The stories in Liner Notes are threaded together by their interest in music. The collection is primarily interested in characters who are forced to confront their limitations. Many of the stories are experimental, blending elements of meta-fiction and the absurd to explore characters’ relationships with music and with each other. In “An Introduction the Deluxe Edition of Arthur Cane Kills Moby Dick’s Whales Drink the Ocean and…by Pete Welch,” a music writer unable to deal with the death of his wife unearths a lost album by a long defunct band and obsessively works to bring the album to release. In the surreal “Flavor Flav Travels Through Time and Reads About Himself on Wikipedia,” the title character suddenly begins traveling through time and grows increasingly dissatisfied with the circumstances of his life. “Al’s Sound, Big as God: An Interview,” tells the story of a saxophone player who tries to achieve the creative heights of his mentor, Albert Ayler, only to face his own mediocrity when he is unable to commit to the darkness of his own artistic vision. And, in “How We Did Not Become Extinct,” the convergence of music and technology has led to an archive-driven culture in which no new music is created until a group of young artists grow restless with the past and begin to write their own songs. While each story in Liner Notes stands alone, taken as a whole the collection is an odd, and darkly funny series of examinations into obsession, mortality, memory, identity, and the creative process.
In Liner Notes, James Brubaker has assembled a two-sided collection of stories that feature both fact and fiction. These music-inspired narratives remind us that ‘songs are time’ and when we lay the tracks of our past down on thirty-nine seconds or three minutes of a melody, the result is both a remembering and an imagining. Here is a stunning debut by a writer who understands the longing we all share and the songs that bring every last good thing back.
The stories in James Brubaker’s Liner Notes are extraordinary, with lines that recall Ben Marcus and Gabriel Blackwell. It’s amazing what Brubaker’s fiction does with language and the obsession with music, sound, and pop culture. An erudite work of avant-garde fiction, with cameos by Phil Spector, Albert Ayler, Brian Wilson, Flavor Flav, and a beautiful woman named Yoko, Brubaker’s brilliant fiction is like listening to your favorite album on vinyl: deeply moving and very, very smart.
This fun, smart collection of short stories beats with a pure heart of rock and roll. Whether it is the one about the rock writer haunted down the years by a band he heard once when he was young, the scientist who turns away from his efforts to catalogue all melodies, the boy who survives his dysfunctional parents by listening to Thriller, or the widower who searches for the perfect song to eulogize his wife, these stories never let up in their efforts to show how rock and roll can clarify a life, embody a memory, crystallize a wordless emotion, and create a refuge from the world. Brubaker understands as few do that to listen to music is nothing short of time travel. You should let him transport you.
James Brubaker is the author of Pilot Season and Liner Notes, which won the 2013 Subito Book Prize for Prose. His stories have appeared in venues including Zoetrope: All Story, Indiana Review, The Normal School, Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Collagist, among others. James’s third story collection, Black Magic Death Sphere: (Science) Fictions, recently won the Pressgang Prize and will be published in late 2015. He teaches creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University.
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