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March 31, 2017

Book Notes - David Ebenbach "The Guy We Didn't Invite to the Orgy"

The Guy We Didn't Invite to the Orgy

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.

Winner of the Juniper Prize for Fiction, David Ebenbach's short fiction collection The Guy We Didn't Invite to the Orgy is filled with always compassionate and often funny stories.

Roy Kesey wrote of the collection:

"In this striking collection, David Ebenbach inhabits a series of minds that most of us would classify as unknowable; he does so with empathy and wisdom, and often with humor as well. The 'desperately wonderful' experience of life in a cult, a soul teetering on the line between grief and insanity, the high-voltage ambivalence of teenage obsession: Ebenbach is more at home in the minefield of ambiguity than most of us are in our houses."

In his own words, here is David Ebenbach's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection The Guy We Didn't Invite to the Orgy:

The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy and other stories is a collection of short fiction all about the complete weirdness of the social world—people trying to fit into groups, people trying to avoid groups, groups trying to decide what they’re about and who’s in and who’s out. It can be kind of a madhouse out there.

The playlist is rooted in that madhouse and I have to say it’s pretty good; I listen to it over and over. Maybe you’ll like it, too.

Nine Inch Nails, “All the Love in the World”
The first story in the collection is the title story—“The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy.” I wrote it after someone told me a rumor about there being an orgy one year at this place (an artist colony) where I was staying and working at the time. And the more incredible part of the rumor was that apparently one guy wasn’t invited. Doesn’t that just kill you? Well, it just killed me, and then I wrote the story. Anyway, the line that Trent Reznor repeats again and again in this great song is “Why do you get all the love in the world?”

The Cure, “Why Can’t I Be You?”
Envy is a big thing in the collection’s second story, “Everyone Around Me.” The story begins “Basically I wanted everyone around me to fail.” Haven’t you ever felt that way? I have. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.

Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down Again”
Okay. I know this song is about drugs; it’s a metaphor where the “friend” is really drugs. But if you take it literally, you’ve got this song about a very intense relationship between two people where everything will crash if the other person doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. My short story “Our Mothers Left Us” is about—well, it’s about what the title says it’s about.

Rachelle Garniez and the Fortunate Few, “Dream On”
This song is on the list because of my story “To Be Weightless,” which stars a main character who is deeply emotionally invested in a dream therapy group that she joined and that she absolutely does not believe is a cult—she needs it to not be a cult—but you know what? It’s a cult.

Anna Nalick, “Breathe (2 AM)”
“If She Doesn’t Answer” takes place in the middle of the night when a woman gets a phone call about her mother’s death and she refuses to pick up the phone—but it keeps on ringing anyway, and she can’t escape that, or any of the other impossible ways that the news tries to get into her house. It’s a surreal story, or a magic realist story (I’m not sure which), but it’s about something real. In the words of Anna Nalick, “And life's like an hourglass glued to the table./No one can find the rewind button, girl.”

FC Kahuna, “Hayling”
“Hayling” is almost seven minutes long, and the only lyrics are the lines (repeated many times) “Don’t think about all those things you fear./Just be glad to be here.” I love this song, though the advice it offers is pretty hard to follow. In “Fifty-Fifty,” the main character, wrestling as gamely as possible with depression, tries to live by this philosophy. And yet he thinks of all the things he fears, and all the things that make him glad to be here, and all the everything else he feels.

The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”
This song could be tied to a lot of the stories in the book, which is really about whether the characters are going to try to connect to other people or not—whether they’re going to dare to do that. “I am the son/and the heir/of a shyness that is criminally vulgar.” Also, it’s one of the greatest songs there is.

Nouvelle Vague, “Dancing with Myself”
This song is a cover of the Billy Idol classic, and I love the picture it creates—this person alone in a crowd—but the song isn’t dejected; it has energy and bounce. The Nouvelle Vague version brings out the bounce even more. My story “Servers” is about a man with a very strange job (he has to watch over the servers that run a pornographic website) and he’s a bit strange himself, though to him it’s the larger world that’s really off-kilter.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, “Fantasy Friend Forever”
Some of us try to force friendships in order to solve our social problems. In “The Four Seasons Club,” a woman named April is invited to join a club for women whose names all tie in one way or another to the annual seasons. Which of course may not be the best basis for a club.

Beck, “Go It Alone”
The main character in “Too Late at the Liberty Bell Restaurant” is a lone wanderer who stops for some diner food on a cold winter night. If the social world is fraught for a lot of people, one of the options is to, as Beck suggests, “go it alone.” I don’t know if it’s the best idea or not, but it’s a killer song for sure.

George Michael, “Star People”
My story “The Shy Birds of Hope” is about a naturalist who runs a local PBS TV nature show set in the city of Philadelphia. And he’s happy with his show, but he harbors a secret wish to be better known. Meanwhile, it might be possible that, as a writer who publishes with small presses, I have occasionally harbored this same wish. Just maybe. This underrated George Michael song is a very helpful corrective.

Sharon Goldman, “Opening”
Do you know Sharon Goldman, who on her first album was Sharon Edry? You should know Sharon, in all her iterations. “Opening” is one of my favorite songs. “When everything is so uncertain,/and nothing has a guarantee,/the next best thing/is understanding/that all you’ll ever get in this life/is an opening.” It may not sound like a lot, but that opening is such a wonderful thing. Meanwhile, the final story in the collection, “We’ll Finish When We’re Done,” is about a haircut. Really—a haircut. But the haircut goes to places you definitely wouldn’t expect. I think the story is about how every moment of your life has the potential to take you somewhere astounding.

David Ebenbach and The Guy We Didn't Invite to the Orgy links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Monkeybicycle essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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