Photo credit: Doug Knutson
I wrote the stories in Catapult
over a series of nomadic years. Most of the stories are set in the Midwest, but I wrote them all over: in St. Louis, Nebraska, Minnesota, China, New Jersey, Los Angeles, New Jersey again, suburban Philadelphia, and upstate New York. When I was eventually arranging all of these spiky, disparate pieces together in one book, one of the big challenges was figuring out how the voices in each story might work with and against the voices in the others. I wanted the prose, if possible, to hum. Though I don’t think of myself as a particularly musical person (I’m a shower singer more than a concertgoer, you could say), it makes sense to describe my questions when I returned to these stories as essentially musical ones. What is a story’s unique pitch? How might its final rhythms ease into a subsequent story’s opening tempo? There is a mix-tape quality to this logic — an achy-ardent, instinctive, please-fall-in-love-with-me quality — that made putting together a playlist for Catapult
an especially fun project. Below are a few songs that, for varying reasons, say something about the sort of music I meant when writing, revising, and finally arranging these stories into this weird chorus resembling a book.
For the story “Expecting”: “Only Love Strangers” by Faye Wong
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I love the jaunty lightness of this song by Chinese singer-songwriter Faye Wong. My husband, who speaks Chinese, translates the chorus as “What I love is simpler than a face. It’s more innocent than a house pet. When all I want is a kiss, then give me a kiss. I only love strangers.” The lyrics suggest a mournfulness beneath the shiny surface of the song — an almost willfully naïve loneliness — that I associate not only with my narrator in “Expecting,” but with a lot of characters in Catapult
. Plus, if you listen carefully, you can hear a small child’s voice midway through the song saying, “C’mon, baby.” What could be more perfect than that?
For the story “Catapult”: “Summertime” by Janis Joplin
I hear in Joplin’s version of this song an impatience I remember from my teenage experience of summer. It is the sound of heat, of boredom fringed with anger. Katie in “Catapult” is at that age, 14, when summer seems to drag on forever — when sex and boredom and heat all seem wrapped up together.
For the story “One You Run From, the Other You Fight”: “Homeless” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
I encountered this song for the first time when I was preparing for a trip to South Africa in my early 20s and heard the marvelous Ladysmith Black Mambazo live in concert. It came to mind again when I thought about this peripatetic story of mine, which shows such restless, such spiritually homeless, characters.
For the story “Marco Polo”: “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service
I usually prefer the lullaby-like quality of the Iron and Wine recording of this song, but The Postal Service speed it up in a way that resonates in my mind with the blithe sensibility of the husband in “Marco Polo.” “Everything looks perfect from far away.” It’s an apt way of voicing Mason’s chosen ignorance — an ignorance that is the source of, and also obscures, such violence.
For the story “Gimme Shelter”: “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones
Of course, my story takes its title from this song. My inspiration came at first from a toss-away detail in the story — Lynn listens to a recording of her boyfriend singing this song the night a tree falls on her family’s house — but from there, the song inspired not only the title but the story’s final scene, in which Lynn remembers the way her recently deceased mother once invented a game to keep Lynn and her siblings from fighting. This game, this broody song, this uneasy hunger for shelter — or for a different kind of home — anchor not only this story, but the collection more generally.
For the story “Lock Jaw”: “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann
Aimee Mann’s song always gives me chills with its mournful, gorgeous opening piano chords. The lyrics offer a heartfelt plea couched in resignation, a feeling that corresponds in my mind with this story about addiction. I wanted to say something about how you can love your family and lie to them, and yourself, at the same time. I wanted to suggest that the source of danger and the source of love are not mutually contradictory.
For the story “Time Difference”: "Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major" by Bach
I was introduced to this piece through Kenneth Lonergan’s beautiful 2000 film You Can Count on Me
, which tells the story of a single mother’s complex and poignant relationship to her younger brother. I’m a sucker for brother-sister stories, and this film is one of my all-time favorites in the genre. The buoyant cello solo for the Bach suite always brings back the feeling of that tender film for me, and so I connect it in my mind to my own brother-sister story.
For the story “Lake Arcturus Lodge”: “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith’s rich, sultry, full-throated voice perfectly evokes the 1920s, during which “Lake Arcturus Lodge” is set. It is a story — and a song — about not being known, and about the scraping sense of urgency and need that comes from that.
For the story “Here, Still”: “Romeo and Juliet” by Indigo Girls
I grew up listening to the Indigo Girls. As a teenager, I loved their earnest two-part harmonies and the unabashed romance in their lyrics. But this rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” is more bitter than a lot of their other music — more flip and angry and hurt (to my ear, at least). Rebuffed. There is something in this tone that I associate with Lora in my story “Here, Still.”
For the story “Old House”: “No Children” by The Mountain Goats
One way to think of “Old House” is as a description of a particular ring of hell. In his time with Liv, Michael allows himself to perform an act of cruelty against a helpless person in pursuit of his own desire — or what he perceives as desire — and the act leads him to loathe both Liv and himself. “No Children” performs this cycle of loathing and self-loathing more directly than any other song I can think of. Its bald, fuck-you quality is thrilling.
For the story “Learning to Work With Your Hands”: “Omaha” by Counting Crows
I was at a residency in Nebraska during the summer when I wrote “Learning to Work With Your Hands.” I was living for a month in a little town surrounded in all directions by golden cornfields, and in the evenings — nothing else to do — I’d find myself driving too fast with the windows down along the empty highways, a huge sky purpling behind me. I had a handful of years-old CDs in the car, and I listened to August and Everything After
with renewed interest. I blasted “Omaha” with abandon, thinking it might reveal something about the place where I was temporarily living. And maybe it did. The story I was working on was set “somewhere in middle America,” too — and in summer — and for me, for a time, this song seemed to point to that curious combination of resignation and magic that I’d long associated with the Midwest, a resignation that, by sheer force of intense passivity, opens the way for transformations both perverse and astonishing. I wanted to end with some hint of that peculiar promise of transformation in Catapult
’s final story.
Note: The playlist’s title is a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
. The fuller quote goes: “That’s my middle-west — not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns but the thrilling, returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow.”
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grew up in Minnesota and currently resides in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her fiction has appeared in a variety of journals, including Boston Review
, Five Chapters
, New Orleans Review
, and elsewhere. Fridlund's first novel, History of Wolves
(Atlantic Monthly Press), was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and a #1 Indie Next pick.