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March 27, 2015

Book Notes - Rebecca Scherm "Unbecoming"


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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Rebecca Scherm's debut novel Unbecoming is everything a literary thriller should be: suspenseful, engrossing, and surprising.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote of the book:

"Unbecoming inverts everything we expect from a heist story: The pacing is deliberate, the characters are recognizably human, and even small acts of deception leave victims in their wake…By introducing complex themes and one of the most compelling characters in recent fiction, Scherm has elevated the heist novel beyond entertainment. Like a painting that becomes more intriguing the longer you study it, Unbecoming is a genuine work of art."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Rebecca Scherm's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Unbecoming:

Fiona Apple, "Criminal"
I remember the real fear I felt the first time I saw Apple writhe around in the music video for this song: there but for the grace of God go I. I heard "Criminal" as a threat of what it could be like if you went bad. But now I hear this song differently, as a heady moment of girlhood when you begin to recognize some sexual power that you find terrifying. Since Unbecoming opens with the declaration that Grace is a liar, I think the book has a kinship with this song—the taunt of telling someone you're bad and daring them to believe you.

Usher, "U Got It Bad"
Grace and Riley at a middle school dance in 2002, slow dancing. They probably didn't even move their feet. Who could it be but Usher? "U Got It Bad" is what we think love will be like before we've experienced it—the minor-key whine of longing, the confidence in its own wisdom—"I've been there, done it, fucked around, and after all that, this is what I've found…Nobody wants to be alone!" What an epiphany.

It's about having a crush on the idea of love, and the lyrics are a primer for how to feel: "You know you got it bad when you're stuck in the house, you don't wanna have fun, it's all you think about." This may well have become Grace and Riley's "song" until they got old enough to choose something more impressive.

Amy Winehouse. "You Know I'm No Good"
Alls driving up in his blue Buick, Grace watching herself lie, lie, lie.

Linda Perhacs, "Chimicum Rain"
I wrote the first parts of this novel shut up in my apartment in winter, feeling surreally alone, wide awake, and reckless. I listened to a lot of Perhacs's Parallelograms. That album, and this song in particular, still evoke for me that kind of hallucinatory solitude, and I imagine it's how Grace feels lying on her single bed in Freindametz's flat, waiting for the calendar to flip again.

Nancy Sinatra, "Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down"
When Dr. Graham calls grace in Prague and she says she can't help him.

Garbage, "Stupid Girl"
This one is for the day Grace returns the centerpiece. Grace's "do over" day is fraught with possibility. The stakes are enormous to her, if to no one else: if she fails, she's back at the beginning again. I was so angry with her most of the time, but on that day, I wanted her to win.

Snoh ft. Killer Mike, "Bad Things" (Remix)
"I do bad things to good versions of me/I find good things in bad versions of me/ I don't know/ It's just versions of me" This is Grace's theme song.

Jessie Ware, "Wildest Moments"
For the end: Grace's sadness as she understands the realities of love, that it can't fulfill her worst longings, that longing is infinite and another mistake is always around the corner. "We could be the greatest," Ware sings, "we could be the worst of all." I love that "could," its sense of promise and lack in equal measure.

Rebecca Scherm and Unbecoming links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Boston Globe review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
New Yorker review
Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review

Fiction Writers Review interview with the author
Michigan Radio interview with the author
The Riveter interview with the author
Stateside with Cynthia Canty interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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