woman has been stealing rocks from Stet's river rock business. She also manufacturers fake arrowheads, the same as Stet's mother did before offing herself. The kid--he goes by Stan but wants to be called "Stain"--wishes to be a stand-up comedian instead of going to college. Stet and Stain get stuck at a diner because there are two wrecks on both sides of the road outside the diner's entrance.
"Vulture" - "Watching the Detectives," Elvis Costello
Wife hires detective to follow narrator, for she thinks he's cheating on him. He spends one night a week at a bar, reading a book. No cheating involved. Wife has a scrapbook with an electric chair pasted on the cover. Narrator befriends the detective, at the bar. Wife learns that her husband is innocent. Marriage falls apart, no matter.
"The Sinkholes of Duval County" - "Gimme Three Steps," Lynyrd Skynyrd
Uncle Cush and Start return, this time with a scam to sell mini-parachutes to ex-veterans in Florida who, indeed, fear falling into Florida's omnipresent sinkholes. Highly realistic story. Takes place in Jacksonville. Really, really realistic. Right up there with Henry James. I chose this song because the band's from Jacksonville, and because Uncle Cush and Start need to get the heck out of the VFW bar.
"Unfortunately, the Woman Opened Her Bag and Sighed" - "My Own Worst Enemy," Lit
This is a short-short that makes fun of book reviewers. The book reviewer looks like a drifter, in a bar, and she seems somewhat bitter about her lot in life. Imagine that! I probably shouldn't write stories that make fun of book critics. Thus the song title.
"Jayne Mansfield" - "Dead Set on Destruction," Husker Du
Narrator is stuck in a bar with one other patron who's a big-talker. There's a manhunt going on outside for a supposed bank robber. The bartender's up on the roof with an advertising banner, hoping that one of the news choppers aloft will broadcast it. Big-talker keeps saying how he was almost an astronaut, and how he once played poker with Jayne Mansfield, et cetera. Narrator's awaiting news from his lawyer about a lawsuit against him. It's kind of complicated. So is this song I chose.
"Leach Fields," - "Police on My Back," The Clash
Narrator gets caught stealing those Vote For Me signs in a small town. He gets convicted. He gets stuck in county jail with a man named Sarly Fink, and they're forced to pick up trash on roadside. There are a couple subplots. Sarly Fink used to run a septic tank cleaning business, and has a way to screw up people who look down on him, which involves planting condoms and/or feminine hygiene products in people's tanks. And then there's some talk about the narrator being an ex-decathlete.
"Columbarium" - "Truckload of Art," Terry Allen
Stet Looper's mother dies when he's a child. She's been a complainer through Stet's father's marriage. She had claimed that she could've been a great artist had she not married, or had a child for which she needed to care.
"I Would Be Remiss" - "I Thank You," Sam and Dave
Somebody had to do it. Has anyone else noticed how writers' "Acknowledgments" pages now duel in length with the actual text? I'm talking that some writers' 160 pages novels have an addendum of 160 pages of thanking their, say, septic tank cleaners, their parachute manufacturers, their bartenders, waitresses, DSS caseworkers, recycling center workers, et cetera? Their dogs, wives, ex-wives, ex-dogs, travel agents, doctors, dentists, ex-teachers, and the sad tennis shoe stitchers in some small village in Thailand? I have. Me, I've noticed this. "I Would Be Remiss" started as an eighteen-page short story explaining what Stet Looper worked on in both Stray Decorum and Between Wrecks. Then it became a novel. Finally--just like some kind of Goldilocks scenario--it became this, an 80-page novella of sorts, that, when read closely, explains what Stet Looper finally finished while completing his low-residency degree in Southern Cultures Studies from Old Miss-Taylor, all whom he needs to thank.
George Singleton and Between Wrecks links:
Chapter 16 interview with the author
Greenville News profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Drowning in Gruel
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Stray Decorum
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Work Shirts for Madmen
Largehearted Boy Why Obama essay by the author
Lent Mag interview with the author
The Normal School interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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