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June 24, 2014

Book Notes - Megan Abbott "The Fever"

The Fever

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.

Megan Abbott's new novel The Fever is a striking literary thriller, a haunting insight into the complex world of teenage life.

The Independent wrote of the book:

"The cumulative effect of these intertwined narratives is to paint a pitch-perfect portrait of a community under immense stress. The author's themes of mass hysteria, panic and fear couldn't be more modern, while also being deeply rooted in our primal past. This is a terrifying, and terrifyingly real, dissection of modern life."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Megan Abbott's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Fever:


Some stories just happen to you. That was the way it was for me with The Fever. One day in January 2012, I turned on one of the morning news shows and saw a pair of teenage girls, panic in their faces, their voices bursting into tics, heads jerking. They didn't know what was happening to their own bodies and their story was presented as a "Baffling Medical Mystery." They were just two of a group of ultimately eighteen high school girls in upstate New York, all of whom developed (seemingly) inexplicable tics.

That very day, I began writing, the novel seeming to shimmer to life with the intensity of, well, a fever dream.

It's the story of the Nash family, father Tom, a high school science teacher, and his two teenage children, handsome hockey star Eli and earnest Deenie. When Deenie's best friend is stricken by a violent, unexplained seizure in class, followed quickly by another girl's collapse, panic quickly takes hold through the school and community. Parental anxiety, high school drama and the mysteries of teen girl bodies all seem to feed one another other as hysteria rises.

My playlist is less about lyrical content and more about the mood these songs convey because that's what I rely on music for while working on a book. For me, these songs wear their hearts on their sleeves, which suits the emotional urgency I was attempting in the book and reflects the way I think about the characters. They don't know what's happening to themselves, or how to stop it—whether it's the mysterious illness surrounding them or just the everyday afflictions and heartache of being young, of being a parent, of being in love. Of feeling everything too much.

"Fever," the Black Keys
I have no justification for including this other than its title and the fact that it just came out and it's darn good. And Peggy Lee seemed too easy.

"Sister," Kate Nash
All the sturm und drang of adolescent girlhood—both laid bare and smartly self-conscious at the same time. "Being ripped away from you is like being ripped out of a room/I'm sorry, is that too dramatic? I should just be far more placid?/Well blah-blah, blah-blah, me myself and I/I'm so funny, oh my god, ha ha."

"Bragging Party," the Amps
Mysterious and addictive, Kim Deal's breathy and entrancing voice, as cryptic as ever, this song is candy-sweet on the surface and dark-as-heck when you listen closely: "All the tales, mythic noise/No cotton, no chloroform/Don't throw me off the dorm/You know what I mean/Fur is flying, I'm on your team."

"Date With the Night," The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"Is It My Body?" Sonic Youth
"D.O.A.," Sleigh Bells

Three great angry songs to accompany the contortions and rage-y confusion of the afflicted girls in The Fever. Singer Karen O's snarl embeds itself in your brain, your belly. You can't do better than Kim Gordon for female rage. And as for the Sleigh Bells, I think NPR's Will Hermes described their sound best when he called it "like a '60s girl group conducting military drills."

"Unrequited," Lykke Li
"No One Like You," Best Coast
"I'm Waiting Here," David Lynch and Lykke Li

A trio of superficially simple girl angst songs that are much more complicated than they appear. The collaboration between Lynch and Lykke Li evokes the Julee Cruise songs from Twin Peaks. Stereogum's Tom Breihan called it, a "smothered torch song with a narcotized vocal" and all three are torch songs. They're all about big emotion and big emotions are scary. These songs, to me, feel really scary, in the best way.

"Get Thee Behind Me Satan," Ella Fitzgerald
This choice is harder to explain. It's included on Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack for The Master, which I listened to a lot while writing the book. And it just fits, I promise you.

"Coming Down," the Dum Dum Girls
"If you want to tell me something/You had better make it strong. "A companion piece to "Bragging Party," this is another lo-fi dangerous-sounding wonder. (It has the bonus of being used very effectively in Paul Schrader's The Canyons.)

"In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," The Avett Brothers
A gorgeous cover of a favorite song, this was the song I played when thinking about Eli Nash, a young man who wears his attractiveness so lightly, who has always glided through life so easily. And who can't quite believe what's going on around him. There's a purity to him that this song always helped me remember.

"Everytime," Britney Spears
I listened to this song countless times while writing The Fever. It seemed to speak to the complexities and contradictions of teen girlness to me. Let me just say it: it's a transcendentally beautiful song, tinkling-sweet-music-box at first listen then deepening into something shudderingly eerie. While I was working on The Fever, the movie Spring Breakers came out and I couldn't get my mind off it. This song is used to stunning effect in the film and what director Harmony Korine says about it seems exactly right, "It has this real kind of beauty and airlessness and this haunting kind of morose lullaby effect and underneath it there's some type of hardcore aggression and menace."

Or, for me, if Edgar Allan Poe were to reanimate himself in order to co-write a song with Britney Spears, this would be it. And, well, he did. And this is it.


Megan Abbott and The Fever links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Boston Globe review
Independent review
Kirkus review
LitReactor review
Los Angeles Times review
New York Times review
Slate review

The Atlantic interview with the author
Book Riot interview with the author
Detroit News interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Dare Me
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The End of Everything
Memphis Flyer interview with the author
Morning Edition interview with the author
National Post interview with the author
ThinkProgress interview with the author
The Women's Blog profile of 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

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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