Dave Fitzgerald’s novel Troll is a startlingly original debut, a dark postmodern fable.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
“A cynical, misanthropic, foulmouthed novel that no curious reader will be able to put down.”
Over the past few years, as I’ve pitched Troll (Whiskey Tit Books, 2023) to publishers, blurbers, reviewers, and readers, I’ve found myself returning again and again to a handful of key phrases – phrases that have stubbornly survived every cut and edit and tweak and come to feel more-or-less hardcoded into the way I talk about my debut novel. Phrases like “dark social satire” and “toxic beta masculinity” and, when it comes to the decision to write the book’s repellant, nameless protagonist entirely in the second person, “embedding you inside his head, and behind his eyes.”
But it wasn’t until I wrote to David Gutowski at Largehearted Boy that I thought to add to that “and between his ears,” though it is certainly also true. Which is to say that, when the Troll has a conversation, You participate in that conversation. When the Trolllistens to a song, You hear that song (well, not literally. It’s not like a musical greet card or anything. Though that would be sweet). But my point is, the book has a pretty specific playlist built right into the text. The effect is meant to be immersive; to thrust the reader into a kind of radical empathy (though never sympathy) for the 21st century’s most banal kind of monster; to dox and disarm him via his own tragicomic inner life.
“Anti-Matter” – King Geedorah (feat. Mr. Fantastik)
When it comes to his daily listening diet, the titular Troll is a reliably nodding, hermetically hoodied hip-hop head, and I’ve lumped these first two tracks together as complementary examples of his delusionally mean mugging self-image. The sizzurp-sozzled, BDE posturing of Young Thug’s “Beast” (not to mention its non-Spotified mixtape obscurity – hence the YouTube link), and the artisanal linguistic dexterity of King Geedorah’s (AKA MF Doom) “Anti-Matter” conspire early to paint a revealing portrait of this quixotically angry young man as someone who at once fancies himself an undersexed lothario and underserved intellectual giant, even as he regularly acknowledges the harsher truth – that he’s something much closer to your average sad boy hack.
“Many Blessings” – Rahsaan Roland Kirk
This eternally yoyo-ing high/low dichotomy – one which carries over into all his chosen entertainments – is indicative of the Troll’s expertly cultivated pretensions. In his work as a pop culture clickbait artist, he extolls the European arthouse masters like Bergman, Greenaway, and Godard to the much-despised “masses,” even as he regularly spends his evenings bingeing cartoons and Must-See-TV. And in the same way, despite the steady stream of boom baps and 808’s bumping between his earbuds, he also rarely misses an opportunity to wax magniloquent about his love for classic jazz. If there’s a common thread linking my decision to steep the Troll in these two particular genres (other than my own personal affinity for both), it’s probably their shared mythos of exceptionalism. While almost no great musician is truly a one-man show, there is surely something the Troll admires in the all-eyez-on-me optics of a transcendent sax solo or a breathlessly spit 16 – of a singular talent achieving immortality alone. And as for Rahsaan Roland Kirk, his mastery of circular breathing and his penchant for playing two and three woodwind instruments simultaneously (this despite going blind at the age of 2), gifted us some of the most mindblowing solos ever recorded – “Many Blessings” chief among them.
“9 Milli Bros.” – Ghostface Killah (feat. Wu-Tang Clan)
Ghostface Killah’s classic posse cut “9 Milli Bros” “rappels down from the sound system – Shaolin style” at a crowded college bar where the Troll has plotted a pervily predatory internet date. This episode marks the first time we see him really engage with the opposite sex, and features perhaps the most compact, and self-aware summation of his musical tastes in the entire book: “If listening to jazz makes you feel better than everyone else,” he silently confesses, “then listening to hip-hop makes you feel bigger than everyone else. Bolder. Hotter. Meaner. Like you could fuck any girl in this place – or three or four at once – and they’d thank you for the privilege.” His grotesque, incel inner monologue here, accompanied by the Wu-Tang Clan’s hypercompetitive relay race of outrageously arrogant bully bars, will feel all-too-familiar to any woman who’s ever been indignantly accused of being “fatter than her picture.”
