Noah Hawley's fourth book - The Good Father - is rapidly turning into America's latest publishing sensation.
And no wonder. Recently reviewed on HuffPost Culture, the book deals with some of the biggest issues in American life, from the challenges of parenthood to political assassinations and gun crime, subjects that collide when the protagonist's son is accused of shooting the next president.
Here author Noah Hawley discusses the accusation that he based his victim on Obama, whether or he's railing against gun culture and where he stands on the novel's central question: namely, are killers born, or made?
What inspired The Good Father?
When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, I began thinking about what kind of person my daughter would grow up to be and what kind of father I would make. This idle curiosity turned to late night worry. Nobody sets out to be a bad parent, but what if it happens without you realising it? What if our best isn’t good enough? The book came out of that fear.
Some people have suggested Seagram, the assassinated politician, is based on Obama. Did you intend this to be a political book?
I began writing the book before Obama was president, but I suppose it was a political choice to say here is this man who was the hope of his generation, and he is a Democrat. I can’t deny that some of had to do with the fact that I started it in the dog days of the Bush administration - I think everyone was looking for a change at that point, even the Republicans. It was also important to me to have a charismatic candidate – like a Clinton or an Obama or a Ronald Reagan - larger than life figures who attract the most polarising attention. People who don’t believe in them feel like it’s just smoke and mirrors, and the people who do believe in them 100%.
The son, Danny, embarks on a journey that ultimately leads to his involvement in a crime – was this a deliberate attempt to subvert the romance of the great American road trip?
America’s a huge country that’s easy to get lost in. For Danny, this journey which started in the spirit of adventure quickly darkens. I remember when I first moved to California from New York I jumped in a car for two weeks and drove down to Utah and Arizona and the Grand Canyon and I was all by myself and I would sometimes go days without talking to anybody. It has a pretty powerful effect on you, this sort of isolation and I felt like for Danny this was the key.
Is there a lot of your younger self in Danny?
I like to say that if you have a good childhood, your childhood becomes invisible in your life. But if you had a bad childhood it’s part of your everyday life. People I know who have had those childhoods have to spend every day overcoming obstacles that were put in their way when they were that age. I had a very healthy family, grew up with a strong sense of self. I never really had Danny’s kind of searching.
One question that goes through your head when you’re reading the book is the same that goes through the father’s: to what extent is Danny to blame for what he does?
I didn’t want to explain it. I like that it’s open ended for readers, I didn’t want to make it easy and say ‘this is the moment’ when he turns bad. What I wanted to say is that it’s impossible to figure out what the moment is. I think when you look at these real life cases like John Hinckley, these guys you read about their lives and the journey’s they took there are so many moments where they could have made a different choice or something different might have happened to them and they wouldn’t have ended up where they ended up. That’s what makes it a tragedy is that it’s avoidable.
The book’s been described as a ‘brutal attack on US gun culture’ – did you intend it to be that?
Not at all. The gun issue in the UK is clearly a polarising one and a polarising one worldwide, but as you can see from recent events in France and other countries, and it’s not an American only problem. I didn’t write this to be a critique of gun culture. Last week someone in England started talking about America’s gun problems and I said: you know sir, there’s a lot of stabbings over here! It’s not that the guns make people violent, it’s just that when you are violent with a gun the results are catastrophic, you know.
I can it see it being a source of fascination for readers of the books in the UK.
My father-in-law is a libertarian, and I gave him an early draft to read, and he pointed out to me the liberal biases that I had unknowingly included in the book. I really appreciated that and I went back through and changed the language to make it more objective, because I don’t want a reader with a certain political bent picking up the book and throwing it away in disgust. I would be defeating myself as a story teller if I did.
What reaction have you had from readers?
I got an email from a woman who was in a fishing village somewhere in England on the coast. She wrote to me to say how the book had such an impact for her because her son was the captain of a fishing boat and they’d been out on a trip and one of the men had fallen overseas and drowned, and her son became vilified in this town. She wrote this very powerful email to me about how this book affected her because of the idea that she couldn’t help her son, there was nothing she could do to protect him, he hadn’t done anything wrong but he’d still suffered the consequences. And I think that’s the most amazing thing about this book, because parenting is such a personal thing that we do and one of the most important. That people are relating to this book in a very personal way is something that is humbling, and I wrote her back a long letter. It’s very hard in this day and age to reach people on that intimate level and when you do don’t take it for granted - you have to acknowledge that it’s kind of extraordinary.