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July 24, 2017

Book Notes - Melissa Febos "Abandon Me"

Abandon Me

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

Melissa Febos's memoir-in-essays Abandon Me is one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year, a lyrical and moving examination of love and loss.

BOMB Magazine wrote of the book:

"Abandon Me is an assemblage of lyric essays as intellectually sophisticated as they are emotionally stirring; a series of unflinching reflections and honest accounts of transformation that Febos refuses to let pass without scrutiny…Febos complicates the human desire for connection with explorations in philosophy, psychology, and accounts of historical repression that seduce readers into inhabiting her myths while resisting sentimentality by dismantling the fictions with deft intellectual probing reminiscent of the work of Maggie Nelson."

In her own words, here is Melissa Febos's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Abandon Me:

Abandon Me: An Imago Mix

The imago theory posits that behind the mysterious "chemistry" of attraction is a simple drive for emotional redemption. That is, we are attracted to people who offer opportunities to reenact the primary wounds of our early caregivers. Our pursuit of the unavailable lover is not an expression of self-hatred, but of a wish for resolution, an urge to heal our historical wounds, to write a different ending to our oldest story.

When I'm being flip, I say that my second book is about "how my daddy issues became my girl trouble." Abandon Me is a book about romantic obsession. Maybe, it is about falling in love. But the sort of feverish, selfish trance that can only last a short time, that is a kind of madness. Whose choices you later survey from the other side like those of a person under a spell, Who did that? Me? Whose logic, while inside it, you learn to hide from your closest friends, because you don't need your madness pointed out. You are operating, for the duration of your "love" affair, by another kind of sense. You have set down the tools honed in years of therapy and 12-Step meetings, studied in books by Buddhist nuns and feminist psychologists and Brene Brown, absorbed from episodes of On Being, and replaced them with the hammer of your pulse, the thick-necked hunger that stretches all the way back to that unmet need of your childhood. Your compass is the pea under all the psychic mattresses of your adulthood: the absent father, the boundary-less mother, the parentified child self, the deep desire to earn the love of the person least fit to give it. You are working from an old script. You have gone stupid with it. You are living in a pop song. You are regressed in the way of all the classic love stories. The stakes are life or death. You are having the best sex ever, and maybe, maybe it is worth the years this "love" is shaving off of your life. Or maybe not.

"Wrecking Ball" – Miley Cyrus
So often the lyrics of imago anthems are about annihilation. Their primary metaphors are those of extreme violence and parent-child attachment. Which make sense. If what we are talking about when we are talking about this kind of "love" is the engagement of a childlike, or even infantile, sense of stakes, then love truly is life or death.

"I Can't Live Without Your Love," Teddy Pendergrass
There are actually so many songs with this title, I could have chosen from Janelle Monae, Billy Ray Cyrus, Nelson, and myriad others. But this is the best, and the gist of codependence is shared among them, is our most treasured version of love.

"Sweet Child O' Mine," Guns N'Roses
God save the "child" of Axel Rose, in this case Erin Everly, daughter of Everly Brothers' Don Everly, though the girlfriends of every band member were featured in the video. This song has a classic confusion of transference: Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place / Where as a child I'd hide, Axel croons. But is she his mother, or is she his sweet child? Therein lies the question that you don't want to linger on for too long, even if we all do like to take turns with our lovers at playing the mommy and the baby.

"Shot Down," Khalid
Khalid is a recent favorite of mine, and truth be told, I listened to this song on repeat while I was falling for my now girlfriend—a relationship that, while I'm sure will reveal its own imago aspects, doesn't fit the type I depict in Abandon Me—but in the beginning of the beginning, every relationship (that I've known) can relate on some level to the primary metaphor here. I would die for you, he says, as so many have said before, and even those of us with good sense sing along. I guess we all wish for someone to promise loyalty from the jump until forever, maybe whether our mothers succeeded or failed to love us as such.

"You Got What I Need," Freddie Scott
Let's see. He's got the love object of this song as a little girl, a baby, having everything [he] need[s], being medicine to [him], and his savior. It's one of my favorite songs of all time, and it's got absolutely nothing that a healthy relationship needs, but everything that makes a love song great. I don't think it's a coincidence that the general geist (not to mention the irresistible hook) are shared by Biz Markie's biggest hit, "Just a Friend," which I also love very much.

"Lovesick," Lindstrom & Christabelle
Do u gonna be there? Yes, girl. I am here for this song. Are u sure u gonna call back? If you mean by listening to this on repeat on and off for three years, yes, I'm going to call back. When I'm calling up and all that? Didn't you hear me? Oh, you're too sick with the projection you call "love" to hear me, that's cool. Did u know that I'm sick? I mean, if you were a girl I was dating, I'd likely be blocking you on all platforms of communication and making sure my friends knew where I was at all times, and I no longer find girls like that irresistible, unlike this song. Did u think I would quit? Did I mention I'm a former heroin addict? Did u think I'll go home? Only a fool would think that.

"Storms" – Fleetwood Mac
Though this is off of (arguably) my favorite Fleetwood album, I really think of it as a Stevie Nicks song. And probably the majority of her catalog could fit somewhere on this playlist. The lyric of this song are like a hologram: turn it this way, and it's an ode to a mother; turn it that; a lover.

"Archangel," Burial
Some of favorite love songs are this kind, an electronic pulse (womb reenactment, anyone?) with nearly unintelligible lyrics. Babble might be the most succinct expression of oxytocin and dopamine drunk infatuation, whose roots lead back to that pre-lingual state. Baby, baby, baby, we murmur in the early throws of love, mesmerizing the parts of each other that long to regress to that place.

"When Something is Wrong with My Baby," Sam & Dave
If I know she's worried / Then I would feel that same old misery / We've been through so much together / We spoke as one and that's what makes it better. I mean. Someone get Sam and Dave a copy of Melody Beattie's classic text.

Melissa Febos and Abandon Me links:

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

Kirkus review
New York Times review
New Yorker review
Publishers Weekly review

Aspen Public Radio interview with the author
Barnes and Noble Review interview with the author
Brooklyn Rail interview with the author
Guardian profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Whip Smart
WABE interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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