Steven Carter, Emperor of Ocean Park.

Well, welcome everybody. This is Dick Staub, your host, and as described, fellow seeker. Our guest is a Yale University law professor, well established as a non-fiction writer, having written books like The Culture of Disbelief and Civility. He has now turned to fiction with a much publicized $4 million advance for two works of fiction, the first being The Emperor of Ocean Park, published by Knopf which, with its relief, release, by the way, immediately shot onto the bestseller lists much to the delight, I’m sure, of our-our author and the publisher. But also readers who are really warming to what is turning out to be a very, very broadly accepted debut fiction by our next guest
Dr. Stephen Carter.

Q. It’s great to see you again.
A. Well, it’s good to be back, and back in your new digs.

Q. So tell us about the decision to turn towards fiction.
A. I don’t know if I could call it a decision as much as almost an obsession. I’d
wanted to write fiction from the time I was pretty small. I used to go down to the corner store and buy little spiral notebooks when I was a little kid, in which I would write my science fiction and mystery stories and so on, usually fill in all the pages without any paragraph breaks or anything like that. And even as an adult I had for many years the-the yearning to write. I had these characters in mind and wanted to find the life space and vehicle to let them tell their stories. And finally it seemed to be time to do it.

Q. So did you go to your agent or did your agent come to you? Had you talked to your agent early on as a-as a non-fiction writer that some day you might want to give this a whirl?
A. I had mentioned to my agent several times that I might want to write a novel
and she had been kind of distantly encouraging. She warned that¢â‚¬¦ Well, she warned me that-that¢â‚¬¦ She said most of her non-fiction clients think they want to write a novel and most them probably shouldn’t. You know.

Q. Yeah.
A. But-but I showed her some years ago just a few pages of it, and she thought it
was promising enough that she encouraged me to keep working.

Q. Now, you were working away at it without taking it to her.
A. Oh, yes. I was-wrote this book over a period of many years. And every now
and then my agent would ask me how it was going, but she never pressed. But there came a time, it was really December of 2000 when I realized for the first time I might actually finish this thing. And I mentioned it to her and she suggested I finish. Talked it over with my wife, and we spent a lot of time talking and praying about it and finally decided–my wife really said to me, I think you should go for it, meaning put everything aside and actually try to finish this thing. And over a period of five or six weeks I polished it into shape. Now, that was over four years of writing.

Q. How did you find the latitude of fiction in terms of¢â‚¬¦ You and I were just
talking about the fact that this book is just packed with a lot of interesting, thought-provoking discourses that reveal competing positions that provoke thought about issues without ever having to say this is what Dr. Stephen Carter thinks about this. But at least we know that these reaches that are interesting to you but¢â‚¬¦
A. Well, everybody seems to think that writing fiction is liberating, gives
additional space. But I actually found it confining in a way.

Q. Really.
A. As a scholar, when I write fiction I’m sorry, when I write non-fiction as a
scholar, I have footnotes. I have sources. I have things I rely on. And that structure, that recognition that I’m fitting into a dialogue that already exists

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œfor me has always been very liberating. What was-what cramped me in was
recognizing that everything I wrote, in the end, the authority was me. It was my imagination as opposed to some source I could point to. And that was an eerie feeling and sometimes a very scary one.

Q. Really. So¢â‚¬¦ You know, that’s very interesting. Friends of mine created
what became a best-selling CD-Rom game in history called Myst. They’re Christian guys. And they said that the scariest aspect of it when they finished and I don’t know if you know about the game, but
A. Sure.

Q. ¢€œit creates worlds. And it was the sense of in Genesis you see that is the
creator and the feeling of trying to take that role as the ultimate creator became almost overwhelming at points to them.
A. Well, I bet so.

Q. Because you’re creating this whole world and it’s out of your mind. It’s a
fascinating thing.
A. Well, it’s a little scary in that sense writing fiction. I suppose people that have
written more of it get accustomed to it, but it’s-it is, I’m the kind of person, I suppose, who, while I think of myself as a bit of an iconoclast, and I like to work off by myself, the knowledge that I’m walking footsteps that others have trod has always been a very important knowledge to me.

Q. Really, really.
A. And so writing a novel, even though you’re right. I did try to put in these
various asides, those little provocative thoughts to jog people about, issues about race or religion or class or a thousand other things

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œeven doing that I felt a little uneasy to have one of my characters make an
argument and not have a footnote in the argument. To me it was uncomfortable.

