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May 3, 2016

Book Notes - Alyson Foster "Heart Attack Watch"

Heart Attack Watch

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

Alyson Foster's impressive short story collection Heart Attack Watch examines the pivotal moments where lives change.

Kirkus wrote of the collection:

"Foster explores people and relationships on the razor's edge . . . [with a] masterful use of tension and language. These short stories are brief windows opening into private moments of hope, pain, and struggle . . . A heavy-hitting emotional exploration of the ways lives can change in single moments."

In her own words, here is Alyson Foster's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Heart Attack Watch:

"The Theory of Clouds"

"Rebellion (Lies)" by Arcade Fire is, or should be, Julia's song, since it's about the lies people live when they're living according to convention, or, in Julia's case, the lies she's living while she's trying to keep her head down and not be noticed, while some deeper part of her is somewhere else. She doesn't even realize what she's doing until the scientist Tenley comes to town and forces her to reckon with it.

"Heart Attack Watch"

When I think of Jane, I think of the Twilight Singer's "Dead To Rights." There's a self-deprecating, almost bitter, way in which melodrama is sung about that makes me think of that rudderless time everyone seems to have at some point during their twenties. But as clichéd as it may be, that crisis is real, and it feels, and maybe is, in some ways, a matter of life and death.

"Sand Castles"

I stayed up all night writing this story and listening to Calexico's "Deep Down." I think the refrain in this song – deep down you know it's evil/ you've always known – actually led me to the story's climax on the beach at night when the narrator and her husband stumble on the sinister fish that's washed up from deep, and also the realization that there's something deeply and unspeakably wrong with their marriage.

"The Place of the Holy"

There's something about Alison Krauss's "You Will Be My Ain True Love" that I associate with this story. The spooky intensity of it, the feeling that death has just brushed by. The way it conjures up, in an eerie way, both attraction and violence. That's exactly what I wanted this story to do.

"The Art of Falling"

Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." Probably way too obvious, but it's still so unbelievably gorgeous. Plus, Elizabeth is a cello player. For me the crescendo builds right to that moment when Kevin's car is poised on the cliff, teetering and ready to go over.


I think of Johnny Cash's "Hurt" here. The story is about a lot of things that are hard for me to really explain or understand, but I do know that part of it is about the deep and terrifying feelings of being a failure and the fear of what those failures do to those people you love the most.


I wrote a lot of this story in my head while walking to and from work one spring a few years ago. During that time I was listening a lot to "Many Peaks" by Electrelane, so the two are strongly associated. I love the way the song starts off quietly uneasy and then takes on a life of its own as it builds to a calamitous crescendo. Just like how at the end of the story, the secrets come out during a wedding in the middle of a storm. I wanted to evoke that in some way.

Alyson Foster and Heart Attack Watch links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

The Quivering Pen post by 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)
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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