“Bitches Ain’t Shit” – Dr. Dre (Feat. Snoop Dogg)
“Briefcase” – Curren$y
The chief enabler of his own multifarious addictions, the Troll follows his every dark bliss to its practicable extreme, and as a self-avowed “dendrophile” and “permatoasted hophead,” his go-to for chillaxed smoker’s vibes has to be New Orleans folk hero Curren$y. Curren$y raps almost exclusively about good weed, cool cars, and smoking good weed in cool cars, and it’s his smooth “Gulf Coast trunk muzak” that sets the Troll’s mind “adrift on a seabreeze” as he waits to curb his munchies, slowrolling around a McDonalds drivethru high as a beachside kite.
“Chronic Blues” – John Coltrane
In this same way, the Troll takes a maximalist approach in keeping up with all of his joneses, from weed, to TV, to music, to porn, to online vitriol itself, the Trolliest addiction of all. A slave to completism and physical media hoarder, at last inventory he had “around 4,000 DVDs (all of which he’s watched), 3,000 LP’s (about half of which he’s listened to), and nearly 5,000 books (maybe a tenth of which he’s read) (maybe).” He brags in his online dating profile about his “comprehensive Coltrane vinyl collection” (and as the author, let me assure you, that means John, Alice, and yes, even Ravi), and no cut felt more appropriate to a lazy stoner’s night in than the rippling, smoky tendrils of John Coltrane’s “Chronic Blues” – the perfect soundtrack for an evening spent stravaging the gutters of the internet for high-contrast smut and low-risk hookups.
“Bulgarian Bulge” – Don Ellis
I won’t spoil the details here (much as any true Troll would approve), but there comes a point in our debauched antihero’s journey where he awakes to a vodka-and-crunchwrap-flavored maelstrom of gastrointestinal distress, and a fiercely arrhythmic heartbeat suggestive of “a middle school drum corps attempting Don Ellis time signatures.” So, while he’s violently evicting his innards, allow me a moment to rhapsodize on one of jazz’s most criminally unsung wackadoos. Don Ellis was the Willy Wonka of swingin’ 60’s orchestral schmooze – a big band innovator who regularly composed in absurdist meters (this track, for example, is in 33/16), and built himself a 4-valve trumpet so he could play quarter-tone solos. He was a true one-of-one – the kind of iconoclastic rule breaker our poncey protagonist can only aspire to being – and this manic free-for-all serves to epitomize all the bilious ills – both psychic and pyloric – bulging their way to the Troll’s carefully guarded surface.
“Pavanne” – Ahmad Jamal
Though the Troll renounces his faith in old-school romantic love early and often throughout the book’s first half, when he does finally fall, he falls precipitously hard. Lost in an enchanted, and wholly internet-unassisted evening with a woman right out of his lonely wet dreams, he can’t believe his good fortune as he conjures her sweet laugh again and again – “a tinkly tremolo of a thing, like an Ahmad Jamal piano solo.” Jamal (who passed away at 92 while I was writing this very article) graced the ivories with a feathery touch that could put the whole world at ease, and the spritely “Pavanne” – named for a stately courtship dance of the 16th century, and featured on the 1960 album Happy Moods – sounds like nothing quite so much as a giddy, magical first date. Essentially trading fifths with himself, Jamal transitions seamlessly between buoyant, probing strolls into the upper register and chorded interjections of mutual excitement, a lovely representation of the Troll’s flirtatious, fairytale evening spent “composing conversational sonnets in tandem.”
