October 26, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Marvelously dark and absorbing, Matthew Vollmer's new collection Gateway to Paradise once again proves him a masterful writer of short fiction.
Ron Rash wrote of the book:
"Surreal, grittily realistic, comic, and tragic at times, but always entertaining. Matthew Vollmer is a very talented writer, and all of that talent is on display in this exceptional collection."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire" + Psychedelic Furs, "The Ghost in You"
Near the beginning of "Downtime," Alison Hart, dental assistant, stands on a bed in a hotel room. She's wearing a teddy and singing the chorus to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." "Down, down, down," she croons. Although our main character—a dentist named Ted Barber—won't interpret this as a prophetic warning, it certainly describes his future trajectory. Dr. Barber's a young widower, but because it's been easier to tell people he's single, he's kept this truth a secret. Otherwise, he'd have to tell the story about how his wife went for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico during their honeymoon and never returned. Now, he's here, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with a woman who knows next to nothing about his past but very clearly wants to be a part of his future. First, though, Ted will have to deal with the ghost of his dead wife, whose advances, as it turns out, he won't know how to resist.
"Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" by the Smiths
The main character of "Probation"—a mechanic named Abe—is in a world of hurt. It's partly his fault, partly dumb luck. His daughter—a young girl who'd recently gotten in trouble on a field trip for allegedly messing around with another boy—is late coming home, and his wife—who was caught on a grocery store security camera engaging in "relations inappropriate to the workplace" with a much older man—has left him, and isn't answering her phone. Abe would head into the dark to search for his missing daughter, but he's still on house arrest for having shone a toy laser at a FBI helicopter on the night of a manhunt—an impulsive reaction that earned him a night in jail and a year of probation. Nobody's stopping him from getting into his truck and driving around town, but he knows his probation officer could stop by—and has made a habit of stopping by—the house at any time, day or night. So Abe's got a decision to make: sit in the house and hope everything turns out okay, or take matters into his own hands. Either way, I could hear him saying, at the end of this story, "For once in my life,/ let me get what I want/Lord knows it would be the first time."
"Paperback Writer" by The Beatles + "Dancing in the Dark" by Bruce Springsteen
"I'm dying for some action! I'm sick of sitting 'round here trying to write this book…." This lyric from Springsteen's 1984 hit pretty much sums up the main character's position in "The Visiting Writer," an assistant professor who'd much rather be the writer of hardbacks than paperbacks, and has been charged with driving to the local airport to retrieve a much more famous writer—a woman who is as darkly alluring as she is intimidating, and who's visiting the university where he teaches. The professor delivers the visiting writer to her hotel, where she invites him to dinner. And thus, a strange night—filled with inexplicable behaviors and an invitation to visit the visiting writer's hotel room—begins.
"I Wanna Be Your Dog" by The Stooges
"Dog Lover" is a story about a woman who loves her dog. Like, really loves her dog. A lot.
"Nookie" by Limp Bizkit + "Bad Day" by Daniel Powter + "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley
"Scoring" is a story about a man named Martin Postachian, who, during a trip to Daytona, Florida, where he is employed for a week to grade Advanced Placement essays, decides to visit a mall. Ostensibly, he's looking for running shoes. Instead, he meets a flirtatious kiosk girl, who convinces him to buy two manicure sets he can't afford, and who writes "call me!," along with her phone number, on his receipt. Because I imagine the story unfolding sometime during the early to mid aughts, what happens after Martin (a.k.a. Stash) decides to call Kiosk Girl could easily include (but does not) the lyrics to the popular songs of the day ("I did it all for the nookie," for instance, or "You had a bad day" or "I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind…") all of which, I'm pretty sure, got a ton of play time in malls across America. (Malls Across America, by Michael Galinsky, by the way, is a fantastic and totally unrelated book of photos of Americans in malls during a trip the photographer took across the country in 1989.)
"Mountain Song" by Jane's Addiction + "Relative Ways" by And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead… + "The Gilded Fear that Guides the Flow" by Benoit Pioulard + "Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes
"Gateway to Paradise"—a novella—starts off, more or less, with a bang: an ex-high-school-basketball-star named Riley and her boyfriend Jaybird orchestrate a revenge plot: to rob a man they refer to as "Uncle Gene," who once took liberties with Riley and now purportedly hides his lottery winnings somewhere in the singlewide trailer where he lives. While Riley searches for the money, Jaybird takes matters into his own hands and shoots Uncle Gene in the heart. As the couple makes their getaway, I can easily imagine Jaybird blasting some epic glam/goth metal ("Mountain Song"), and though they haven't left a "trail" of dead behind them, Riley certainly considers "death and decay" (as does the singer of "Relative Ways"). But that's not the only thing she'll have to worry about: Jaybird doesn't know about the sack of money she's lifted from Uncle Gene's freezer, and she's not sure he deserves to, especially not when he leaves her to in the middle of the Smoky Mountains to retrieve coolant after his truck overheats. I think the melancholy whitewash of "The Gilded Fear that Guides the Flow" captures Riley's state of mind at this point: sad, uncertain, a little spaced-out. Later, she'll hitch a ride with a Christian family, wander the streets of Gatlinburg, Tenneseee, and survive a final confrontation with Jaybird. "Helplessness Blues" conveys the tone of the story's final scenes, which depict lots of yearning and loneliness, but also the notion that maybe, on the other side of darkness, there's something good and bright. If nothing else, at least we can dream.
Matthew Vollmer and Gateway to Paradise links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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