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August 3, 2018

Genevieve Hudson's Playlist for Her Short Story Collection "Pretend We Live Here"

Pretend We Live Here

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 Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Genevieve Hudson's Pretend We Live Here is one of the year's most impressive short story collections.

Tom Bissell wrote of the book:

"A terrific collection of stories. There are echoes here of Flannery O’Connor, Barry Hannah, and Denis Johnson, but Genevieve Hudson is her own writer—impressively and gloriously so. Her eye for the clinching detail is unnerving and her sympathies are fascinatingly conflicted. I hope, and suspect, this book will be the start of a long and inspiring career."


In her own words, here is Genevieve Hudson's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Pretend We Live Here:



Pretend We Live Here deals a lot with desire—unrequited want and those first throws of longing for a new person or a new life. Like the stories in this collection, the songs I’ve gathered here are embodied and emotive. I’ve always loved sad songs. And sad stories for that matter. They have the reverse effect of making me less lonesome and making life seem somehow less tragic.

I have a long-term relationship with the songs on this playlist (with a few new loves thrown into the mix, too). Some played in the background while I wrote and edited Pretend We Live Here, while others speak to the collection directly or share an ethos, a theme, a refrain.

Hey – The Pixies

I’ve used this song to start many a mixtape. I can’t help but dance as soon as it comes on. It succeeds at making its point while being painstakingly simple. It captures the despair you feel when you’re connected to someone and can’t seem to do a thing about it. It’s so catchy. So riotous. It’s two fists wrapped around steel bars, rattling a cage.

We’re cha-ained!

Crimson And Clover – Tommy James & the Shondells

“I don’t hardly know her / but I think I could love her.” Ditto this feeling for the narrators of “Possum,” “Woman Without a Memory,” “Date Book,” and “Boy Box.” In “Date Book,” the narrator says: “Cruelty is meeting someone and knowing what you want is time.” It’s a different expression but the same idea. I’ve always found this song romantic. It brims with the feeling of potentiality. You meet someone new, and anything could happen. You’ve begun the spiral. “Yeah, my, my such a sweet thing / I wanna do everything / what a beautiful feeling.”

Forget About Life – Alvvays

I edited the stories in this collection while on a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I played “Forget About Life” nonstop in my studio (and “Dreams Tonite” by Alvvays). Now when I listen to this song, I think of that month, which feels connected to the book. In many ways, I did forget about life for that month. And it was exactly what I needed.

Pynk – Janelle Monáe

Not only is this song fun and sexy, but Janelle Monáe wears pink vagina pants in the music video. She fully embraces her sexuality, queerness and femme energy. I’ve been listening to a lot of Janelle Monáe lately. She played on repeat during the editing phase. She keeps my mood up and my pace fast.

Well, Well, Well – Le Tigre

In “Boy Box,” the narrator Frances pines over a punk girl crush. I imagine her playing this riot grrrl anthem over and over again in the cage in her fathers’ bedroom, trying to will her way into coolness.

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Many of the characters in Pretend We Live Here are coming of age and dealing in the dramas and confusions of that particular time. No band embodies my teen years more than The Smiths. Turn this song on, and I’m back in Alabama driving with the windows down, this song streaming from the speakers and unraveling through the open windows. If this collection had a theme song, this would be it. The song longs for a home that doesn’t exist, which is a reoccurring theme in the collection.

“Take me out tonight
Where there's music and there's people
And they're young and alive
Driving in your car
I never, never want to go home
Because I haven't got one anymore.”

Cruel – St. Vincent

This is my favorite song from one of my favorite artists. The lines feel like they’re in direct conversation with the stories in my collection. They circle around two themes from Pretend We Live Here: bodies and casual cruelty.

“Bodies, can't you see what everybody wants from you?
Forgive the kids, for they don't know how to live
Run the alleys casually cruel.”

Oh Baby—Micachu and the Shapes

I imagine this song playing as Connie, the reclusive narrator in “Dance!,” bikes through the rain to the pet store where she will buy food for her pink dolphin Blondie.

Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk – Rufus Wainwright

I love the juxtaposition here of cigarettes and chocolate milk: two alliterating indulgences. Like the song’s narrator, the characters in Pretend We Live Here are conflicted types who indulge in things that aren’t going to fix them. They don’t know what they want or where their sympathies lie.

“Everything it seems I like's a little bit sweeter/ A little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me.”

Monument – Mirah

Mirah was one of the first queer musicians I loved. Listening to “Monument” feels like an affirmation, like a sweet and soft spoken rallying cry. When I play this song, I’m transported back to my friend’s pool in Charleston the summer I came out. The hot palm of sun is on us as we talk about the girls we want to kiss and the ones we have.

Doll Parts – Hole

In an early version of “Holes,” the two characters Claire and Tonya sing this song to each other as they hang out in a cemetery on the University of Alabama campus. They sing:

“They really want you, they really do
Yeah, they really want you
They really want you, and I do too.”

Reciting these lines was a way for them to safely confess the desire they had for one another. They could hide behind the words because they were someone else’s.

In the rest of the song, Courtney Love catalogues parts of herself: “I am doll eyes, doll mouth, doll legs I am doll arms, big veins, dog bait.” She is fake plastic. She is not real but an approximation of a real thing. A doll and not a girl. The narrators of my stories are aware of their bodies. They are figuring out how to be at home in them, inhabit them, exist in them.

Gloria: In Excelsis Deo – Patti Smith

I adore this song. It resonates both in theme and attitude with my stories. It does more than talk about desire. It performs it. It acts out that sexy, rebellious, and hot-headed rush of love at first sight. Its pace is perfect.

That Smell – Lynyrd Skynrd

The narrator of “Too Much is Never Enough” is childhood friends with a dark angel of a boy named Mason. Mason is not long for the world. “That Smell” speaks to Mason’s fate and the fate of two beloved boys from my childhood, boys who are no longer with us, boys I modelled Mason after.

Song of the South – Alabama

This song reminds me of home: the cotton fields, the contradictions, the hot blue sky. I have a soft spot for country music, especially this ballad by the band whose namesake is my home state and the state where half of the stories in this collection are set. When I was young, I thought I hated country music, but I memorized many country songs because they invaded every space I entered with my friends: the Walmart aisles, the backseats of Chevy trucks, and Sonic drive-thrus. The lyrics pressed into my brain and cemented. And now they feel like part of me.

You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen

In “God Hospital,” the narrator Rae heads deep into rural Alabama in search of a religious healer. What she finds is a creep with a horrifying dental chair and a garden of crosses painted with evangelical sayings. Tonally, this song is how I imagine the story feels. Leonard Cohen’s voice is so very visceral. It raises a second skin on my arms.


Genevieve Hudson and Pretend We Live Here links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

The Big Smoke review
The Stranger review


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
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Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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