I started out in engineering. I was a geophysical engineer. Throughout the course of my life I’ve done a lot of strange jobs and the effect has been to make me think a little more skeptically about our capitalist society.
Fiction is a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth. Is life kind or cruel? Yes Literature answers. Are people good or bad? You bet says Literature. But unlike other systems of knowing Literature declines to eradicate one truth in favor of another.
I tend to foster drama via bleakness. If I want the reader to feel sympathy for a character I cleave the character in half on his birthday. And then it starts raining. And he’s made of sugar.
If death is in the room it’s pretty interesting. But I would also say that I’m interested in getting myself to believe that it’s going to happen to me. I’m interested in it because if you’re not you’re nuts. It’s really de facto what we’re here to find out about.
When I was a kid I took ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Partridge Family’ very seriously. It was a world to me in the same way that the Greek myths would have been had I read them. You know Marcia is Athena and Mr. Brady is Zeus.
The best thing that ever happened to me is that nothing happened in writing. I ended up working for engineering companies and that’s where I found my material in the everyday struggle between capitalism and grace. Being broke and tired you don’t come home your best self.
A John Updike is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon if that generation is lucky: so comfortable in so many genres the same lively generous intelligence suffusing all he did.
Whatever your supposed politics are – left right – if you put it in a human connection most people will rise to the occasion and feel the human pain in a way that they might not if it was presented in a more conceptual way.
I still believe that capitalism is too harsh and I believe that even within that there is a lot of satisfaction and beauty if you happen to be one of the lucky ones although that doesn’t eradicate the reality of the suffering. It’s all true at once kind of humming and sublime.
My habit would have been to veer towards the dark – to prove I was something edgy or maybe to prove that I was cognisant of the dark side. Now with age and confidence I can say yeah that’s true but I am cognisant of the fact that people can do things well. And can be more loving than you expect.
We try we fail we posture we aspire we pontificate – and then we age shrink die and vanish.