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February 11, 2015

Book Notes - Kelly Link "Get in Trouble"

Get in Trouble

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, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kelly Link proves herself one of the modern short fiction masters with her new collection Get in Trouble, which brilliantly melds the fantastic with the everyday.

The Chicago Tribune wrote of the book:

"Since her 2001 debut, Stranger Things Happen, no one has surpassed Link at crafting stories like miniature worlds, each one palatial on the inside, honeycombed with alternate realities and alarmingly seductive. . . . Most of us fell in love with books during childhood or early adolescence. Back then, you’d open a book and the words would give like a trap door beneath your feet, and you’d fall right through them into the author’s world. For a distracted adult reader inured to the tricks of the trade, this experience is vanishingly rare. A new Link collection is therefore more than just a good excuse for a trip to the bookstore. It’s a zero-gravity vacation in a dust jacket."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Kelly Link's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Get in Trouble:

I wrote the nine stories in Get in Trouble over not quite a decade. I wrote them, usually, with headphones on; usually listening to to the same songs over and over again. When no one else is around I sing out loud -- embarrassingly, terribly, out of tune -- mangling lyrics and harmonies. Does anyone else do this? Type out your own sentences while singing someone else's lyrics? Anyway. I need to be distracted from the work that I'm doing while I'm doing it.

The songs below are culled from the very much larger playlist that I listen to when I work. There are significantly more than nine songs on it, but I couldn't whittle it down any further. They're the songs that I wore out the hardest while writing these stories. I've ordered them according to how long they've been stuck on that playlist, and for each story I've attached the song (or songs) that seemed to have particular resonances with it, and for me.

"Olodum" by Margareth Menezes (Afros e Afoxes da Bahia)
I've been listening to this song, now, for over twenty-five years. (Which is about how long I've been writing short stories.) Probably a coincidence.

"Julie's House" by Leo Kottke (Essential Leo Kottke)
I climbed the hill to Julie's house / the place I used to live / I climbed the steps and tried the door / and let myself in

Kottke's "Mona Ray" and "Mona Roy" are usually on my working playlist too. In the version I've linked to above, there's no Emmylou Harris singing backup vocals as she does on the album – a problem, I'll allow. So here's Emmylou Harris singing "Pancho and Lefty" to make up for it.

"Born on a Train" by The Magnetic Fields (Charm of the Highway Strip)
but sometimes the neon gas gets free / and turns into walking dead like me

There's a lot of The Magnetic Fields (and Future Bible Heroes) on my laptop. Sometimes when I get stuck working, I only listen to The Magnetic Fields. It tends to jar something loose.

"Origin Story"

"I Can't Get Started" by Ella Fitzgerald
"Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" by Ella Fitzgerald

I've flown around the world in a plane / I've settled revolutions in Spain / the North Pole I have charted but / can't get started with you

"Origin Story" is, I suppose, a love story. There seem to be a couple of those in this collection. These are my two favorite Ella Fitzgerald songs (well, and "How High the Moon") and they're both excellently, entertainingly miserable on the subject of unrequited love and the business of romance.

"Bad Boy Boogie" by Mark Kozolek (What's Next to the Moon)
they said stop / I said go / they said fast / I said slow / they said yes / I said no

The first time my boyfriend (now husband) played me Kozolek's What's Next to the Moon I loved it without realizing that I was listening to AC/DC covers. What can I say? My musical education is a little spotty. I think I still prefer this cover and the rest, though of course they wouldn't exist if it weren't for the original versions. So here's to a world in which we get both the old and the new and every version after that.

"Little Bombs" by Aimee Mann (The Forgotten Arm)
from the 22nd floor / walking down the corridor /
looking out the picture window down / on Sycamore

This is another song that I listen to a lot. I really like songs about hotels, and I really, really like Aimee Mann.

