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November 11, 2015

Book Notes - George Singleton "Calloustown"


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.

George Singleton's seventh collection Calloustown cements his status as one of our finest darkly comic short story writers.

Tom Franklin wrote of the book:

"George Singleton is the best kind of genius, a mad one, and while his stories are acts of mad genius, they are also acts of great skill, acts of great compassion, acts of great intelligence. These are stories not to be missed"

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is George Singleton 's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Calloustown:

"When It's Q&A Time"
This is a story about a family that lives underground. So they live in a hole. What better song to fit this story than "Awful," by Hole?

"Static, Dead Air, Interference, Memory"
A couple, a broken down car, a funeral home. I can't think of a better reason than to listen to most anything by Tom Waits, but particularly "Invitation to the Blues," with its broken down jalopy.

"Ray Charles Shoots Wife Quenching Earth"
This one is going to be tough. Man. It's a story about a photographer. He and his wife have a seemingly unending hole in their backyard leading to nowhere. And they don't know how to talk to each other about it. How about "What'd I Say," by Ray Charles?

So the main character of this story is a luthier, specializing in ukeleles. And he may or may not have fathered a child out of wedlock with a woman with whom he'd given ukelele lessons. So it seems to me that there's only one choice: "I'll Remember You" by Don Ho. Ho!

"Invasion of Grenada"
Bonita and Edwin become emergency foster parents for a kid named Pine. Pine emits sounds that end up being actual words in Morse Code. The town is re-enacting the Invasion of Granada on a small island in the middle of Lake Calloustown, complete with paratroopers. Pretty normal story, that deserves a pretty normal soundtrack, something like "(What's So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" by Elvis Costello.

"Sonny Boy Williamson for Dinner"
A stranger named Ransom Dunn shows up at the narrator's door, shotgun in hand. Narrator's named Duncan Gosnell. The stranger's hit a deer on the road, and he wants to know if he can put the deer out of its misery there at the end of Duncan's driveway, then clean the carcass and split the meat. Duncan's wife shows up and doesn't quite understand why these kinds of things happen whenever she leaves the premises. No better song that "Keep It to Yourself," by none other than Sonny Boy Williamson.

A track coach named Mack Sloan from Oregon is in Calloustown to look up a kid named Brunson Pettigru who supposedly gets homeschooled but can run a quarter mile in 46 seconds, the half-mile in 1:50--only after tying wide rubber bands tightly to his upper biceps to restrict blood flow. I wouldn't recommend anyone trying this procedure, but it does make sense that blood would remain focused on the heart, et cetera. There can be no song that better suits this story than Pere Ubu's "Navvy," from their album Dub Housing, with its chorus "I got these arms and legs that flip-flop flip-flop..." For what it's worth, I like to listen to this song every morning, instead of drinking coffee.

"These Deep Barbs Irremovable"
Character named Luther Steadman returns to Calloustown. As a child he gained fame from the Guinness Book of Records for surviving the most wasp stings ever. He is greeted by long-time Calloustowners with disdain, except for the lovely owner of Tiers of Joy bakery, a woman named Adazee. Luther's back because his mother died and his father's in prison. His wife left him. He's lost a fortune trying to re-introduce Mexican Jumping Beans onto the countertops of convenience stores, like the good old days. There's some sexual tension here, and a sense of remorse on Luther's part. A perfect accompaniment for Moe Bandy's "I Just Started Hatin' Cheatin' Songs Today," segued into Moe Bandy's "It Was Always So Easy (to Find an Unhappy Woman)."

"Pitching Pennies"
Ne'er-do-well brother-in-law comes to visit, straight out of jail for a scam that involved copper pennies and a salvage yard. "Prison Bound," by the great band Social Distortion.

"Fresh Meat on Wheels"
Oh, man: a sleepover for sixth grade boys at their teacher's house, a sex ed talk by their teacher's husband, fishing for mice in the cellar, and a jar of Noxzema. Hmmm. "Live Fast Die Young," by the Circle Jerks.

"Gripe Water"
A man named Duane finds a seemingly lost little boy named Rex in Southern Exotics Pets. There's a secondary story about Duane and his wife, Carol, not being able to conceive, and a less-than-socially-adept friend named Dottie who seems to revel in the persistent miscarriages that Carol endures. I'm going with "No More Sad Songs," by Elvis Depressedly. My ex-student--brilliant writer--Mike Roberts, plays bass in the band.

"Is There Anything Wrong with Happier Times?"
Harold Lumley's mother may or may not be suffering from dementia. Harold's the manager of a vitamin joint. His mother has acquired a horde of 8X10s of famous TV and movie animals--Trigger, Clarence the Cross-eyed Lion, Lassie, et cetera. She volunteers at the Calloustown Coummunity Center, especially helping the wives and children of migrant workers learn English, play baseball, and so on. She's also got a thing for Br'er Rabbit stories, and hand puppets suddenly. The director of the center has contacted Harold about his mother's erratic behavior, and asked that he come check her out. There's a secondary story about Harold's brother being an exterminator, and a plague of rats. Harold accidentally rams his mother's car, too. This one's tough. I'll go with "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman" by Elizabeth Cook.

Here's a story to compliment the last one: It's about a man having to deal with his father, who seems to have endless weird inexplicable bad luck. "Bad Luck Man" by Big Bill Broonzy.

"After School"
This is a piece of metafiction, more or less, that slightly depends on Donald Barthelme's "The School." It's about how everyone, over the years, becomes so allergic to something or another--peanuts, cigarette smoke, perfume, air--that a school diminishes to one student. And it might give a nod to Ionesco's Rhinoceros, about every character having to be like every other character. I think it goes well with "Last Time Around" by Jason and the Scorchers.

"What Could've Been?"
A short-short about the missing landscape of yesteryear, about Wal-marts taking over, about lost innocence. It's about a defunct drive-in movie theatre. "Hey Hey, My My (Back to Black)" by Neil Young. Rust never sleeps, true.

George Singleton and Calloustown links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Men's Journal review

Greenville Journal profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Between Wrecks
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Drowning in Gruel
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Stray Decorum
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Work Shirts for Madmen
Spartanburg Herald-Journal profile of 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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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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