Q. Well, here’s what’s interesting. You actually ended up footnoting. You got to
the end of the book and you said, the Brooks Brothers Store has moved, this has happened, this is different than what I said. And in the dedication of the book you said, to-to your mother and father. And you were very clear with your father, who is not in this one to make it¢â‚¬¦ I read that as making it very clear that there’s no sense in which the dad in this-in this story, Judge Oliver Garland, is my dad.
A. You have to remember that the first five words of this book are, “When my
father finally died.”

Q. Yes.
A. And because it’s in the first person and it says father, people would say, oh, a
coroner must be describing his relationship with his father.\

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. So I had to make it clear that that certainly wasn’t the case. But you’re also
right to tease me a little bit about the Author’s Note at the end. My Author’s Note at the end of the book is absurdly long. And I spent a lot of time in there trying to say to the readers, yes, I know this staircase is not where I described it.

Q. Yes, and Martha’s Vineyard, this place is different. This town isn’t like that.
A. I had to do that. I had to do that for my own comfort. I don’t think I could
have written a novel, as a scholar, without making sure I got my facts right and making sure the reader knew.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. Maybe it’s vanity. Maybe it’s almost pride. I don’t know. I-I was worried
about people, how they’re thinking that I knew less than I did. That doesn’t mean there’s no mistakes in the book, but those things that I intentionally changed I wanted the reader to know.

Q. Since you dedicated to mom and dad, just tell us a bit about your own
background. You and I have never talked about, kind of, the home in which you were raised.
A. I’m the second of five children. I was born in Washington, D.C. We moved
to Harlem when I was almost two years old. Lived there until, I think, second grade I went back to Washington D.C. Went to high school in Ithaca, New York. My father was by training a lawyer, although in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ60s he worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administration. A little later he taught at Cornell and became an administrator. And my mother for most of the time, although she was a college graduate, stayed home and took care of the kids.

Q. What were the values of that home and that family?
A. We were not a church-going family, but my parents had been raised actually
both in the Episcopal church and they-there were a couple of things that were always really very important to them. One of the values that was really important when I was growing up was honesty.

Q. Hm.
A. There was a sense that to lie was a kind of punishable offense. But there was
something else that was perhaps even important than that. And that was a sense of service. That my father and mother both had, maybe from their backgrounds, maybe from their childhoods, maybe something they had learned along the way, people believed in spending a lot of time working in and serving the community. And that’s something that I think that we, as children, learned is very important.

Q. Hm. Your decision to pursue law school. Your dad was an attorney. Did that
seem like a pretty logical step or was that¢â‚¬¦
A. You know, my dad was an attorney. My grandmother was an attorney. And
yet I never wanted to be a lawyer when I was younger. I went to law school in 1976 because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Like a lot of people, I wanted to keep my options open. I didn’t know what I was going to do with life and somewhere in those three years I decided I really liked it.

Q. Really.
A. Yeah.

Q. So it wasn’t something that you’d¢â‚¬¦ As a matter of fact in-in some senses
you were interested younger anyway in being a writer.
A. I was interested younger in being a writer and when I went to law school I was
still thinking about being a writer, although I didn’t know quite what that meant. I knew I wanted to do something where I would put words on a page.

Q. Right. Well, and you ended up doing both.
We’re going to be back with more of Stephen Carter right after this. We’ll
talk about the novel. The book is The Emperor of Ocean Park. It’s published by Knopf. It’s available in all of your local bookstores. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.

(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. And our guest is Stephen Carter, Dr. Stephen Carter. His book is The Emperor of Ocean Park and, yes, he is the same Stephen Carter that has written the non-fiction books, The Culture of Disbeliefs, Civility, and many others of which you may be familiar. And he has turned his hand to fiction in-in what has got to be described as a warm embrace of readers.

Q. I mean, it must be very, very exciting to-to see something that was really kind
of a risk for you and certainly an unknown turn out to be a format that has really gotten people into-into relationship with you and your thinking and this world that you created.
A. You know, I didn’t write The Emperor of Ocean Park thinking much about
commercial success or what the audience would be or anything like that, I just wanted to get it done. And it’s I-I tell people this. They think I’m making it up but it’s really true that when I finished I told my wife that all I hope is that I’d written a book that people would be glad that they’d read. But I assumed some publisher would buy it and run off a few thousand copies and I guess, as a novelist then, that would be it.