"Cattle and Cane" by Jimmy Little (Messenger
his father's watch / he left it in the showers

A cover of The Go-Betweens song from a CD given to me by someone who used to be a friend. And isn't that the way it should be, sometimes? Give music to the people that you love: that way, they'll remember you fondly from time to time even after you're no longer on speaking terms. (Or else, they'll hear the song on the radio and shudder and have to turn the radio off, and that's kind of awesome, too.)

"Unionbusting" by Jenny Toomey (Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno)
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill / chained up to the factory gates / he said if labor has the will / then capital must capitulate

Speaking of love songs, this is another favorite. Has there ever been a more strained metaphor for capitulation to a lover's demands? And yet, my sister and I have sung along with it in the car on many road trips. Here's a live version of "Patsy Cline", the other Jenny Toomey song that I usually have on repeat.

"I Can See Right Through You"

"Here Comes Your Man" by The Pixies (Doolittle)
there is a wait so long / you'll never wait so long / here comes your man

A story about a demon lover, apparently, gets almost an entire playlist to itself. Or maybe it's the fact that of all the stories in the collection, this one took the longest to write. Here's the rest of the songs on my playlist that go along with it, and I should probably make a special note that I have a lot of The Kills on my playlist. They're awesome.

"Here Comes My Baby" by Yo La Tengo (Fakebook)
"What New York Used to Be" by The Kills (Midnight Boom)
"Completely Not Me" by Jenny Lewis

"Lazy Line Painter Jane" by Belle and Sebastian, featuring Monica Queen (Lazy Line Painter Jane)
there are lotions / there are potions
you can take to hide your shame from all those prying eyes

Last month, we invited some people over to celebrate Burns Night. We drank Scotch, ate black pudding and various packets of British cookies, read out of various anthologies of poetry – Liz Lochhead and Ian Crichton Smith and yes, Robert Burns, and eventually put on the new Belle and Sebastian album. It was a great time. So much more fun than writing usually is. And yet I'd like to think that the next time I work on a story, Belle and Sebastian will come on and some of the mood of that evening will find its way into the work that I'm doing.

"The Lesson"

"Tuxedo of Ashes" by The Winterpills (Tuxedo of Ashes
I haven't been this sleepy / since the last time I was killed
the bullet went right through me / but her task was unfulfilled

"The Lesson" is about things happening too fast and too slowly at the same time. There's a birth and a marriage, and a lot of drinking, and I was going to keep it entirely free of fantastic elements. But then I couldn't decide on what kind of taxidermied animal I should put in the story, so I made one up, so it isn't an entirely realistic story either. Despite the fact that many of the pieces of the story come out of my own life. Here's the other song that probably applies to both of the married couples in the story:

"Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Fever to Tell
"Lua" by Gillian Welch and Conor Oberst (Dark Was the Night)

I've got a flask inside my pocket we can share it on the train
if you promise to stay conscious I will try and do the same

When I'd finished writing all of the stories in this collection, I made a chart for myself. Gender of narrator. Short story or longer story. Adolescent protagonist or adult protagonist. Setting. Twins, siblings, doppelgangers, etc. Vaguely tragic ending, somewhat hopeful ending, horrific ending, apocalyptically awful ending. I was tracking differences or similarities, trying to figure out what various stories did or didn't have in common. This was partly to help me figure out story order, but I also wanted to see how I was repeating myself. Here's what I discovered: a lot of the characters in these stories drink a lot. So here's the song "Lua" to go with that bit of information. (The other drinking song would be Golden Smog's "Until You Came Along".)

"Two Houses"

"Star Witness" by Neko Case (Fox Confessor Brings the Flood)
hey pretty baby get high with me / we can go to my sister's if we say we'll watch the baby / the look on your face yanks my neck on the chain / and I would do anything / to see you again

This has been one of my favorite songs for a long time. The lyrics above are maybe my favorite song lyrics ever. I'm not quite sure that I can explain how it goes with "Two Houses", but in my head it does. Here's a bonus version, a cover by Kate and Janelle.

