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May 24, 2016

Book Notes - Manuel Gonzales "The Regional Office is Under Attack!"

The Regional Office is Under Attack!

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.

Manuel Gonzales's debut novel The Regional Office is Under Attack! is one of the year's most entertaining books, a fascinating literary romp that defies genre labels.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"The Regional Office is Under Attack! is an entertaining and satisfying novel. Like the best of the stories it satirizes so gently, it’s rollicking good fun on the surface, action-packed and shiny in all the right places; underneath that surface, though, it’s thoughtful and well considered. Gonzales has created a superheroic fighting force of the kind we’ve grown so used to through constant exposure to the Avengers and various iterations of the X-Men, and then he has turned out their pockets and flipped open their diaries."

In his own words, here is Manuel Gonzales's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Regional Office is Under Attack!:

Deciding on the songs for this playlist was easy. The Regional Office is Under Attack! is a novel about an organization that secretly trains women to fight the forces of evil and a second group of women who, for mysterious reasons, attack it, and for the playlist I focused on both the women defending the Regional Office and the women attacking it. I asked myself, What would they listen to during training sessions, fight sequences, field ops?, and the songs lined up one by one. But when it came to contextualizing each song, well, it wasn’t that I was stumped, but that with each one, I kept thinking to myself, “I really can’t, I mean — look, have you HEARD this song? It’s perfect for these characters!” Each short description was a repetition of the description before, and not because these songs are so similar — they cross genres (soul, punk, glam rock, pop, R&B, hip-hop), span thirty to forty years of music, are songs by white women, black women, Latina women, Asian women, are angry, are powerful, are compelling, are heartbreaking, and are fun to listen to, to move to, to play loud in my beat-up Honda Element full of my kids’ junk in the back seat as I drive away from the kids’ school after drop-off.

Icona Pop’s "I Love It," from the first beat to the last note, epitomizes the voice of Rose, one of the main women attacking the Regional Office, is full of her bravado, her energy, her dark humor. Joan Jett’s "Bad Reputation," on the other hand, is Sarah’s song (she’s defending the Regional Office, equipped with only her wits, her inner strength, and a mechanical arm) not because she’s got a bad reputation but because she wishes she had. That song makes up the soundtrack she wished were hers, though deep down she knows it’s not. (She’s misunderstood but not in the good/bad way.) Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood’s song, "Somethin’ Bad," feels like the song that should play every time the Regional Office operatives head out on a mission. Janelle Monae’s "Q.U.E.E.N.," the song they listen to as they’re alone in their dorm room after an operation, a training session, with nothing but their own thoughts to keep them company. "Hugo" from The Done Deals — a band based out of Paris, TX, which I based Rose’s hometown on — contains a lyric — Sometimes a man’s best work is done just trying to find a way out of a plan — that I originally used as an epigraph, but the rest of the song’s lyrics speak directly to Rose and her desire to leave her small Texas town and to everything happens to her after she does. The women who front Mother Feather with their glamrock makeup and shiny studded outfits and their energized rock sound could almost be the backing band for either side of this fight between the Regional Office and those who hope to destroy it.

But what ties these all together, really, is how powerful I see these women or these women-fronted bands and yet how vulnerable their music can feel, and this power and aggression and sadness and regret and dark humor and badassery is what drew me to the women in my novel and what draws me to these songs as its soundtrack.

Jenny Lewis, "Just One of the Guys"
Icona Pop, "I Love It"
Mother Feather, "Mother Feather"
MIA, "Bad Girls"
Christina Aguilera, "Fighter"
Minaj/Beyonce, "Feeling Myself"
Joan Jett, "Bad Reputation"
Bikini Kill, "Rebel Grrl"
Haim, "The Wire"
Coathangers, "Watch Your Back"
No Doubt, "Just a Girl"
Janelle Monae, "q.u.e.e.n."
Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, "Somethin' Bad"
Done Deals," "Hugo"

Manuel Gonzales and The Regional Office is Under Attack! links:

BookPage review
Guardian review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Slate review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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