Q. Yeah.
A. I am completely overwhelmed and still stunned, as well as quite grateful, for
the enthusiasm and the affection that have greeted this book.

Q. Yeah.
A. I did not expect anything like this.

Q. How¢â‚¬¦ Now, you are a professing Christian and-and have been quite
straightforward about that both, I think, within the book, but-but-but within your own life and in your non-fiction work as well. How does that affect writing a novel? How does that-how does-how does¢â‚¬¦ Are there a different set of kind of issues? Are there a different set of boundaries? Are there¢â‚¬¦ Does it-does it¢â‚¬¦ Did you ask yourself questions about ethical considerations?
A. Well, I didn’t think of it as an explicitly Christian novel in the genre sense and
Yet, as a committed Christian, I could hardly avoid important questions. And some of them are kind of interesting. So people tease me because there’s no explicit sex in the novel. And nobody takes the Lord’s name in vain.

Q. Yeah.
A. I couldn’t even-I couldn’t even write those words on a page.

Q. Although you do have a scene where the-the central character finds himself
attracted to another woman–
A. That’s right

Q. ¢€œand is wrestling through it. And there are people that are¢â‚¬¦ There was
infidelity in the book.
A. Oh, yeah.
Q. But it’s done in a non¢â‚¬¦
A. There is sin in the book.
Q. Oh, clearly.
A. We’re sinful-we’re sinful creatures. There’s also redemption in the book.
Q. Absolutely.
A. And hope. But there’s something else also. One of my big complaints about contemporary fiction is not that there’s too much sex, though there is, and it’s not the language is too bad, although it is, it’s that for all of the attention that is paid nowadays by writers to giving us characters who are fully rounded
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œthe characters very rarely have religious lives–
Q. Absolutely.
A. ¢€œas part of the story. So I was determined that my characters would have religious lives and even, occasionally, religious conversations.
Q. Well, and actually, one of the things that I think is so useful about your book–and we’re going to get in a minute to a conversation about the central characters–but-but Misha, the central character, is himself someone who has got a very messy life going on and yet he is very clearly wanting to be Christian. He’s wanting to pursue faith. He turns to¢â‚¬¦ There are, you know, a number of different clergy in the book, but one in particular, Dr. Young. And-and Dr. Young and-and the key character end up at a dinner with law professors in which there’s a very spirited and kind of intellectually rigorous discussion that includes religion which is, as you say, very unusual in today’s fiction, but not unusual in real life. I mean, religion is a very, very important dynamic. As a matter of fact, I remember I was¢â‚¬¦ I met a guy in New Delhi or, I’m sorry, it was in Istanbul, from India one time and I started talking about his religious beliefs and so forth. And he-he wanted to talk about American religion. And he said, the thing I find fascinating about Americans is the degree to which you don’t understand how profound religion is in your own culture. You know, this book is more honest about the role of religion in people’s lives.
A. I’m glad to hear you say that. I tried to be honest. My-my main character, the narrator, Misha Garland, is I would describe as a Christian searcher. That is, he’s very clear in his mind that he believes in God
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œand he’s very clear that as a Christian he has a kind of hazy understanding of what that means. And in the book we see him going through this process of struggling before he begins to be attracted to this Baptist preacher who he actually meets through other work, who then becomes a kind of counselor to him. I do have a number of places in the book where people have conversations about religion one way or the other, but that dinner party you mentioned is an important focus because there I tried to set up, maybe a little too strongly, the distinction between the-the rigorously and aggressively secular vision of the world you find on college campuses today–
Q. Uh-huh.
A. –and the-the vision of a world that’s in God’s hands and where our commitment first is to that which is larger than us before we begin this process
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œof working out what we value on earth. And I tried to set up that conflict between one of the characters, Marc Hadley, as a professor at the law school and Morris Young, the preacher whom you mentioned. And actually, that scene has occasion to maybe more comment at book signings than almost
Q. Really.
A. ¢€œany other scene in the book.
Q. Really, really.
A. Particularly from Christians. A lot of Christian readers who’ve come to various book signings have mentioned that scene, and that it’s a scene that they found moving and in some ways very important to them.
Q. Well, also instructive on how to have conversations in everyday life about stuff that matters, which a lot of people of Christian faith have gotten embarrassed about. As a matter of fact, Nick Hornby, the novelist, has a new book out called How to Be Good. And his central character begins criticizing a rector in the-in the Anglican church for being too squishy and embarrassed about her belief. She says, I want to know what you believe. I want to hear what you believe. Why are you embarrassed to tell me what you believe? This is a dynamic at a dinner where there are some people who are not embarrassed to say what they believe.
