Ethan and Dwight meet much sooner in the movie. Was that your idea?
That came in on my fourth draft. Things weren’t being dramatized enough. In early drafts ― of the novel as well ― there were incidents and altercations between people without them knowing who each other were. And then I removed a lot of that. So this was, in a way, putting back something that had always been there. You have to feel the degree to which Ethan is pursuing everything possible and is completely frustrated with the police.
Were you a father when you wrote the book?
I was not. I got married when I was thirty two, and we just had a child last year, so I could say that had I been a parent then I probably would not have written the book.
I don’t think I would have gone where I needed to go. It was really hard even then. It was hard because I was really terrified of getting it wrong.
You’ve said that you wrote this book partially because you wanted to get away from writing about grown-up children. It strikes me that the children ― Grace and Ethan’s daughter and Dwight’s son ― have to function as adults.
And Dwight sometimes acts like a child.
Well, all of them do, at different points.
I think the structures of adult life are torn away. It truly is a case of before and after.
Reservation Road reminded me of Before and After, the novel by Rosellen Brown in which a family deals with their teenaged son murdering his girlfriend.
I loved her book. I read her book twice, the second time very, very early in my process of writing this book. Just looking at how she chose the voices, how she chose the structure. I was really young and I had a lot to learn and I can’t remember exactly how it affected me, but I was looking at her book to see some of the choices she made.
Ethan and Dwight are written in the first person but Grace is in the third.
It really is a novel of the two fathers and I needed to set them against her. The other part, of course, is she is a woman, I’ve just written a new novel in the voice of a Japanese empress so this is not a big issue for me anymore, but I suspect I was more comfortable writing her in the third person, some books that are very important to me are written in the third person. Lie Down in Darkness is an incredible book. And I felt very close to Grace ― I felt very close to all of them ― but I felt like I really understood her. In the novel, her victory is getting back to the surface, where her daughter is. The more I see Jennifer’s performance I really feel there’s not a false note in it.
I think it’s a remarkable performance. The week I was on set they were shooting really intense stuff, not the accident but all of the really emotional stuff. For me it was revelatory in the sense that I really understood what collaboration is. I kind of wish everyone could be on set for a week and watch them do that work. It was hard for them all to go there every day, but they did it. Again, you still don’t know what it’s going to be like till it’s all cut together.