"The Trapeze Swinger" by Iron & Wine (Around the Well)
but please remember me, my misery / and how it lost me all I wanted

I'm envious, most of the time, of how songs like this make stories out of so few words. Here's a second, live version.

"The Summer People"

"I'm Not Talking" by A.C. Newman (Shut Down the Streets)
I like the way things are / I say abandon the search

There are any number of songs by A.C. Newman – also The New Pornographers -- on my working playlist. This is just the one that I've had on repeat most recently. Also: I love the video. Probably in part because it reminds me of the Hall & Oates's video for "She's Gone" in which a somewhat shabby devil keeps appearing and walking across the stage behind them. I do love a shabby devil.

"I Remember You" by Rilo Kiley (Rkives)
and I remember and I remember and I remember you
and I remember and I remember you

Another song that I listen to all the time. It's a great song to work to, but it also reminds me of walking home in the snow when I used to work in a bookstore in Boston.

"Valley of the Girls"

"Ramalama (Bang Bang)" by Roisin Murphy (Ruby Blue)
could a body close the mind out / stitch a seam across the eye
if you can be good you'll live forever / if you're bad you'll die when you die

I found this song because of a thread on Metafilter, and have been listening to it nonstop ever since. It sounds like the future to me. I wrote the story "Valley of the Girls" for an online edition of Subterranean magazine, guest edited by the writer Gwenda Bond, and occasionally I wish that I'd found another structure that made the story work because the point of view and hopscotch out-of-time sequencing meant I couldn't describe, at each moment, the kinds of things that the unnamed protagonist and his friends liked to wear in order to outrage their parents and protest, as best they could, their virtual invisibility. I have a lot of ideas about their fashion sense. But instead, here's a bonus version of the song from a performance from "So You Think You Can Dance".

"The New Boyfriend"

"A Method" by TV On the Radio (Return to Cookie Mountain)
it's a rough wide world could you please chaperone / it's a mindfield trip leave it the fuck alone

Three songs for this story, in part because the narrator, Immy, both hates and loves music about as much as she hates and loves her friends, her life, and the idea of love, sex, and growing up. I have refrained from putting all of the songs from all of the CDs by TV On the Radio on this playlist, though, and that should count for something. But! Just one more: "Will Do".

"Tender" by Blur goes here, too, even if the lyrics are a bit on the nose for a story about falling in love with a limited edition life-sized ghost Boyfriend doll.

"Origin Story"

"MFN" by Cibo Matto (Hotel Valentine)
don't tell me what the hell I'm a ghost / don't throw the fucking oyster shell at me

Here's a hotel song for a story about the interstitial spaces in hotels, those places that guests aren't supposed to find themselves in. I think I could probably write a whole collection of hotel ghosts stories. Which reminds me, if you've never seen it, go look for the section of the television show where they send a woman dressed as a ghost – Ringu-style – down a dark hotel corridor as guests get off an elevator, just to see how they'll respond.


"One Day" by The Winterpills (Echolalia) Here's the whole album.
and nothing is big like that / you don't see me now, I don't see you back

This is the newest of all the songs on my playlist, off an album of covers by a band local to my town (although I loved their music long before I moved to Northampton). The original version by Sharon Van Etten is also on the playlist. The thing is, "Light" was, I think, the earliest of all the stories that I wrote for this collection – long before I'd ever heard either version of "One Day". And yet I'm going to pair them up anyway, because in my head they fit together. And here's a live version of "One Day" to end the playlist on.

Kelly Link and Get in Trouble links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book ("The Summer People")

Bookslut review
Boston Globe review
Chicago Tribune review
Los Angeles Times review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review
Toronto Star review

Electric Literature interview with the author
Gigantic interview with the author
Kirkus interview with the author
The Millions interview with the author
New York Times interview with the author
Publishers Weekly profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)