A. And I think it’s very important in literature. There’s a wonderful scene in one of John Updike’s novels, The Beauty of the Lilies, where a man is on his deathbed. He’s a Presbyterian and the pastor comes to comfort him. And the man says to him, Pastor, do you think I’m going to heaven or hell? And the pastor says, any just God would save a man like you. And the guy looks at him and he says, I don’t want to know what any just God is going to do. I want to know what the one true God is going to do. And you don’t see a lot of that kind of thing nowadays in fiction, even though it certainly is a part of life.
Q. Yeah.
A. We live in a country where 90 percent of the people say they believe in God and 30 or 40 percent of people say they attend religious services regularly.
Q. Yeah.
A. But if you look at fiction it must be less than five percent.
Q. But it is interesting that Young had some academic credentials. He wasn’t easily dismissed by an academic group. And it does go to the point of-of being credible within your own-within your own niche as a professional, as a person. You-you earn the right to be heard in ways other than just speaking truths sometimes.
A. Well, I think it’s right, and I think it’s an important thing for Christians and others to understand, as well, that every community has its own tools and its own understanding of how dialogue takes place. And it’s important to get those tools together in order to go out
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œand do what I want.
Q. You know, you mentioned you weren’t raised in a religious home and yet you’ve become profoundly committed.
A. Yeah.
Q. Briefly, what was the pilgrimage? How did that happen?
A. I always had religious yearnings when I was younger. And I began attending church when I was a kid with a neighbor, one of my playmates, and that was my first experience with church. But really my Christianity, in a profound sense, didn’t come until after my marriage. My wife is a believer. And my really strong Christian commitment, my own personal commitment to Christ didn’t come until some years into my marriage at a time when we my wife and I were having troubles of various kinds. We were having financial and other troubles, and it was at that point that I committed myself to Christ and have found a great change in my life since then.
Q. Yeah. And we could spend a whole day with you talking about your wife because every time I’ve
A. She’s wonderful.
Q. ¢€œbeen with you or everytime you get a chance to talk about family, she’s-she, with you, have been forging a spiritual life together and that’s-that’s an encouragement to everybody to see.
We’re going to be back with more of Stephen Carter. We’re finally going to get to the book now. We’ve talked a bit about some dinner conversations and so forth, but there’s-there’s a context and a person out of which every work of fiction arises and we like to talk about the life, the work, and the journey of the people that we interact with on this show. We’ll be back with more of Dr. Stephen Carter. His book is The Emperor of Ocean Park. It’s a wonderful novel. We’ll be right back.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. Our guest is Dr. Stephen Carter, Yale University Law Professor, well-established non-fiction writer. Does a column in Christianity Today. Appears in Christianity Today Online and has written a-a-an incredibly well-received first novel. The book is The Emperor of Ocean Park. Every time I say “first,” I’m sure part of your reaction, oh, that means I’ve got to get that second one written. That’s got to be-that has to be an even greater pressure after the first one has been so well-received. And it is-it’s-it’s truly wonderful to see the success that-that you’re having and particularly since you have been so straightforward about your faith commitment both in your-in your personal life and-and willingness to engage issues that matter around faith. But also in¢€œin this work of fiction. So finally, let’s talk about The Emperor of Ocean Park. It is a mystery. You said right away that you wanted to do a mystery.
A. It’s kind of a mystery. That’s one way¢â‚¬¦ People have described it as a
mystery. People have called it a thriller.
Q. Yeah.
A. People have called it a family saga. People have called it a love story. I don’t
much mind what people call it, as long as they mean it as a compliment.
Q. Well, see, yeah. The interesting thing is I use the word “mystery,” but in
reality it weaves so many elements together that-that¢â‚¬¦ But you certainly do have a thread throughout the story of trying to figure out what happened in a-in a central situation that we’ll talk about here in just a minute. It has a-a subtext of chess, which a lot of people find fascinating.
A. Yes.
Q. Because the father in this story, and you’ve already–the first lines of the book
indicate that the father has died–was a-a chess problemist. He did composing. We have phrases like the “double excelsior.” We have the Nowotny interference, whatever in the heck that is. Was chess part of your life? How did chess get imported into this work of fiction?
A. Yeah. I’ve loved chess since I was a child. I-I play chess a lot, especially
Nowadays. I play a lot online. I love chess problems. And I had always thought it might be fun to do some writing where chess played a major role. I’d rather not say the role it played in the book because I don’t want to ruin it for the readers