“Intro (I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II)” – Killer Mike
Alright, I’m gonna get a little personal here. I straight up cried at my desk the first time I heard this track. I was having a lousy day, for sure. Working a job I hated. Plugging away at the insane, nearly-twice-as-long OG draft of this novel. Wondering if it would ever lead me anywhere. And then suddenly, out of the Spotify ether, there was Killer Mike with a dirty South pep talk for the ages. A pep talk so fervent he recorded his own hype man interstitials lower in the mix to motivate himself while giving said pep talk (Mike: “If you have a boss, maybe you should fire your boss”/Also Mike: “Maybe you should!”). Whenever I was feeling down throughout the long and at times arduously frustrating process of shepherding Troll to publication, this hip-hop halftime speech never failed to get my head back in the game. And likewise, when the Troll resolves to quit at least a half-dozen bad habits cold turkey and make something of himself, possessed by that obsessive infatuation that stalkery types so often mistake for first sight love, he too turns to Killer Mike’s inspirational fire.
“Okay Cupid” – Kitty (Pryde)
Lest I get all the way through this depraved saga of lecherous id without featuring a single female artist, Kitty (née Kitty Pryde), makes a key appearance as a ringtone life raft at the end of a very different kind of date. This endearing, unapologetically girly viral hit acts as a tantalizingly brief window into the private life of the kind of smart, sweet, scintillatingly sexy “it-girl extraordinaire” the Troll has always wanted for himself (and on some level, felt he deserved). The kind whose artfully curated tastes align perfectly with his own (or at least the ones he claims in public). But alas, almost inextricably, also the kind who sees right through his “played-out head games,” such that when her phone does ring, all he ever hears is that bubbly opening “Once upon a time” before she quickly cuts it short, remanding him back to the horrorshow humiliations of its namesake website without remorse.
“I’ll Be There For You (Theme From Friends)” – The Rembrandts
“No End” – Frank Wright Quintet
As the Troll comes increasingly psychologically unraveled across the book’s final act, making self-destructive choices and enacting villainous plans from which he knows he cannot realistically come back, there arrives a panicked, pinhole-vision moment in which he likens his mental state to a “blistering Frank Wright cacophony,” of which this appropriately titled sax inferno is a prime example. Even among aficionados, there is still some debate as to whether Wright’s bombastic brand of free jazz skronk is attributable to true talent or something closer to frenetic, undiagnosed madness, but wherever you come down on his music (I’m a fan), one thing’s for sure: you never want this to be what it sounds like inside your head.
“When We Ride” – 2Pac (Feat. Outlaw Immortals)
You’ve likely noticed a handful of pivotal tunes I’ve left wholly unexplained on this playlist (this for fear of giving too much plot away to potential readers), but even in its capacity as a ferocious, all outta fucks grand finale, 2Pac’s “When We Ride” simply refused be ignored. The Troll’s speakers are blown. He’s cranked to 11 and ripped the knob off. Wherever he’s headed, he’s headed there flanked by the heaviest crew in hip-hop history, with each of their murderous verses jockeying for poll position inside his savage, collapsing psyche. There’s a time for erudite know-it-all-ism and resting smugly assured that you’re the smartest guy in the room, and there’s a time to flip that room the double bird and go out on your own terms, sideways pistols blazing. The Troll is at the end of his rope here (or is he?), stripped bare and barreling toward the edge at 110 mph, and 2Pac is his unpretentious ride or die.
The Air That I Breathe – The Hollies
“Night Dance” – Jimmy Giuffre
Multi-instrumentalist and improviser par excellence Jimmy Giuffre doesn’t actually get a mention in the book proper (story of his life), but I absolutely fell in love with this album over the course of its writing. Though never a household name, Giuffre’s playful, hypnotic Music for Birds, People, Butterflies, & Mosquitos is a wire-to-wire masterpiece – the kind of fluidly ambiguous mood music that bends and shapeshifts to fill whatever headspace you might bring to it on a given day. Is the Troll’s story over? Or has it only just begun? Only time will tell. But this piece hums with both a crepuscular finality, and an alluring, after hours mystery – existing wholly within its own discreet moment, while yet dangling the possibility of more. If I ever manage to concoct a sequel, you can be sure Jimmy Giuffre will get a shout out, and if Troll should ever get the chance to become a thing with a credits sequence (knock on wood), then “Night Dance” will absolutely play over its inky black roll.