Introducing… Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould
April of 2020, when Perfect Tunes came out, is the very last time or place I’d want to revisit. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way. I had written, in part, about mothers, the people they were before they became mothers, and the things that are lost in that process. I felt like I had already wrung all the creative inspiration out of that feeling. But just when I was supposed to be sharing my work with the world, a global pandemic sent me back to square one.
It seems so minor now, but I had been so excited to spend some time in hotels by myself, on tour to promote Perfect Tunes. That feeling, the need for separation and space from my children, hadn’t always been always comfortable for me, and I’d given that conflict to my protagonist, Laura, who misses an opportunity to go on tour with her band because she can’t stand missing her toddler. When my older son was born, I had all the feelings that Laura experiences in the book. She misses the physical presence of her daughter every time she’s not with her. But by the time I gave birth my second child, three years later, motherhood no longer felt so non-negotiably all-consuming. I loved cuddling my baby, I loved to smell the top of his adorable head, but then when it was time to go to work, I loved handing him over to a trusted sitter.
In my first novel, Friendship, I had set out to teach myself how to write a novel. Then for this one I wanted to learn how to write a novel that could unfold over the course of many years, because a story that happens in the space of just a year has a sort of built-in plot, organized by the seasons. So the book jumps around in time, place and perspective, and of course, the pregnancy that happens in the book has its own natural arc. Living and writing in these different time zones, emotional and literal, was a trip.
In setting out to write Perfect Tunes I was also thinking about my own mother and wishing I could reach across time and know her as the person she was before she became my mother. I remember finding a journal that she’d kept in her early twenties. It mostly had these very beautiful pen and ink sketches that she’d made. My mom is not an artist, professionally. Just to see this other part of her personality that was someone I’ve never met – I don’t want to say it’s inherently sad, but it was a little bit heartbreaking for me, because clearly there are parts of herself that she had to give up in order to become the person who I would meet as her child.
I also did my best to dive into anything nostalgic or sensory from the early ’00s in order to write the early chapters of Perfect Tunes. There’s this zine The East Village Inky by Ayun Halliday that I started reading when I was in my early twenties – way before I became a parent. I think her daughter was born in 1999 and her son was born in 2001. Her motherhood timeline syncs up a bit with Laura’s. So as far as writing atmospheric detail, I could turn to it when I was wondering, what playground would you go to? There’s also this great music blogger that I’m internet friends with, Matthew Perpetua, who does amazing playlists for specific years. He finds the songs you’ve forgotten, then he shuffles them with the huge monster chart-topping hits of whatever time it was. It gives you an immersion into the feeling of being alive during that year. For a book about music, 2003 was a great moment to set the main timeline in.
I have this particular and intense memory of the first time I heard ‘Hey Ya!’ It always reminds me of the New York City blackout. It was just this crazy joyful moment for me. There was this moment at the beginning of the blackout where we all thought – because the 9/11 attacks had happened so recently – that it was a terrorist attack, and we were all out of our minds with worry. Then when it became clear that it was only a blackout, everyone was like, let’s party. Everyone was eating all the ice cream that had melted. I was twenty-one, which obviously colours that memory.
I’m sure today it would take me much longer to celebrate on the heels of so much panic and fear. That is definitely something I both miss and don’t miss, the volatility and flexibility of all your feelings when you are young. My life now is defined by patience. As a younger writer, I was predominantly a blogger, and that sort of writing promises a lot of instant gratification. Transitioning to trying to write novels was a big rhythm shift for me, and then finishing up and promoting this one during a pandemic, when the pace of the entire world screeched to a halt, was the biggest exercise in patience of all. Then, of course, there is the waiting game of knowing, when you have young children, that your life is half, more than half theirs.
In writing a novel about being in your mid-twenties, I remembered the feeling that a lot of women around me (myself included? I can’t even remember) were expressing – that once they were in their mid- to late-thirties, if they found love and had a family, they would feel settled, adult and peaceful. That certainly didn’t turn out to be the case for me. This might be naive, but I’ve heard menopause described as a time in your life when you get back to the early, unselfconscious ways that you were emotionally when you were maybe ten, pre-pubescent, and you were fully in your weird self and didn’t really care what anyone else thought of you. I’m sure that’s not everyone’s experience, but the idea that it could be a fulfilling female stage yet to come, the hope that it could be, is something that really keeps me going.