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œbut certainly it is something that does play a role. I should add, people
don’t believe this part either but it’s true that it is. Although chess is important in the book, it is entirely a coincidence that there are 64 chapters in the book, the same number of chapters as there are squares on a chessboard.
Q. Did you consciously realize that when you wrote chapter 64 or did it¢â‚¬¦
A. I didn’t realize that until I was doing an interview actually.
Q. Really. Somebody brought it up.
A. Right at the beginning, a very early interview, for publicity reasons, about the
book. That was the first time I’d thought about the fact that there are 64 chapters.
Q. Tell me about the Garland family.
A. Well, the Garlands are a family that came to me as a fictional idea a good 20
years ago, though it took me awhile to come up with a book to write about them. They came to me when I was living in Washington in the early 1980s. And my notion was that it would be fun to write a novel about some of these old East Coast African-American families that had been college educated and professional for generations. They tend to be socially conservative families. They’ve built a life there. For a while was lived almost entirely separate institutions. It’s not quite that way now. They didn’t have a lot of money. And I had the idea of the patriarch, the emperor of the book, the father who dies at the beginning, a rather conservative black judge who would have tried for a seat on the Supreme Court and failed in a scandal. That was the first character to come to me. And the other characters, members of his family, began to suggest themselves as I began to try to understand exactly how his family would look. And that was the family. And a lot of the time was spent trying to find a story that would allow the family to speak.
Q. Hm. The issue of race is a profoundly present-a profound presence in this
Book. And-and you see this character, Misha, who I’d like you to tell us more about, and-and part of what he is dealing with in his own life is trying to understand what he thinks about that issue and those issues. And he-he talks about the darker nation. And he has this “seeing red” that happens when he begins to get in these paradigms about black versus white and so forth.
A. Well, Misha is a law professor. He’s black, he’s well-educated, he’s been
very successful. But as he tries to move in an integrated world, he’s constantly faced with situations in which he wonders what people are thinking about him.
Q. Yeah.
A. He gets angry a lot and he suppresses his anger, which is when he begins to
“see red,” as you so accurately put it. A lot of the dilemmas he faces, a lot of the situations he faces, are situations that I know a lot of black professionals face. A lot of the questions he raises, a lot of the suspicions he has are suspicions and questions I know a lot of black professionals have. And I raise them in the book not so much to say that the people who have these fears and worries are right, but just to suggest that the work of integration has a long way to go, because there are still these gulfs between the ways that different races often look at the same situation.
Q. How have people within the African-American community reacted to the way
you treated that issue in this book?
A. Well, the reactions that I know of have been positive, because I guess the
thing about writing a novel is the people who like it who tend to get in touch with you or come to the readings. I’m sure there are maybe some people who like it less, but I’ve found the reaction in the African-American community to be not just positive but enthusiastic. And even a lot of affection for the book and for the characters and for the treatment of these issues, as well.
Q. Now, Misha is-tell us about who he is, his profession, what he is and-and-and
his relationship with his wife.
A. Misha, whose-his name is Talcott–Misha is his nickname–the nickname is
explained later on in the book, his wife is Kimberly, or Kimmer is her nickname. Everyone in the book seems to have a nickname. They’re both highly ambitious professionals. They live in a small town in New England. He’s a law professor, she’s a lawyer. She’s a partner in a law firm. He tends to like life to be placid and things to go along in a predictable way. She likes life to be exciting. At the time that the novel opens, she is jockeying to become a Federal judge. There’s a vacancy on the Court of Appeals
Q. Right.
A. ¢€œand she’s trying to get it. That’s one thing that ends up shaking up the
placidity of Misha’s life. The other thing that shakes it up is the death of his father and the mystery that surrounds that death, a mystery into which Misha is drawn almost kicking and screaming.
Q. Yeah. Because, interestingly enough, we-we get introduced to Addison, his
brother, who’s a talk show host and a New Ager. We get introduced to Mariah, who is a sister drawn to the Conspiracy Theory, highly motivated to try to figure out what happened with the father.
A. Yeah.
Q. Meanwhile, Misha, as you say, is dragged into this. He doesn’t want to get
into it but he does a message from-from an aunt I think it was who says that Alma. Is that her name–that your job is to take care of the family in this situation.
A. You know, the thing is that my idea here, in part, was that we read about all
