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April 17, 2017

Book Notes - Abigail Ulman "Hot Little Hands"

Hot Little Hands

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.

Abigail Ulman's short story collection Hot Little Hands is a brilliant debut that captures the lives of young women on the brink of adulthood.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"It is rare for a collection to so adeptly capture the way life can be at once facile and intense. Ulman’s details are lifelike and droll, her style lucid and engaging, and the overall effect stirring."

In her own words, here is Abigail Ulman's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Hot Little Hands:

“I’m Good I'm Gone” by Lykke Li

Three of the best shows I've ever been to were Lykke Li shows. She is completely responsible for me doing this thing where I try to dance from the shoulders instead of the hips, and it never works but I keep trying.

Lykke Li's music is cool, sexy, spiky, vulnerable, dark and glittery – a second Stevie Nicks for our time – and I associate all her songs, and particularly this one, with Claire, the protagonist of three stories in Hot Little Hands.

“San Francisco” by Hello Saferide

Everyone who's ever lived in San Francisco thinks they lived there before it was totally and irrevocably ruined. But I really did, you guys! I got a writing fellowship in the Bay Area and spent the six months before I moved there riding my bike around my hometown of Melbourne, Australia and listening to this song. It takes a band full of adorable Swedish people to come up with the line "The only place in North America not destroyed by the governme-e-e-ent."

“Started From The Bottom” by Drake

If starting from the bottom means being from a Commonwealth country and getting sent to a Jewish day school where you don't fit in – and which your parents can't really afford – well, I started there, too, Aubrey!!! That's kind of what the story "Jewish History" is about.

“I Could Die Looking At You” by Jordie Lane

Gotta have some Australian music in here and gotta have a love song, so here's one that's both. This song's about a love affair that starts at the pub, lasts only a few days, and involves tonnes of beer and whiskey and someone drunkenly announcing, "You know…I'm a poet". So basically your average Aussie relationship and not dissimilar to the one depicted in my story "The Pretty One".

“Blame Game” by Kanye West

The whole of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is featured in a long scene in my story "Head To Toe". I love this album and I love that Kanye kind of denounces it now because he's onto new stuff.

I chose this particular song because two characters in the story have a mini-debate about the Chris Rock part. And also "Avril 14th", the Aphex Twin song sampled here, is super beautiful.

“Everyone's Waiting” by Missy Higgins

If you happen to be over deadline on a project, this song by a Melbourne singer-songwriter will speak to you. It spoke to me for the, um, years it took me to finish this book after signing a contract and then spending my entire advance on Bay Area rent.

Having finally come out the other side of that process (partly by writing a story about a character who can't finish a book so has a baby instead), I'd say to anyone in a similar over-deadline predicament: don't rush it, don't give up, and don't freak out too too much. As my therapist used to say, "No one's really thinking about you: they're thinking about what they're going to eat next and when they'll get laid." Comforting, right?

“Sex In The Lounge” by Nicki Minaj

This song's not exactly a deep cut, but one that didn't get much attention when Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded came out. I like it because it's funny and, even on her minor tracks, Nicki's writing and delivery are perfect. Also, I'm a nerdy fiction writer type person so I actually have no idea what's happening in this song. Where is the lounge? Is it, like, in a club? In a hotel? Someone's house? If I ever got out of my pyjamas and away from my computer, I might know about these type of things.

Also, special mention to the raunchy Lil Wayne verse on this one, which is not for children or the faint of heart. Weezy shouts out the withdrawal method (incidentally, the title of one of my stories), compares a woman's vagina to a dirty sewer, and then advises her that if she's scared, she should go to church. Helpfully adding, "It's open Sunday". It's disgusting, hilarious, and maybe a little instructive, too.

“Hot Knife” by Fiona Apple

A few years ago, I got stopped coming into the Philadelphia International Airport from overseas. I was detained, questioned, fingerprinted, interviewed, searched, handcuffed, ankle-cuffed, transported to jail, locked up overnight, and eventually deported. All of this happened because I was charged with having an "intent to immigrate" – a kind of Minority Report-style pre-crime that I still don't fully understand, and about which I wrote my story "Your Charm Won't Help You Here".

It was summer when all this happened, and Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel… album had come out a few weeks before. I'd been listening to it on the aeroplane and so, for the whole 36-hour ordeal, I had this one song – "Hot Knife" – looping in my head, over and over and over. Though the sentiment of the song didn't correspond to my experience, the relentless tempo and repetition perfectly matched my adrenalin-fuelled heartbeat and ever-rising anxiety levels. This song both tested and saved my sanity. And because no one but Stephen King can afford to buy the print rights to song lyrics, I had to write my own crappy version for the story - with apologies to Fiona (and also, thank you for getting me through high school AND a night inside a jail cell in Philadelphia).

“Welcome To New York” by Taylor Swift

I'm a Swiftie from the start (even though no one's used that term in, like three years). This isn't anywhere near my favourite TS track. But I was listening to it at the very moment that I got a phone call from New York with the news that the ace people at Spiegel & Grau/Random House wanted to publish a href="">Hot Little Hands in the US. So I take it as a sign that – if you're extremely lucky, white, educated, and from a developed country, and if Obama is president, and if you work your ass off nonstop for ten years on one project – sometimes the US will let you come back in for a visit and make some of your dreams come true.

Abigail Ulman and Hot Little Hands links:

Atlantic review
Booklist review
Financial Times review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
Sydney Morning Herald review

Sydney Morning Herald profile of the author

Kill Your Darlings essay by the author
OTHERPPL interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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