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July 24, 2015

Book Notes - Annie Liontas "Let Me Explain You"

Let Me Explain You

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.

Annie Liontas's Let Me Explain You is a stunning debut, a pitch-perfect comic novel filled with unlikeable characters who wend their way into the reader's heart.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Liontas adds tremendously to the novel's ambiance through Stavros's idiomatic language, expertly reveals the layers of her characters' lives, and perfectly captures their emotional temperatures in an unputdownable read."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Annie Liontas's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Let Me Explain You:

I can play the hell out of a song. When I sit down to write, it's almost always to a single track on repeat. This can last for days, weeks, sometimes even months (my wifee is awfully tolerant). Hip Hop usually has the driving, thumping beats I'm searching for—guttural and in the throat—but I've been known to seek out powerful, confessional female vocalists, too.

Every one of these tracks, I listened to on repeat while writing this novel. They might give you a glimpse into the essential characters and obsessions of Let Me Explain You.

"Ambition" by Wale feat. Meek Mills: Stavros Stavros Mavrakis likes to say that he came into this country with fish bones in his pocket and intends to leave with a whale. The whale in Let Me Explain You might be the email that he sends to his daughter and ex-wife, declaring that he has ten days left to live—not to mention how they are each failing at life and here's what they need to change in order to be ambitious like him. Before the ten days are up, however, Stavros Stavros abruptly disappears. His daughters have no choice but to find what has become of their father.

"Work Hard, Play Hard" by Wiz Khalifa: Every immigrant novel needs a little work ethic and come-up hustle. I sweated out the summer of 2012 listening to this track, trying to figure out how to make all the strands of this book come together. There are a lot of voices, everyone trying to speak at once.

"O Gamos Kalorizikos" by Dimitris Sakalis: I had this on repeat more for research than for writing—specifically, in crafting the wedding night of Stavros Stavros Mavrakis. "[With] the whole village watching, Stavros Stavros finally proved his manhood: on the dance floor with the pomp of the traditional syrtos that suggested respite before battle… All he needed now was to deflower a virgin." Cue Dina.

"Next" by The Weeknd: Stavros Stavros' first wife, Dina, endures one traumatic experience after another. She is never quite a full person to any of the people in her life—not her parents, not her husband, not the man who takes advantage of her when she's only twelve-years-old. I think "Next" captures the pain and heartache of Dina—and listening to The Weeknd helped me breathe a little life into her.

"Stop in the Name of Love" by Kim Weston: In his email to his eldest daughter, Stavros Stavros Mavrakis instructs, "Please grow out your hair, it is very very short." He tries to convince Stavroula that, "Sometimes if we are who we are supposed to be on the outside, we are who we are supposed to be on the inside." Stavroula must choose, then, between love and obedience. She confesses her feelings the only way she knows how—by dedicating her menu to her boss' daughter, July, the woman she's been in love with for two years. Every dish is inspired by her beloved, every taste. I bet Stavroula goes home and cries into her pillow at night, this song on repeat in the background.

"Breath of Life" or "Seven Devils" by Florence + The Machine: At this point in her life, Litza is purging. She has a lot of anger. She is a resilient but wounded character, and news of her father's impending death sends her reeling. I wrote most of Litza under heavy driving beats, overlaid with mournful wailing, exactly like these tracks put out by Florence.

"This is What Makes Us Girls" by Lana Del Rey: I can't help but think of this song—its ache for the past—when I think of the relationship between Stavroula and Litza. They couldn't be more different—one a satellite, one an ocean liner, in Marina's own words—and yet they are inextricably linked in the intimate, excruciating, sometimes severing experience of sisterhood.

"Nantes" by Beirut: This is one that I put on repeat for weeks! I was going through a lot—loss of job, moving cities, picking up and starting over again. I also wasn't sure how to bring together Part III, the third and final movement of the novel. It was this track that helped me realize I could break the novel's structure and rely on Marina's voice for the close of the novel. "Nantes" is a nostalgic track, but playful. Much like Marina—the wise old cook—herself.

"Hope" by Ace Hood: At the end of the day, Let Me Explain You is about hope. Death always makes us think of life—cling to it. We remember what is precious and what matters, and all the gunk gets washed away. This is a novel about resilience, forgiveness, the American Dream, the stories we tell, what it means to be an immigrant, and family.

Annie Liontas and Let Me Explain You links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

BookPage review
New York Times review
Slate review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review

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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