Jersey state of mind

By JON GARELICK  |  November 10, 2006

Can you talk about Frank’s voice as first-person narrator in The Lay of the Land?
The voice felt like it was the same voice in its sonorities, but insofar as it developed into a literary style, those sonorities were definitely altered by the fact that I had a lot more stuff that I wanted to put into sentences. The sentences turned out to be much longer, so that the voice had to be a little elastic to permit me to put into them all I wanted to put. I thought that to write a third book was going to require me to really dig a lot deeper into things than I had ever done before and push sentences further out than I had ever pushed them. So I knew they would be longer sentences, and I did a good deal of reining in at the end, making sentences shorter, dividing them up, making the novel as economical as I could. But the voice did seem basically the same, although I thought I was causing it to play upon different kinds of human concerns.

It feels like the same character.
I think it is. But it brought into my gaze something that I had never ever thought of — it isn’t always the case that writing novels will make the writer discover something that he hadn’t ever known before. But one thing it made me think about was just this whole notion of (a) character and (b) how we evolve over the course of our lives. The conceit is that character is a constant and that we are basically just older versions of who we are when we were younger. But I came to believe, having to write a character in three large increments as I did, that that’s just a metaphor, really, that that’s just another kind of accommodation to make life seem more rational. Whereas the person you were when you were 20, even though his name is the same as the person who’s 48, may in fact be entirely different. We know that certain animals go through all kinds of metamorphoses and become entirely different creatures from what they were earlier, and once I started to think about human beings, it kind of freed me in a way. It freed me from the concept of character, and it freed me from the concept of consistency. Particularly in making up the lives of the kids. We don’t know what kids are going to become — it’s one of the great aggravations of parenthood, that we don’t have a clue what our kids are going to become. They may become little monsters, they may become John Gacy. You just don’t know. So when people scratch their heads and say, ‘Gee, he was such a nice little boy,’ and here he is, we’ve discovered that he has all these bodies buried under the floor, and you think how could that be and my point is, well, it could be.

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