these scandals that happen to people
Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œwhere they fall from grace, in effect. We don’t very much at all know what
happens to their families. And my notion was that Misha and his siblings, Addison and Mariah, all have been affected in different ways by this scandal that brought their father down. And you see it. Mariah flees. She was a journalist, but she decided to marry a rich man and go take care of the kids, just not have much contact with the world. The older brother becomes a talk show host. He says, he’s every bit as politically liberal as the father is polemically conservative. And Misha retreats into a kind of almost aggressive moderation.
Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. He’s determined he won’t take positions on any-on any issue. And each of
them, in different ways, has to deal with not only the mystery of what happened to the father at his death, but also questions about what were the real details of the scandal that drove the bench.
Q. Yeah.
A. Something none of them has wanted to face until now.
Q. Yeah.
And we’re going to pick up with some comments about that coming up
right after this. And we’re barely scratching the surface here. You’re simply going to have to go out and get a copy of the book, The Emperor of Ocean Park. It’s published by Knopf. It is available at your local bookstores. We’ll be back with more after this. Don’t go away.
(Break.)
This is Dick Staub back with you. Our guest is Dr. Stephen Carter. His book is The Emperor of Ocean Park, one of those books that just makes you want to get away for awhile and get a chance to-to read the whole thing, which I got a chance to do because I was on vacation and was able to set aside some good blocks of time and really get into this book. You’re drawn not only to the characters, you’re drawn to the fact that there are some questions that begin to nag at you. There are some issues that-that, almost like Misha was drawn into them and then found them irrepressibly interesting. That happens to the reader. But also the-the philosophical asides that-that become an interesting kind of provocative part. I was telling Dr. Carter that I’ve never, in reading fiction, written notes in the back of a book before. But if you look at my own copy of the book, you’ll see I started making a list of all these different kind of philosophical little issues and-and questions and little quips because I wanted to go back and think about them more later, but I didn’t want to get bogged down and-and get out of the flow of the story. You talked just before the break about the-the scandal of the Judge’s being unable to pursue his Supreme Court nomination and a big part of that scandal was Uncle Jack Ziegler, who was not totally clear to anybody what all he’s done, but he seems like a bad guy.
A. Well, Jack Ziegler was kind of a fun character, also one of the very early
characters to occur to me. He was the Judge’s college roommate and they’d always been close. And during the Judge’s confirmation hearings it came out that he had spent time with Jack Ziegler when Jack Ziegler was awaiting trial in a variety of offenses, including murder, and may even have had contact with him when he was a fugitive from justice. Ziegler had once worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, among other things, and has been charged with, accused of a lot of crimes over the years. We learn more about him as the book goes on. I don’t want to say too much now except to say that that was the surface scandal that brought him down. The family members had always been reluctant to press more deeply to try to understand if the Judge really did anything wrong
Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. ¢€œor if he was simply trying to comfort an old friend.
Q. Well, and their initial impulses were different. They had differing views of
what had happened.
A. Well, in the book, the narrator, Misha, tells us that he believed his father was
innocent until he read Bob Woodward’s best-selling book which, of course, I invented for the purpose of the narrative. But he said that Bob Woodward’s book persuaded him that maybe his father had something to hide after all.
Q. Now, this phrase “the arrangements” is-is throughout the whole book. And
again, without giving away what-what that means exactly, it-it’s kind of the thing that-that Misha finds he’s got to get resolved.
A. He discovers that a lot of people are looking for “the arrangements,” that
there’s some set of arrangements. He doesn’t know what it is that his father left in the case of his death. And Misha can’t understand, number one, why his father would have expected him to know anything. Why wouldn’t he have-have left whatever it was to the oldest son, Addison, who was also the father’s favorite. He also has no idea what his father had in mind, what it is he’s supposed to do. And yet it’s plain to me there are plenty of people including perhaps Jack Ziegler who are quite certain that Misha knows exactly what his father had in mind and they simply want to know. So part of the dramatic tension of the book is driven by Misha having to find these “arrangements” that everybody thinks he already knows.
Q. There’s-there’s so many different aspects to this. There’s a sister that had
