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August 3, 2015

Book Notes - Chad Kultgen "Strange Animals"

Strange Animals

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.

Chad Kultgen's Strange Animals is a smart and thought-provoking novel.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Chad Kultgen's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Strange Animals:

Strange Animals is about an anti-theist named Karen Holloway who gets pregnant and decides to do something controversial on the internet with regard to her pregnancy to prove a philosophical point. It's also about a Christian zealot named James Dobbs who thinks God has spoken to him and asked him to carry out a plan.

In addition to writing a book that's essentially a prediction of what I think could happen if a person were to do what the main character did in real life, I created a website that mimics her actions. The website, was meant to take a fictional idea and present it to the world in a realistic context in order to see what the reaction might actually be. I was curious to know if my predictions in the book were accurate and it turns out that many of them were. To me, the site, the book and all reactions to both are part of the same piece of art.

The songs listed here are both songs I think the characters in this book might listen to or have some reaction to as well as songs that I listened to while writing it.

Tim Minchin – "Thank You God"
I feel like this song would definitely be on the playlist of the book's main character, Karen Holloway. Tim Minchin is an outspoken atheist who writes songs which expose the absurdity of the notion of God and the stupidity of people who devote any time or effort to the worship of such a malicious entity. This song sarcastically thanks God for healing the cataracts of a random woman, "Sam's Mom," while simultaneously noting that the same God murders children, starves huge swathes of the human population, and arbitrarily spreads lethal diseases across the world.

Don Moen – "God Will Make A Way"
This would likely be a song that the other main character of the book, James Dobbs, would listen to. It's a Christian devotional song that blindly praises God without giving any thought to criticism of the same God for all the ills it creates. "God will make a way where there seems to be no way" is the chorus that rationalizes away the fact this same God had to create a scenario in which "there seems to be no way," simply to prove how loving it is by then "making a way" that would have been unnecessary in the first place had this God just left everyone alone.

Joan Osborne – "What If God Was One Of Us"
Even more than "Macarena" and "Who Let the Dogs Out?" I feel like the main character of the book, Karen Holloway, would list this song as her most hated 90's song. It's a song that even as a kid in high school I remember thinking was terrible in its simplistic view of a possible God and it's assumption that any person could be God no matter how destitute they may seem. The chorus drowsily states, "Yeah, Yeah, God is great. Yeah, Yeah, God is good," and it never elaborates on this premise, remaining vague in its praise, which is very likely what allowed this song to achieve some mainstream success.

George Michael – "I Want Your Sex"
I think this song is probably James Dobbs's least favorite song of all time. James is a steadfast devout Christian. He's a virgin who believes sex should only occur in the context of marriage and marriage is very clearly defined in the Bible as only being between a man and woman. So an extremely gay man singing about casual sex, literally asking "Don't you think it's time you had sex with me?" is very likely enough to make James think the apocalypse is right around the corner, which he's looking forward to because he's a Christian.

Rick Ross featuring Lil Wayne – "Thug Cry"
This song has nothing to do with the book at all. It's just something that I've listened to with a high degree of frequency in the past year or so while I was working on this project. I like Rick Ross and Lil Wayne and I think this may be, at least for me, the best version of a collaboration between them. Lil Wayne delivers one of my personal favorite lyrics from his entire repertoire - "But to make a long story short I need a shoulder, ‘cause the Devil on one, the other one I'm lookin' over." And, of course, Rick Ross takes the opportunity to let us know that he likes "lemon pepper on his motherfuckin' wangs." All in all a perfectly crafted song.

Smashmouth – "Allstar"
My favorite character in the book is Pastor Preston, the Pastor at James's church. He's the exact mix of arrogance and false humility that I think describes most American Christian leaders. I feel like this is the song that he puts on every morning while he brushes his teeth, maybe singing it to himself and then ultimately looking up into the heavens and exclaiming "You're the real all-star" to a God he believes to be listening. It's the perfect blend of non-threatening, upbeat melody and inert but generally positive lyrics that have made this song a staple in the soundtracks of Christian summer camps, church lock-ins and weekend retreat videos. I can easily see it being Pastor Preston's unofficial theme song.

The XX – "Angels"
I will probably always think that The XX should do every soundtrack to every movie, TV show, book or any other piece of media that uses music. They have 2 albums that play continuously, 24 hours a day in my bedroom and even beyond that I find that I listen to them when I'm not in my bedroom at least a few times a day. So in some way their sound must be shaping everything I work on whether I'm conscious of it or not. This song specifically I think would go very well with a breakup scene in this book. It's slow and sad just like the breakup, just like most of their music, just like life.

Chad Kultgen and Strange Animals links:

the author's website
the book's website

Largehearted Boy Book Notes by the author for Men, Women, and Children

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
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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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