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February 14, 2012

Book Notes - Tupelo Hassman - "Girlchild"

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, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild is one of the most impressive debut novels I have read in years. The young protagonist's honesty, intelligence, and resilient nature illuminate her dark surroundings. Hassman's non-traditional narrative, which includes social worker reports about the girl's mother, works exceptionally well to frame this young woman's formative years and environment.

At Fresh Air, Maureen Corrigan said of the book:

"Rory endures sexual abuse, the death of loved ones, and everyday invisibility — all without playing for our sympathy. She's a resilient, if-ragged, life force in a desert landscape where you'd have a better chance of sighting a UFO than a helicopter parent. It's a testament to Hassman's assurance as a writer that, even though we readers have the option of leaving, we hunker down in that trailer park with Rory for the long dry season of her youth."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Tupelo Hassman's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Girlchild:

girlchild's Rory Dawn Hendrix made you a CD for Valentine's Day. This is how she did it: She took page 59 out of her family's welfare file and folded it into six squares before cutting it like a Christmas snowflake with crescent moons and perfect right triangles, using the good scissors that are only for cloth. Then she folded and glued the snowflake to make a CD sleeve and slipped your gift inside, writing "Sharpies smell good but don't get a headache," on the label. Then she sought you out.

When Rory Dawn finally finds you, she isn't able to open the book she's carrying—Burton's complete and unexpurgated The Anatomy of Melancholy—in order to retrieve the valentine that she's hidden inside. She's looking at you and thinking of your CD in its snowflake dress, how it's stuck there between pages 297 and 298, in "Scoffs and Columnies," and realizing it isn't enough. Her staring makes you wonder if you've left the raven on your shoulder again, and you turn, relieved to find that today you remembered to leave the bird safely at home. When you look back to ask Rory what has frightened her so, she's gone. This happens several times over the course of the day and you grow bored by it, so much so that when you pass by Rory's house on your way home, you don't notice that she's sitting on her fence, nor when she falls off of it and climbs back up, clumsy, as is to be expected from a climber who carries the entirety of Melancholy under her arm, her love for you tucked away inside.

Rory Dawn goes inside when it gets dark, and after her Mama is asleep, or something like it, Rory sneaks a piece of yarn and ties a pretty bow around your CD. Then, after all of your lights are out, the raven nestling on her perch, Rory shadows up your driveway and leaves the snowflaked, yarn-bowed package near the back tire of your car. The next morning, you don't hear the crunching of the CD under your tires over the sound of the gravel, and as you drive to work, Rory slips up your driveway again. She collects the pieces, shards and splinters, and goes home to tape them to varying lengths of dental floss before attaching all of these strands of floss to an embroidery hoop. When the hoop is lifted, the shards clink softly against each other.

You don't notice that the Hendrix have new windchimes when you drive by that night, nor when you take the raven out for a stroll before bed. You don't notice Rory standing near the windchimes with a small apothecary jar, or how she holds the jar up to the chimes each time the wind blows.

The next morning a small apothecary jar waits for you on your porch, seemingly empty. Its emptiness is secured by a cork which is sealed tightly against its mouth by wax dripped from a candle of Saint Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes.

You keep the jar because it amuses the raven.

These are the songs Rory put on your CD:

1) Sinead O'Connor's version of "The House of the Rising Sun," which starts so quietly, like the dawn, and hangs from the embroidery hoop nearest the top. Its shiny surface is pitted by the gravel of your drive.

2) "For My Family" by The Devil Makes Three. This shard is a triangle pointing downward, roughly the shape of the state of Nevada. The floss is taped right where Reno would be, if Reno existed.

3) "The Queen of the Silver Dollar" as performed by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. The minstrel's piano catches the light and pulls a magpie from the sky. He tugs at the floss, imagining how this shine will glorify his nest and himself, but the taste of mint on his beak is too strange and Dr. Hook stays.

4) "We're Going to Be Friends" by The White Stripes came apart in two near-symmetrical pieces. They hang in counterbalance on the hoop and keep it tangle free, except for:

5) "My Bad Blood," by the Naysayer, which jumps as if tickled by the desert wind, its string of floss alive before the rest of the chimes catch the breeze. "My Bad Blood" wraps around the others and muffles them close.

6) "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth" by Four Tet is the track that was too shattered to be saved. Rory had to leave it to glitter among the white gravel of your driveway. Bits of it commute with you each day, sparkling in your tire's tread.

7) The Meat Puppets' "Plateau" is pointy as a blade and cut Rory's palm as she strung it. She used the crescent-mooned and right-triangled welfare-file snowflake to stop the bleeding and named the scar Lindley, after the birthplace of Robert Burton, the great cataloguer of Melancholy.

8) "Communist Daughter" by Neutral Milk Hotel is the biggest shard and clear as a mirror. Rory sometimes checks her face in it on her way to school. Her Mama's gentlemen callers check theirs too, preening mustaches and pulling errant nose hairs as they wait for the door to open.

9) CCR's "Fortunate Son" hangs from floss tied in a clumsy noose in honor of Burton again, who, despite or because of his extensive knowledge of all things depressive, is said to have hanged himself.

10) Jeff Buckley singing "The Sky Is a Landfill" is the heaviest piece, hung straight down the middle, grounding the sound.

11) "The Funeral" by Band of Horses has been kicked under the porch by men who wear cowboy boots they can't take off without help and who aren't afraid to ask for it. Its floss ribbon waxes bereft.

12) Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" is the very wind that blows the chimes that Rory has collected in the apothecary jar she sealed with cork and St. Jude's wax. And it stays sealed that way until years later, when you are packing to move.

You toss the jar into the "For Donation" box and when it lands, against your bowling trophy and the odd fork, the seal cracks and the room fills with the smell of the raven's feathers when she'd press to your cheek, preening herself on you. The room floods with the sound of the wind that blew and blew all around you the night you came home to find a raven feather on your pillow but her roost empty. And the room fills with the song of your steps on the streets all the nights you wandered looking for her, praying for a darkening sky.

Tupelo Hassman and Girlchild links:

the author's website
the author's Tumblr
excerpt from the book (at The Nervous Breakdown)
excerpt from the book (at NPR)

Counterpunch review
Fresh Air review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
Satia's Reviews review
the [tk] review review

The Nervous Breakdown self-interview by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists