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March 29, 2017

Book Notes - Deb Olin Unferth "Wait Till You See Me Dance"

Wait Till You See Me Dance

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.

Deb Olin Unferth's collection Wait Till You See Me Dance is filled with sharp, masterfully told stories that perfectly balance darkness and hope.

Kirkus reviews wrote of the collection:

"A stunning debut collection. . . . 39 poignant, sharp-edged stories that cut right to the bone of the human psyche with precision and grace. . . . Prickly dilemmas, physical and existential, abound in these allegorical stories, each terrifically mundane and told with an exquisite restraint that drolly captures the inherent hope of humanity. . . . Chock-full of emotional insight and comic verve, Unferth’s beguiling stories are not to be missed."

In her own words, here is Deb Olin Unferth's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Wait Till You See Me Dance:

The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon, Camper Van Beethoven

I fucking love the absurdity of this song: the story of this guy's dog going to the moon. The guy says, "My little dog Lassie packed her bags and went out onto the porch…" while a chorus of his pals shout behind him, "yeah yeah yeah yeah." The song's story and manner strike me as having the same note of grandiosity, silliness, impossibility that opera does, if you've ever held off listening to the music and thought about the delightfully ridiculous plotlines (and I am an opera lover). Even the name of the album: Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength and Beauty, a painting of Lassie the astronaut standing proud, is funny and dramatic and operatic. I sung this song to myself while writing the story "Opera" in the collection.

"Kimberly," Patti Smith

The sky will split
The planets will shift
Balls of jade will drop
Existence will stop

Patti named this song for and sings it to her little sister. She is commemorating a night long ago when Kimberly was tiny and Patti held her in her arms and stood before a barn going up in flames.

I've always suspected that Patti knows how to love better than she knows how to do anything.

My story "The First Full Thought of Her Life" is about a shooter watching a little girl go up a sand dune, her young mother trailing behind her. The question of the story is: will he shoot the little girl when she gets to the top?

The story grew out of a day my little sister and I took her tiny daughter up a sand dune. She let her daughter walk just a few feet out of reach to explore the sand world in front of her. I could see my sister's wild, vulnerable, protective face. I looked at it with my own wild, vulnerable, protective face, protective of her, my sister.

The lesson: Love, even if there might be a shooter nearby.

"Ripple," the Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia: "If you go, no one may follow. That path is for you steps alone."

In my story "Stay Where You Are," my two characters are sitting on an empty road. One is ready to go one way and the other the other. One can't be anyone but who he is. He didn't ask to be that but he is saddled with it. The other just can't go along with it anymore.

A call to originality, creativity, a peaceful moment on a lonely road. In the next moment a man with a gun comes breaking out of the forest behind them.

"Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen

Leonard's lyric: "Even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah."

I listened to this song while writing my story "Voltaire Night," that moment in parenthood when you are at the brink of disaster, cursing fate and your own existence, raging at any God who happens to be up there, and yet in the same moment you are filled with gratitude for having the problem at all.

"Almost Home," Moby

The search for authenticity. I grew up on Grease, became an adult to the thunking sounds of frogs dropping to the earth in Magnolia (oh, Aimee Mann!). Any hunt for the real, any proof it was there all along. And I love to dance.

Begin again. Yes, the ceiling is caving in, and you're facing the wrong direction. Turn. Turn again, and again, and again, and again.

"Ice Cream Truck," Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

This song is in Laurel Nakadate's movie Stay the Same Never Change. We are talking hardcore mumblecore. There's a moment where all the characters stop and look at a sky full of fireworks, and this song incongruously plays. Formally simple, wickedly playful, funny, absurd, whimsical, overwhelming, sad. It's a sensation I'm chasing in many of my shorts: "To the Ocean," "Fear of Trees," "Husband," "Interview."

Deb Olin Unferth and Wait Till You See Me Dance links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Kirkus Reviews review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Revolution
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her novel Vacation

also at Largehearted Boy:

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