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November 4, 2016

Book Notes - Laurie Stone "My Life as an Animal"

My Life as an Animal

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.

Laurie Stone's collection of linked short stories My Life as an Animal is sharply funny and deeply humane.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"With an expert eye, Stone finds valuable insights in the mundane bits and pieces of everyday life and generously shares them with her readers."

In her own words, here is Laurie Stone's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection My Life as an Animal:

The other day on Facebook someone posted a link to an a cappella version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." On the phone I said to Richard, "People sing that song as a hymn and make it sound pious and solemn, but it's about sex." I was in upstate New York, walking on a country road with rickety reception. Richard was in Arizona, where it had cooled down to 100 degrees. We had to keep saying, "Can you hear me?" like whales on opposite sides of a large sea.

Richard looked up the lyrics to "Hallelujah." I said, "Can you sing it to me?" He said, "I don't know the melody well enough." I said, "I like your voice." It was deep for a man so slight, like the voice of Aaron Paul. All the time I was watching Breaking Bad, I thought about Aaron Paul's gravelly baritone fondly calling people "bitches." Richard recited the lyrics, and when he got to the lines, "She tied you to her kitchen chair/And she broke your throne and she cut your hair/And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah," I said, "He's coming, that's the hallelujah." Richard said, "I think it's about violence, too. All the David references." I said, "There is violence in sex." I wanted the song to be only about sex. I didn't know much about Leonard Cohen's music, but I thought he was a sexy man, even now that he was old, because he gave himself away. It turned women on to see desire and abandon like that in a man.

I knew if I mentioned Bob Dylan in comparison to Leonard Cohen, Richard and I would have a fight, but I could not resist. It was a Dylan thing to do, not give a fuck. (I did give a fuck and do not have the stomach for my impulses.) I don't know how this happened, but for the past ten years Richard and I have been fighting the gender wars on the body of Bob Dylan. I remember when I was young and everyone thought Dylan was God because of his music, his looks, and his snarling attitude. I saw this beauty, too, but what eclipsed Dylan's gifts was the thought: This guy uses women to comment on men. Women are instrumental. He doesn't consider them as separate human beings, with their own desires and interests, both the women he sneers at in say, "You've got a lot of nerve . . . ", and the women he reveres for supplying "shelter from the storm."

As a matter of fact I had just listened to "Shelter from the Storm" as the credits for a TV show rolled along, and as I heard them I remembered when I had said to a man, "Come in from the storm." I had wanted to see the man naked. I had wanted to get my hands on his skin. I liked Dylan's jaunty tune and the crunchy authority of his voice, but I thought: The guy in the song thinks the woman is selfless, and he likes thinking she is selfless. (I should add that I am a person who is always seeking shelter from storms. Friends and strangers let me in. It may be my homeless dog aspect, circling until the door opens.)

Richard has read many books about Dylan, all written by men. Has a woman ever written a book about Dylan? What would she say? When I say to Richard, "Only penis people write about Dylan," he says, "I hate that term." I say, "I'm not sure if there is such a thing as a man, but I know there are people with penises." I think in these moments I remind Richard we are not always on the same team. For example, even if he notices women are instrumental to men in Dylan's songs, it may not go into him the way it goes into me. And if he cares less than I care, it shows we have different sets of experiences, observations, and understandings of cause and effect in the world. Well, you say: You both know this, so why inscribe it every time you hear, "Like a Rolling Stone" or reflect on the award to Dylan of the Nobel Prize in literature? You might ask: Why do you want to taint Richard's enjoyment of an artist who gives him pleasure, peace, and excitement? Why do you have to remind him all the time you think Dylan is not an artist women and men can equally enjoy? And I would say: It's my job.

If I had not met Richard at an artist colony, I would not have found myself, for a couple of years, arguing with him in the Arizona desert and producing the material for My Life as an Animal. For the first year I did not know where I lived because of love. I was sixty. I had a thing about being sixty. I got over it. If I had not lived in Arizona, I would not have missed New York like a fever. Like a malarial fever and returned to my apartment, where now, as a consequence of a new condo, a playground and a basketball court reside below my windows. I sleep with noise cancelling headphones and during the day stream classical music on my iPhone. If I am awake and not speaking to someone, I am listening to classical music. Right now Yo-Yo Ma is playing a Bach cello concerto. A little while ago I heard Mozart's Requiem. Before returning to my apartment, I did not think I could write while listening to music. When has anything you thought about the future turned out right?

In the course of most days I listen to Glenn Gould playing The Goldberg Variations and The Well Tempered Clavier. Some days more than once. Is listen the right word? I dissolve into the music, and the music bends me to its shape. I don't know it's happening, as with any addiction. Addictions have given me my life. I hear Gould softly humming behind the joyous rhythm tinged with melancholy of Bach's English Suite No. 4 in F. Is Bach always a little melancholy, or is that me? Sound is freedom. Next Maria Pires plays Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor. My fingers fly. Happiness produces language. Even the language of argument.

One summer I stayed at the Edward Albee barn, an artist colony in Montauk. I was there during the month of July, when, in Arizona, the temperatures average 120 degrees and baby desert squirrels turn to crisps in their holes. The barn accommodated five artists, and during my stay we banded together in shared shock. To say the barn was dirty, to say the bedding was gray and mildewed, the plates chipped, the upstairs area thick with a Miss Havisham coating of dust does not do justice to the sadistic glory of Albee's mousetrap. There we were scratching about while he lounged nearby in a pristine villa. The pod went swimming and ate clams together. We were a mismatched crew made kind by our prickly surroundings, and one night—the night I remember with pure pleasure—we went to a dive bar and danced. Then we sang karaoke, and I sang all the verses of Dylan's "Tangled up in Blue," even though I cannot carry a tune, and as the lyrics scrolled along, I thought, Wow, this is a really great song.

Laurie Stone and My Life as an Animal links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Literary Rejections on Display interview with the author
Read To Write Stories interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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