died early on in life. There was a scrapbook that the father kept that Misha finds right after the father’s death that catalogs articles about the death. I think she was 15 years old. It was in an automobile accident. The two settings of the book. We-we find ourselves going back and forth between Elm Harbor, which is a-a university town and the Cape, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard. So you’ve got some rather interesting settings going on, and you also are very quick to say that-that Elm Park is not-is not a simulation of the city where you work, Yale and the professors. Because you’ve got a lot-a lot of the interesting stuff is about what’s happening in law school education today and what law school students are about. And those are very, very interesting asides. And that’s got to be a lot of provocative conversation with your colleagues and students back home.
A. I really enjoyed writing the law school scenes, but they were also difficult for
me because I really had to go out of my way to try to make sure that none of the various idiosyncrasies or personality quirks that my invented characters had would match anyone at Yale Law School. You know, no matter how many times I-I cry out in denial, I know there are people out there around New Haven and elsewhere saying, now, who is this professor supposed to be?
Q. Yeah, exactly.
A. And I really didn’t model any of them on anybody. There’s only one
character in the book who’s consciously modeled on anybody real. And even that’s only semi-modeled. That’s-there’s a chess club that occurs-comes later on in the book. I don’t want to say why. But the proprietor of that chess club does roll together a number of, let’s say, quirks, of a number of chess players and denizens of chess clubs I’ve known over the years.
Q. Really. Interesting. Because he was a very interesting character.
A. Well, I hope he was a memorable one.
Q. Memorable character. The whole story is laid on¢â‚¬¦ And I like what you said
about when a scandal hits you wanted to know what happens to the family because it’s not like this is the only issue that Misha is dealing with. He’s got-there’s some controversy within his-his university setting and his job. His marriage. His wife is both ambitious about this-this possible appointment in her career but she’s also he suspects that she’s involved with someone at work. So he’s got a marriage thing going on. He’s a father. He’s got a parenting thing going on. He-he’s facing the death of his-he’s trying to deal with the death of his father, with all the mixed emotions he has about that. And-and in the midst of all that he’s now reconnecting with a family, not unlike a lot of families would, with people that they’ve kind of avoided. Sister and brother that, you know, yeah, they’re my sister and brother but we’re in different places. So it’s a multi-dimensional set of issues that this-this poor guy is dealing with, all the while as you said he’s worked very hard at being kind of this-this balanced guy and suddenly he’s ending up having accusations be made of him that previously would have only fit his brother and sister.
A. Yeah. Misha is living a complicated life, but it’s interesting that he’s worked
so hard to keep life placid, but he really has not succeded in that. Some-what he’s really succeeded in doing is sweeping a lot of things under the rug, I think, in life so that when things begin to come to the surface, when problems begin to bubble up, a lot of them are problems that are coming up precisely because he hadn’t dealt with them for so long.
Q. Yeah.
A. You mentioned that he has a difficult marriage, which he does, but it becomes
clear to us as readers over the course of the book that although Misha thinks he’s been a good husband and Kimmer a bad wife, that there are many aspects of the marriage that he has not tended to as perhaps he should have.
Q. Yeah, absolutely. Well, and when he goes to pastor for advice on what to do
about suspicions about his wife, the pastor hits him very hard with the fact that-that he had some things in his relationship with his wife prior to their marriage that-that it-it’s¢â‚¬¦ Here’s what I liked. The messiness and real stuff going on in all of this life is laid in the life of someone who, you say, as you said, is a spiritual seeker. And to me, the-the underlying-one of the underlying themes that comes through in the book actually has to do with gospel, that being on a spiritual journey and path does not mean that everything has come together. There is still messiness, and it’s everywhere in this book.
A. Well, I-I think that’s right. And I think that there’s a messiness that we’re
trying to escape from as we seek God, but there’s also the fact that even when we find God that we still have messiness to deal with.
Q. Absolutely.
A. And Misha goes through both of those transitions in the book.
Well, ladies and gentlemen. We’ve just scratched the surface of what is a
wonderful read. You’re hearing it from everybody. The reviews are saying it. You’ve gotten a chance to hear a little bit of Dr. Stephen Carter yourself. Now you just go out and get the book. It is The Emperor of Ocean Park. It’s published by Knopf. It’s available at your local bookstores. And set aside a little bit of time to really get into this thing because you’re not going to drop it once you get into it. This is Dick Staub. Thank you for being with me. We’ll be back with more right after this. Don’t go away.

Posted in DS Interview, Staublog in October 27, 2003 by | No Comments »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

More from Staublog