The American Bourgeois Blues: An Interview with The Arts Fuse

Tomorrow, August 15th, I will be giving a talk about my latest novel, Five Days, at the Boston Public Library. I am particularly excited about this venue as Boston is featured prominently in Five Days: a novel that is as much a portrait of its heroine as it is New England. In anticipation of the event, I was interviewed by an old friend of mine, Bill Marx, who heads the e-destination for Boston’s literati, The Arts Fuse.  Our talk discusses what Bill calls “the painful political and cultural pressure points reflected in Five Days – the aches of the American bourgeois blues.”

Arts Fuse: Many of your novels explore the state of America, using the personal to reflect on political realities. Five Days is no exception. How much has the Obama administration influenced your vision of love and transformation in this book?

Douglas Kennedy: I remember telling a French journalist a few years ago that, even if the subject is not directly the United States, all American novelists are always grappling with the question of the national psyche and its inherent complexities and contradictions. As you know, I lived outside of the States for 30 years—which undoubtedly reordered the way I perceive “home.” And even though I moved back several years ago, I am still regularly ping-ponging between the States and Europe, so I consider myself still to be an insider/outsider here. Which is no bad position for an American novelist. But even during my years as an expat, I always considered myself deeply American. Your country is like your family: it’s the perpetual argument.

And indeed Five Days is very much concerned, on one level, with what it means to be a member of the struggling middle class these days. Just as it is also a novel about the huge conundrum that is personal change. Did I have Obama in mind when the theme of change emerged during the writing of the novel? Not consciously. But change is a word we used readily in this country, even though we also privately know that change is one of the hardest things to effectuate—both federally and individually. But change is also part of the American dynamic. And change does happen. Just as one of the ongoing features of the culture wars that have dominated the American scene since the dawning of the Nixonian moral majority is the struggle between progressivism and a conservatism rooted in the misguided belief that the past was the idealized country we should all be still living in. Change remains a huge issue within the American psyche.

Arts Fuse: The challenge presented by a novel that revolves a “forbidden” romance for a married woman is to elude soap opera—how did you avoid those pitfalls?

Douglas Kennedy: How do you write a contemporary “Brief Encounter” story—which, on one level, Five Days most certainly is—and not write a soap opera? It’s simple, really: you sidestep all soap opera tendencies. My characters are literate, complex, flawed, and deeply lonely. Their story does not provide any easy answers to their sense of isolation and the manifest dangers that the notion of personal change presents to them. And they are drawn in a way that—if I may say so—makes them both seem very much real.

Read the full interview here