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August 4, 2017

Book Notes - Scott Gould "Strangers to Temptation"

Strangers to Temptation

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.

Scott Gould's short fiction collection Strangers to Temptation is filled with linked coming-of-age stories that are funny and poignant, often at the same time.

George Singleton wrote of the book:

"If you are a sane, intelligent reader needful of stories that involve the heartbreak and hilarity of childhood, then you will cherish Scott Gould's perfect collection of linked stories, Strangers to Temptation. In the tradition of Lewis Nordan, Gould's now-adult narrator looks back on negotiating his small southern landscape with both an unflinching and frightful eye, confronted by the the distorted, maimed, misunderstood, well-meaning, and good denizens of Kingstree. It's all about Love and the absence of Love; Truth and the absence of Truth; Exhilaration and Confusion. These stories are laugh out loud funny and wistful simultaneously."

In his own words, here is Scott Gould's Book Notes music playlist for his short fiction collection Strangers to Temptation:

There's a good chance you won't be impressed by this, because I'm not going all indie and alt and cryptic, trying to impress you with how cool I am. Because I'm not cool. I'm too old and I don't own the right clothes. I'm more comfortable going old school.

I wrote this collection called Strangers to Temptation. All of the stories are set in lowcountry, South Carolina in the early 1970s, which was a very weird and confusing time for many things in the South, music included. Motown was spilling down from Detroit. The post-Woodstock bands (the cool ones) were getting more airplay on the radio—bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Band, Sly and the Family Stone, Creedence. Singer-songwriters were crawling (melodramatically) out of the proverbial woodwork. There was the ubiquitous brain-numbing pop music on the AM dials. You couldn't escape the television-fueled music, e.g. The Archies and The Monkees. And there was, of course, the last-gasps of The Beatles. (This was just before the wave of Southern rock broke hard. The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd hadn't really taken hold yet in Kingstree Elementary School in 1972. According to our parents, the guys in those bands weren't just hippies—they were redneck hippies.) Anyway, this music mélange could be wonderful at times, confounding at others. (Also, I just wanted to use the word mélange in an essay before I die.)

Music surfaces numerous times in Strangers to Temptation. It's a part of the setting, as important as the Black River or the tobacco barns or the train tracks. While I was writing the last of the stories, I'd dial up Spotify stations, things like Motown Radio, CSN&Y Radio and Creedence Clearwater Revival Radio. Or I'd put on some of my old vinyl that wasn't too warped to spin. The music would eventually worm its way into the stories, sometimes without me even realizing it. In this soundtrack for the collection, you'll find some of the music that's actually named in the stories. And there are a few tunes I wish I could have found a way to get in.

Anyway, nothing alt or indie here. There wasn't a damn thing alt or indie about the South in the early 70s. Thank god.

"Let It Be" The Beatles
When I was twelve, I broke a perfectly good piggy bank and bought a copy of this record to impress a girl. It didn't work. Not even a bit, and my heart broke. I think that might be the moment I learned that music and love are inextricably mixed, and you'd better pick the right music when you're chasing after love. In the story "What Gets Tossed," the narrator buys this tune for a girl. It doesn't go well.

"The Snake" Johnny Rivers
Bobby Harrell used to give me a ride home from baseball practice in his convertible. (He was one of the senior guys who took care of the squirt seventh-grade second baseman. There's some baseball in the collection, especially in "Bases.") Bobby had this 8-track player, and Johnny Rivers constantly blasted from the speakers. "The Snake" used to give me nightmares, but I wouldn't admit it to any of the senior guys.

"Joy to the World" Three Dog Night
One of the stories in the collection is named after this song. I really don't like the song—probably because of the cheesy first line—but I did like Three Dog Night. In fact, my first concert was Three Dog Night, and the opening act was Peter Frampton. This was right before Frampton Comes Alive erupted and smothered the world.

"Ben" Michael Jackson
In 1972, this was the slow dance anthem. At all the 8th grade dances, we would line the walls, girls on one side of the room, guys on the other. When this song came on, we left our respective walls and danced with each other. Slowly. (This sort of thing shows up in the story "What Gets Tossed.") I'm not sure I knew back then that the song was about a rat.

"ABC" Jackson Five
The schools desegregated, and there was suddenly music at recess. This new friend of mine would sneak his little transistor radio out to the playground, and a group of us would head to the back corner of the schoolyard and listen to songs, like this one. The guy with the transistor shows up in "May McIntosh Flies, John Wayne Runs."

"Long As I Can See the Light" Creedence Clearwater Revival
The same day I bought the album Cosmo's Factory, I bought a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I opened the album while I was eating a doughnut, and I left a partial thumbprint of doughnut glaze on the first track of side one. It never played right. I couldn't get the grooves clean. "Long As I Can See the Light" was the final track on side two. It remained glaze-free.

"Steamroller" James Taylor
The first album I bought with my own money was Sweet Baby James. (I saved up some paper route cash.) I always liked "Steamroller" because it sounded like James was having fun while he sang it, as opposed to something like "Fire and Rain," which sounded like it was composed in a gulag.

"Tears of a Clown" Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
This song was still a staple on soul radio in the early 70s, though it was released in the late 60s. I always wished I could sing like Smokey Robinson. Plus, the guy slant-rhymes "public" and "subject" in the first verse, which I thought was brazenly cool for some reason.

"I'm a Believer" The Monkees
Even though this song was recorded in the late 60s it wouldn't go away. Sort of like The Monkees. I mention The Monkees in the story "May McIntosh Flies, John Wayne Runs." I'm a little embarrassed that I listened to The Monkees and watched their television show. I just found out that Neil Diamond wrote "I'm a Believer." I am currently a little more embarrassed.

"4 + 20" Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
CSN&Y saved me from The Monkees. This cut is on side two of the album Déjà Vu, and it's probably one of the reasons I'm a Stephen Stills fan to this day. When I bought this album, I felt cool. And when you were in the 8th grade in 1972, cool was an important thing to be.

Scott Gould and Strangers to Temptation links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Foreword Reviews review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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