Perfect Tunes was born, at its heart, from a time of transition, and waiting – a time when I was not so young and not so old. And of course, from love for my family, my mother and my children, the people in my life whom I love and trust to watch my children while I write, and lots of hope that there is still more to come. And if there is anything I got from releasing a book during the pandemic, it’s that if you’re stalled, or waiting, you should also, if you can, be hoping.
Love, Emily x
The perfect song. The biggest dream. The love of her life.
Funny, wise, and tender-hearted, Perfect Tunes explores the fault lines in our most important relationships, and asks whether dreams deferred can ever be reclaimed.
Cast your mind back to the early years of the new millennium. Jeans were bootcut and low-rise. Glitter went with everything. Bags were tiny, hair was super straight, no one knew yet how Friends or Harry Potter were going to end. The Strokes were the hot new band that we couldn’t get enough of (unless you were more of a Britney fan, but I’d say there’s room in your hearts for both).
This is where we meet Laura, a one-of-a-kind talent who dreams of turning her songwriting passion into a career, and her best friend Callie, who dreams of just being somebody. They’re in their early 20s and the world is their oyster as they leave Ohio and move to New York to make something of themselves. They work hard, play hard, live their New York dream, and things are really starting to come together – their futures are looking bright. But then, tragedy strikes. Both women make decisions that will send their lives in wildly different directions.
Fifteen years later, Laura’s teenage daughter is asking questions about her father, opening a door to her past that Laura has worked hard to keep firmly shut as she’s tried to move on from everything that was and could have been. And when Callie, now an internationally-famous superstar, comes back into town, opportunity knocks for Laura for a second time.
After all this time, all the compromises and sacrifices she’s made along the way, how much is she still that girl from Ohio with big dreams and the talent to match? Have motherhood, marriage and living her life changed who she is and what she most wants?
In a life full of so many decisions, how do any of us know which ones are going to be the most life-altering? Which ones we can’t take back? Which ones will lead us towards or away from our lifelong dreams?
We published Perfect Tunes through Scribner, so it’s not technically a Books and the City book, but it is absolutely a book to fall in love with. At TeamBATC, we’ve all fallen hard for Laura and know you will too.
Perfect Tunes goes to the heart of the relationships that sustain us, how they support us and evolve over time. It’s an ode (or rather, an epic 80s power ballad*) to the power of friendship and an always-timely reminder that it may get messy, but amazing things can happen if you’re brave enough to be bold.
*Not even remotely set in the 1980s, just imagine that level of feeling…
‘Shows the ways in which we are all, always, having to reimagine the story of our lives’ Refinery29
‘Really smart and exceptionally good’ Curtis Sittenfeld
‘A moving investigation of love, loss and parenthood’ Esquire
‘Mind-blowing . . . brilliant and fearless’ Elif Batuman
‘Perfect Tunes is an intoxicating blend of music, love and family… one of the great New York coming-of-age stories’ Stephanie Danler
‘A profound story of love, loss, heredity and parenthood… both funny and deep’ Emma Straub
‘Her writing is observant and unfussy, and she has a knack for addressing serious subjects, such as the hardships of parenting and the darkness of depression, while keeping things light… The pleasure of this book is in Gould’s astute details about everything from a hangover (which made Laura’s head feel like a “black banana”) to relationships’ Washington Post
‘This exploration of music, motherhood, identity, and the dividing line between love and lust feels like a time capsule of post-9/11 New York, and its time jump to present-day Brooklyn will feel familiar to many readers struggling to keep families intact under less-than-ideal circumstances’ Vogue
‘It’s as much a meditation on what it means to grow up as it is an ode to motherhood and love in its purest form’ InStyle
‘Sharply observant… Gould’s portrait of a would-be artist as a young woman offers fresh, poignant insights into the challenges faced by the city’s transplanted dreamers’ Publishers Weekly
‘Perfect Tunes, her second novel, which tells the story of a friendship, a tumultuous love affair, and motherhood, is just the right balance of acerbic and warm’ LitHub