June 26, 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.
The New Black: A Neo-Noir Anthology is one of the most impressive anthologies I have read in years, a stunning collection of dark fiction that includes contributions from Lindsay Hunter, Roxane Gay, Kyle Minor, Matt Bell, Vanessa Veselka, and others.
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
This collection of stories is what I call neo-noir, or "new-black" a genre (or sub-genre) that taps into the imagination, tension, and atmosphere of horror, fantasy, crime, transgressive fiction, as well as the grotesque. So when I think about the music that should be on in the background, or the songs that I associate with these stories, it is definitely the moody, angst-driven alternative music of my youth, for the most part.
As the editor of this collection, as well as Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press, I sought out the authors and stories that have seeped into my life over the last 5-10 years—dark, lyrical, literary voices that haunt my every waking hour. There are 20 stories in this anthology, by Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, Craig Clevenger, Paul Tremblay, Lindsay Hunter, Roxane Gay, Kyle Minor, Benjamin Percy, Roy Kesey, Craig Davidson, Matt Bell, Richard Lange, Micaela Morrissette, Joe Meno, Vanessa Veselka, Nik Korpon, Antonia Crane, Rebecca Jones-Howe, Tara Laskowski, and Craig Wallwork. That's a wide variety of voices.
Let's tap into those voices in my head, the voices in your head, and see if they're saying the same things, these voices—run, stop, kill, forgive, stay.
"On a Night Like This" by The Cure
The heavy bass and vibrating guitar, it takes me to a night where all kinds of things can happen, good and bad, right? Really depends on how you interpret it. "I'm going to find you if it takes me all night." Is that love, or is that a threat? "I want to change it all." That's what these stories do, they show you a new path, a new way of looking at things, of seeing the reality that's right in front of us—why can't you SEE IT? I think of Nik Korpon's, "These Footsteps Are Made of Soot," the need and desire there, or maybe Brian Evenson's "Windeye" and its surrealism.
"Doll Parts" by Hole
Such a soft, and welcoming introduction to this song, acoustic guitar and Courtney Love's scratchy voice over the top of it all. It starts with the title, yeah? And then the dehumanization sets in. "I am…doll eyes…doll mouth…doll legs. I am…doll arms…big veins…dog bait." Man, what is she saying here? She's here for our amusement? She's not even human anymore, just doll parts. But someday…someday you will ache like she aches. It's painful, it's raw, but it's honest. So many of the stories in here tap in to that vulnerability, that hope, and that pain. And there's always something about dolls, not even mentioning the story, "Dollhouse" by Craig Wallwork.
"Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" by Radiohead
This story really takes me to many of the other magical stories in here, the ones that seems so safe on the surface, but really aren't. Of course I'm thinking of "The Familiars" by Micaela Morrissette and her story, the way it takes the classic horror story about the creature under the bed, the imaginary friend, and updates it with tension and emotion that runs a dark red thread through the entire narrative. "Turn me on to the phantoms…I follow to the edge of the world…and fall off. I get eaten by the worms…and weird fishes." I also think of Stephen Graham Jones and "Father, Son, Holy Rabbit" for reasons that may only be apparent after you've read this story about a magical rabbit, and the father and son that survive on its sustenance. You could also include "Instituto" by Roy Kesey, and its dreamy voice, its slippery world.
"How Soon is Now" by The Smiths
This opening, it's a classic, right? That reverberating note, that just echoes out into the world. This song always struck me as being post-apocalyptical for some reason. It's moody, heavy, and Morrisey's voice is both deep and reflective, as well as begging, pleading for mercy, for recognition, to be seen. "I am human and I need to be loved." How many Smiths fans have sung along with this moment, to this anthem, and asked for the same thing—to be loved, just like everybody else does? I think of the complicated life that is the protagonist in Matt Bell's "Dredge" and Roxane Gay's damaged main character in "How," right? HOW? How do I do it—escape, live, find peace? It's a difficult question at times. "See, I've already waited too long."
"Mayonaise" by Smashing Pumpkins
Coming to Chicago in 1990 I caught Smashing Pumpkins in their prime. This song is a touchstone for me, a lodestone, something that triggers all kinds of emotions. It's peaceful, and loving, and sweet, almost nostalgic, and then the bass and guitar come in, and it starts to build. Doomed, he says. So many of the characters in these stories are doomed. "No one knows where our secrets go." I think of "Dial Tone" by Benjamin Percy, how the protagonist is afraid, drawn to the power lines, destined to let this moment not be distant, to not be somebody else's story, but for this horror to come home to roost. "Shut my mouth and strike the demons." Those voices, those weakness rise to the surface in "Blue Hawaii" by Rebecca Jones-Howe, her protagonist marked with a hairlip, her desires buried beneath the flesh.
"Trouble" by Coldplay
I guess I have a soft spot for ballads, and so I let Coldplay onto this list. I hear bits of country in here, the twang of the strings under and over the piano, which reminds me a little bit of some of the songs my father played for me as a boy. It wasn't my kind of music, really, wasn't what I got into, but I can still remember Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and the way it pacified my dad. This song, for me, it starts with the web, the idea of being caught, of being trapped. "I never meant to cause you trouble, I never meant to cause you any pain." It brings up Lindsay Hunter's "That Baby," and the trouble that little man causes, the pain and suffering. It reminds me of Kyle Minor's story of father and son, and the lengths the father went to in order to keep his boy intact, never meaning to cause him any trouble, any pain.
"Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails
I thought about listing the Johnny Cash version here, and it's just as powerful, but I think I have to pay proper respects to Trent Reznor and NIN by focusing on their version, because it came first, and really pummeled me for so many years. In so many films, so many novels, the story doesn't start at the horror, the tipping point, no, it starts right before that moment, so we can find the time and emotion to care first, before it's all taken away. "I will let you down. I will make you hurt." I think of the gladiator that is the protagonist in Craig Davidson's, "Rust and Bone" how he knows the pain he's going to cause the other fighter, and himself. He struggles to find a reason to live, to get up, to fight. "I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real."
If you want to put these songs on a loop, and run them in the background, as you read this anthology of short stories, I don't think it would take away from the experience. Might be a nice soundtrack.
Richard Thomas and The New Black: A Neo-Noir Anthology links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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