A.M. Homes

What draws me to family… if I were a psychiatrist, I’d say an enormous amount of unresolved personal material. If I were an anthropologist, I’d say families are at the root of social structures – they shape our identity, our belief systems – and so I find them fascinating. Also, I love the idea that families have narratives that are essentially the family story that is passed along generation to generation – and the rifts start when people question the story.

I thought a lot about Nixon’s personal history and the changes in America during his lifetime and tried to craft stories, which I thought reflected some of his personal history but also the backdrop of a changing America. Nixon grew up in a strict Quaker family. The idea of the American Dream, of hard work and not much fun, was ingrained in Nixon as a child, but curiously so was a love of music. Nixon himself was a pretty good piano player. So it’s the contradictions that interest me, as I think we all have them.

Philip Galanes makes his debut with a novel that is both heartbreaking and deftly comic, the story of a young man struggling with his most primitive desires–wanting and needing. It is a novel about the complex relationships between parents and children, a story of loss and of our unrelenting need for acknowledgment, to be seen as who we are. And in the end it is simply a love story for our time.

I think about how truly interesting and odd it is that when a woman marries, traditionally she loses her name, becoming absorbed by the husband’s family name – she is in effect lost, evaporated from all records under her maiden name. I finally understand the anger behind feminism – the idea that as a woman you are property to be conveyed between your father and your husband, but never an individual who exists independently. And on the flip side, it is also one of the few ways one can legitimately get lost – no one questions it.

I really don’t watch enough TV to know about the impact. In my experience as a TV writer, I would say is the exact opposite – it’s very constricted, all having to conform to a form. My sense of fiction writing is not to think about rules but to be driven by the characters and their stories. I often ask myself what’s at risk here, who needs what, and how are they going to get it. There has to be a reason for the reader to stop living their own life and start reading your book.

The struggle is how to write optimistically when the world we’re living in is not inherently optimistic. I love the idea of the family from the most Norman Rockwell version to Norman Bates. Without family, we have very little – it is the most basic social structure. So yes I suppose I wanted to write a hopeful book about the evolution of the family.

Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from.