Music just has a way to inspire feelings and moods in us, especially when it comes to love. There is a song you and your prom date danced to. You and your spouse have “your song.” There is a song that always gets you in the mood for some sexy time. There is a song you played on repeat when some jerk stomped all over your heart. There is a song that reminds you of Mr. Right or maybe just Mr. Right Now. And then there are songs that remind you of Mr. Wrong.
Harley Aberle has quite a few Mr. Wrongs in her past, 13 to be exact; she also has 13 songs for each one of these miscreants who make up a section of her iPod called the Exes. And she tells us about her rocky road to blissful romance and professional success in Lisa Mattson’s somewhat autobiographical novel The Exes in My iPod-A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country.
When we first meet Harley (yes, just like the iconic motorcycle) she is twenty-years-old and a recent Kansas transplant living in Florida with her slacker boyfriend Chris. Both are on a break from college, and though Harley wants to resume her education Chris is more suited to smoking weed and avoiding responsibility. Harley wants to make her relationship with Chris work, but she has her serious doubts. And after she and Chris break up, these doubts continue to hound Harley as she goes from one doomed relationship to another.
Harley’s 13 past loves are a collection of cheaters, secretly married men, mama’s boys, users, a less than exciting ex-husband and other assorted jerks. Some relationships barely last longer than a power ballad and others go on way after the concert lights go on and it’s time to go home. The songs that relate to certain men are a potpourri of musical acts like the Grateful Dead, Nine Inch Nails, Everything But the Girl, James Taylor and the Black-Eyed Peas.
Throughout Harley’s decade of making bad romantic decisions, she is riddled with self-doubt and a serious lack of self-esteem. She bemoans her flat chest, her big hips and her scars. She constantly compares herself to other women. Harley is also haunted by her childhood. She grew up in a very dysfunctional family in small-town Kansas. She wants to escape her less than refined upbringing, and overcome her family’s lack of educational and professional achievement. She also wonders if her parents’ frayed marriage has negatively influenced her romantic choices.
Like a lot of other people, Harley often mistakes sex for love and falls into bed way too soon with her panties askew. However, Harley also acknowledges her own carnal desires, and certainly doesn’t mind indulging in them. I’m sure some uptight people would shake a scolding finger at Harley and sniff, “Well, why buy the cow when the milk is free?” to which I say, “Why buy the pig when all you want is a little sausage.”
Did I mention sex? Yes, sex plays a big part of Harley’s life and Mattson is not shy about writing somewhat explicit sex scenes. Sure many of them are quite steamy and raise the room’s temperature quite a bit. But Mattson also brings in elements of cringe-inducing humor during some of Harley’s mattress dancing. She compares one gentleman’s penis to a gummy bear. Hmm, Gummy Bear Penis would be a great name for a band.
However, whatever Harley lacks in the romantic department she definitely makes up when it comes to her education and career aspirations. Harley has a work ethic that would put Martha Stewart to shame. She busts her ass in college and also holds down a job at the Cheesecake Factory. It is while in college Harley takes a course on wine and finds her true passion. She makes having a career in the wine industry (especially one in California’s wine country) a top priority and is fortunate to have a professor who acts as a wise mentor.
So with her strong work ethic and a degree in communications, Harley starts her career working in wine marketing and PR going from strength to strength. Yet, her romantic life still remains shaky. However, as she grows as a professional and just grows up, Harley begins to realize she deserves better and perhaps it’s time to make some better decisions when it comes it comes to finding a fulfilling relationship. Okay, at times this includes having her mom do an astrological chart for one of her boyfriends, but at least she’s trying.
Will Harley find her one and only, her always and forever, her true Mr. Right? Will Harley finally make it to wine country? And will her romantic life reflect lyrics more like “It’s very clear/Our love is here to stay/Not for a year, but ever and a day.”* Or will it reflect, “Then love, love will tear us apart again/Love, love will tear us apart again.”**
The Exes in My iPod is both bittersweet and has good doses of humor. I often wanted to shake Harley and shout, “Stop being so stupid, girl!” But I also found myself nodding my head in recognition. There were times I felt I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of all of Harley’s past loves. I was surprised one of them didn’t include a gay guy on the down low. Or is that just me?
At times I did get confused by the wine jargon, probably because though I’m a wine drinker, I’m hardly an expert. I can barely pronounce sommelier. A simple Google search could help me with my wine confusion. And did you know if wine is too cold, the scents are too muted. And if the wine is too warm, the alcohol is accentuated. The more you know.
I related mostly to the musical aspects of the book, and I really thought using music as a tool to describe Harley’s past relationships was quite clever (and the digital form of The Exes in My iPod provides a link to the songs outlined in the book). I am also thrilled one of the songs chosen is “Troubled Mind” by the criminally under-rated Everything But the Girl. “Troubled Mind” played heavily on my psyche back in the 1990s.
The Exes in My iPod does have a few faults. It sometimes reads more like a memoir or a collection of essays than a novel, but perhaps that was Mattson’s intent. There are a few spelling and grammatical errors that could have benefited from some good editing but considering this book is self-published I’ll cut Mattson some slack.
The Exes in My iPod is a fun book, just right for summer beach reading and is a bit of an alternative to the chick lit genre. Enjoy it with your favorite glass of wine and get ready to make your own exes playlist.
* “Our Love is Here to Stay”-Music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin
**”Love Will Tear Us Apart”-Music and lyrics by Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner