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August 15, 2018

Inman Majors' Playlist for His Novel "Penelope Lemon"

Penelope Lemon

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.

Inman Majors has been compared to P. G. Wodehouse and Anne Tyler, and his novel Penelope Lemon is a fiercely funny and moving book about female friendship.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"A laugh-out-loud funny tale of misfortune and female friendship. Majors' latest is a riot from beginning to end."

In his own words, here is Inman Majors' Book Notes music playlist for his novel Penelope Lemon:

Penelope Lemon: Game On! my fifth novel, is a comedy about a forty-year-old, small town Virginia mom, recently divorced for the second time, who finds herself thrown back into the work place and the dating life in middle age. It’s a short, light read that I think of as the love child of an R-rated Parks and Rec set in a ribald Mayberry. It's meant to be the first in a series. (I wrapped up the second installment just last month). I’m hoping to do something akin to the PG Wodehouse Bertie/Jeeves series, but southern, rural, and with a female lead. It’s meant to be literary and stylish, but also goofy and fun—escapist fiction to the max.

Penelope is a big music fan, an MTV kid of the 80s, and music plays a big role in the book. In fact, the main plot point revolves around the Van Halen song, "Hot for Teacher." Penelope is cyber-snooping on her ex husband when she notices he has added a new song to his FACEBOOK favorites list. Along with this song and other clues (Mr. Holland’s Opus, etc.) she surmises that her ex has started dating their son’s 3rd grade teacher. A fair portion of the rest of the book revolves—comedically-- on Penelope’s detective work to see if this is indeed the case.

All of these songs or musicians are mentioned during the course of the novel.

“You Really Got Me” by Van Halen

In the first chapter, Penelope is at her son’s baseball practice when she notices another mom sitting off by herself reading an erotic novel called The Tycoon’s Dare. Penelope, something of an outlier among the other parents in attendance, is intrigued and moves closer to check-out the woman. The woman’s name is Missy and she is not just reading erotica in public but also wearing a black Van Halen t-shirt. Penelope takes both of these as good signs and they make friends on the spot.

“California Dreamin’” by the Mammas and the Poppas

Financially strained, Penelope is forced to move into the basement of her childhood home with her mom and step-dad. After discovering the clues to her ex husband’s new flame, she goes to the kitchen for a glass of wine to try and wind down. While there, her elderly mother comes flouncing into the kitchen in an un-cinched robe, fresh—it seems certain—from a lovemaking session. During their encounter, Penelope discovers that her mother has become wise to the ways of modern personal grooming. As she floats happily around the kitchen, she hums "California Dreamin’." Penelope finds all of this unfortunate.

“Country Boy Party” by Inman Majors

I truly and completely can’t stand New Country music (though I love the old stuff). And the worst of New Country, in my opinion, is of the Party Boy variety. Penelope’s first job after her divorce is waiting tables at a place called Coonskins. It’s one of those joints posing as a frontier roadhouse where people throw peanut shells on the floor and there’s a ton of stuffed mammals all over the place. The fictitious song on the radio when she gets fired for a confrontation with a customer is "Country Boy Party." Here is a sample:

Pull down the tailgate and ice the keg
Them rowdy boys got some hollow legs

Dancing Daisy Dukes, swaying Elly Mays
They won’t ask for your dossier

Yes it’s a risqué soiree
Kissing au francais
Country girl parfait
Look at them sashay

“Gimme Two Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

At one point Penelope discovers that a nude photo, taken after a drunken day at the lake with her first husband when she was in her twenties, had made it onto the Internet. She recalls that this song was playing as she posed, on a waterbed, under a mounted largemouth bass, and that her first husband, the HHR (huge, huge redneck) was performing a nude Texas Two-Step save for high top Converse and a bandana, as he snapped away with his Polaroid.

“Paranoid” by Black Sabbath

The nude photo has appeared on a website called Paybacks Are Hell Heaven! While evaluating her young, carefree self, Penelope notes a Black Sabbath sticker on the waterbed upon which she lounges. A green bong, with which she was once familiar, can also be seen in the shot. The bong’s name was Tinkerbelle.

Recalling all this, Penelope spent a moment wondering if she was really meant for life in the middle class.

“Burnin’ For You” by Blue Oyster Cult

When Penelope calls the HHR to confront him about the nude photo on the internet, she finds that he is, per usual, stoned out of his mind. On the other hand, his tale of erotica stolen during a recent break-in does ring true. He’s been on the defensive during the whole of the phone conversation against Penelope’s understandable rage, but after another hit from the hookah, he is coming back to himself:

Penelope could tell the HHR was about to quote something about character or forgiveness from Duane Allman or the Blue Oyster Cult.

“Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

When Penelope needs a night out on the town, she meets up with Missy, the public erotica reader, at Applebee’s for a couple of drinks. They show up wearing matching Nirvana t-shirts, the one with the screwy-looking Happy Face.

“Crimson and Clover” by Joan Jett

While Penelope and Missy are at Applebee’s, Penelope receives an invitation to go to an outdoor party from BrettCorinthians2:2, someone she has cyber-met on the Christian dating app her mother got her for her 40th birthday. When they get to the party they discover that it is a gathering of an evangelical young adult group, centered around the beanbag-tossing game, Cornhole, and Christian rock music. That combination leads to this monologue from Missy:

“Do they have even one song that doesn’t have the Jehovah in it?” Missy asked. “It’s a damn hard word to rhyme. Noah. Leaf blowa. Tabula Rasa. Crimson and Clover. That’s Joan Jett. God, I love Joan Jett. I mean, Jehovah, I love Joan Jett.”

She began to sing now, quietly, so no one but Penelope could hear.

O Jehovah, bring me a whiskey and soda
Or maybe a mimosa
I’ll drink it in my Toyota
And let that Christian boy turn me ova

“Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

While driving BrettCorinthians2:2 to Missy’s house for a little night-time swimming after the Cornhole party, he turns down "Immigrant Song" on her stereo without asking permission. Thus ends BrettCorinthians2:2’s slim chance of a casual make-out session.

“I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” by Buck Owens

Penelope’s car blows a head gasket that she can’t afford to get fixed, so her stepfather, George, lets her drive his old pickup, a yellow 1970 Chevy named Daisy. Penelope learned to drive on this truck with George while listening to the great Buck Owens.

“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen

At the end of the book, when the mystery of her ex-husband’s love life has been solved, Penelope goes to hangout with some old friends from her neighborhood. After a series of setbacks, her life is finally moving in the right direction. The last music you hear in the book is, appropriately, Van Halen.

Penelope currently had a brain freeze from drinking her blueberry Slurpee too fast, but this too would pass. She reached for the volume knob, but it was already as loud as she could get it. How could anyone not like Eddie Van and David Lee? No one rocked harder.

The author agrees with this sentiment.

Inman Majors and Penelope Lemon links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Deborah Kalb interview with the author
Tuck Magazine interview with the author

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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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
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