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June 1, 2015

Book Notes - Michelle Tea "Girl at the Bottom of the Sea"

Girl at the Bottom of the Sea

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Girl at the Bottom of the Sea, the sequel to Mermaid of Chelsea Creek, continues Michelle Tea's dark and fascinating YA series.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Michelle Tea's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Girl at the Bottom of the Sea:


Girl at the Bottom of the Sea takes place entirely as the title suggests, at the bottom of the sea as the series' heroine, Sophie Swankowski, swims from Chelsea, Massachusetts to Warsaw, Poland with her main mentor, the mermaid Syrena, famous guardian of the city of Warsaw. With the exception of Sophie remembering hearing a Madonna song blaring from one of those booze cruises that sail drunk people around the Boston Harbor, there is no real music in Girl at the Bottom of the Sea. But there is music in my heart! – and so here is a fantasy playlist for this fantasy novel.

"Down By the Water," PJ Harvey
I always thought this sexy-creepy song was about incest, and it probably is, but that hissy Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water/Come back here and give me my daughter refrain is really perfect as Sophie swims off - little, floundering fish to Syrena's elegant big fish – on the run from her evil magic grandmother, Kishka.

"Gigantic," Pixies
I mean, the helpful Ogresses who wine and dine Sophie and Syrena, decking the girl out in a cool outfit and giving them a place to rest and recuperate, are totally GIGANTIC! I guess PJ Harvey's 50ft Queenie would also work, but what, are we just going to listen to nothing but PJ Harvey all day?

"Warsaw," Joy Division
I grew up like a changeling - ? Even if the song wasn't named for Syrena's homeland, that line alone would get it on the playlist. Sophie is part Odimience, a race of superhuman beings in Polish folktales. In the olden days, mischievous sprites called Boginki would swap the Odmience for human babies, so they would be unknowingly raised in the world as normal people. Changelings, right? Also, Sophie has been slowly coming into her own surprise magic powers as she grows older, which feels very changeling-y.

"Magic Spells," Crystal Castles
This could be the instrumental music playing as Sophie comes to understand more of her magic while living under the sea with Syrena, commanding the water to carry her, morphing into a shark to battle her grandmother or into a mermaid to infuriate her mentor.

"Good Sister / Bad Sister," Hole
Sophie learns she has a twin sister who was stolen by her evil grandmother and kept in some magic jungle that growing inside the woman's trailer at the city dump! Sophie's twin, Belinda, is hella spooky. Is she bad, or is it simply the affects of being reared in isolation among poisonous plants, by a wicked grandmother? Hard to say.

"Staring at the Sun," TV on the Radio
Really the only reason this song works is the Standing in the sea lyric – there's no sun, or sky, or daylight or anything throughout the entire underwater book – but I love this song so much and it somehow the actual sound of the music feels like being underwater, doesn't it? Standing in the sea, but on the sea's floor, unfathomable miles below, where pressure forces fish into blobs and darkness spurs a rave-y bioluminescence.

"Anchors Aweigh," Autonervous
This synthy miasma has a creepy, stalker-y sound to it that makes me think of Kishka, Sophie's supernaturally evil grandmother, stalking the girl as she travels the oceans to her ancestral homeland.

"Ocean Size," Jane's Addiction
I love this big, muscley song. Sophie sees firsthand how impossible it is to be truly ocean-sized, as the water stretches out beyond her and below her for an eternity, though she does learn to harness some of the realm's power.

"Just Like Honey," Jesus and Mary Chain
One of the best songs in the whole world, not even making it the soundtrack to Bill Murray kissing Scarlet Johanson can ruin it. In my movie, I mean book, it would be played towards the end, when Sophie and Syrena come upon the gorgeous, glowing underwater cave of the Jottnar, where the light spills out into the ocean and looks like gobs of honey. Inside are a pack of water goddesses, and lots of jewels and crowns and ale and mead and whatnot. They're a real party people, the Jottnar. When they're not sinking ships and drowning sailors.


Michelle Tea and Girl at the Bottom of the Sea links:

the author's website

Kirkus review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for How to Grow Up
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Mermaid of Chelsea Creek
The Rumpus 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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