June 20, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Kelly Krumrie's Math Class is wholly inventive and absorbing, a book that amazes as much as it moves you.
Danielle Dutton wrote of the book:
"Kelly Krumrie's MATH CLASS makes mathematical thinking tender, charming, full of longing, and strange. This book reminded me of things I love--Georges Perec's writing, Amina Cain's, Guillevic's Geometries--but reading it was also something fresh and new."
In my mind, Math Class is “about” teenage girls trapped in math class even when they aren’t, even when they’re outside or at home—the ideas and the language envelop them in their boredom and in mundane, everyday moments. Further, this math class takes place in an all-girls Catholic school, so there are saints, nuns, and uniforms. This creates a second layer—on top of the mathematical—of thinking about bodies, time, and control. Math, boredom, and Catholicism, as well as my particular literary aesthetic and artistic interests, also have a lot to do with repetition. The songs here include references to things like math, science, religion, but also repetitious loops and layers, bored-sounding women (and one man), and in many a kind of sadness that goes well with adolescence, particularly the one I hope I rendered in the book.
I don’t listen to music when I write. I prefer silence, and when I can’t get it, I use a white noise machine or will listen to quiet, ambient music to drown another sound out. I do create sonic atmospheres for myself that stimulate my thinking about a specific project when I’m not writing: playlists for cooking, cleaning, driving—an indirect influence. The songs here are some of those.
Marienbad by Julia Holter
This title (I’m assuming) refers to the 1961 film L’Année dernière à Marienbad directed by Alain Resnais and written by Alain Robbe-Grillet. I love this film, and I love Robbe-Grillet’s novels, especially Jealousy. His “geometric” precision and repetitious scenes (as in the film) create—like the work of his contemporary Nathalie Saurrate—a sense of timelessness, an eternal present, but a tense one. Holter captures this in her voice made choral, the cinematic movement of the song, counting, and descriptions of statues moving (which makes me think of Fleur Jaeggy’s The Water Statues). This is a good song to launch into Math Class where girls huddle in hallways, saints hovering over them.
Engineers by The Luyas
In the opening section of the book, the protagonist, Jo, gets a school counselor off her back by saying she’d like to become an engineer (which isn’t true). This song includes lines like “we didn’t know shit,” “I thought I’d be something enduring / hell no!” and “I’m a creator and also I don’t believe in god / but engineers have my respect”—I don’t think any of the characters believe in god. This song has some beepy, machine noises, too.
I think about this song all the time. I love how sad it is, how it says the same thing over and over, and how the repetitions glitch. And it lands on counting six, six, six, seven.
Fuck With Your Friends by Lala Lala
Of all of these, this is the most Math Class. The book features a constellation of girls helping and hurting each other, touching each other, lying around all the time, probably lying all the time—and this song does all those things for me in few words, in short bursts. The line “there is no way to figure it out” breaks my heart every time. It’s bored and funny and perfect.
Let’s Get Out by Life Without Buildings
If I had a band (which I don’t/won’t), and I decided to write a song about Henry James’ novella In the Cage (which I read and wrote an article about in the early stages of writing Math Class), it would be exactly like this.
Fear O the Light by Katie Dey
I’ve been listening to Katie Dey a lot over the last year. Weird, messy dissonance and surprising screeching, bright and hazy. This one has souls and sadness, and I mostly can’t make out what she’s saying (though I could look it up) and I like that.
I Tell Myself Everything by The Blow
A friend once told me that if I were a band, as in, if a band were to manifest itself from me or if I morphed myself into one, I think, it would be The Blow. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s a compliment for sure. This is the only song here that I associate with specific characters in the book: Ana and Kat, who are kind of mean, thin, erotic, and into measurement—they’d sing this song.
Every Single Night by Fiona Apple
Teen Kelly would kill me if I didn’t include Fiona Apple. Everyone in Math Class is fighting with their brain. And so am I, right?
Our Hell by Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton
This one has big feelings! I love the breathing, the piano. I should say that I found this song and “Engineers” in a playlist by Land of Talk, who should be in this playlist, but I just couldn’t find the right one. Same goes for The Breeders.
Metal Heart by Cat Power
Teen Kelly would also ask for Cat Power. Every line in this is good for Math Class.
MATH by QUIN
Obviously! This one is a little spacey—the theme of QUIN’s album—and sexy, which is not a prominent part of the book, but not not there… And since I like loops, this loops back nicely to “Marienbad.”
Kelly Krumrie is a writer and teacher based in Colorado. Her first book, Math Class, will be published by Calamari Archive June 2022. Other creative and critical writing appears in journals such as DIAGRAM, La Vague, Black Warrior Review, Full Stop, and The Explicator. She also writes a column for Tarpaulin Sky Magazine called figuring on math and science in art and literature. She holds a PhD in English & Literary Arts: Creative Writing from the University of Denver.