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I think Frank likes people generally and at the same time he requires a fair amount of anonymous privacy.
He seems very male to me. Is Frank emblematic of American manhood as so many have seen him?
He's emblematic of nothing.
To me he seems like such an insight into contemporary masculinity in general and that maybe men are more tortured than they let on?
I think all of those generalizations are a lot of hooey as my father used to say.
So you can't look at Frank as part of the times we live in and relate that to his gender?
No. I wouldn't do it about you either. I wouldn't do it about my wife. I wouldn't do it about any female or about any male. I just don't make gender-based generalizations, ever. I think they are destructive to our ability to see people as who they are.
Is that because you're a writer or because you're a man?
I'm getting myself deeper into this hole...
You won't give up on it, will you? Because I'm a human being.
You write a great deal about money and class, and real estate. Are those the keys to understanding Americans now?
No, but then that would require another generalization.
I just don't ever think in those terms. I never think in terms that can let me answer those questions in the affirmative. I only, only, only deal in specifics. I only deal in individual instances in individual characters in individual thoughts. What the reader does with them and how the reader makes use of them, I hope will be instructive. But if somebody wants to see Frank, for instance, as an Everyman -- I wouldn't say that ever, but a reader might. But you have to streamline some of the logic of the book and chop some of it too.
No, I don't think that there is some key that we're just not finding to understanding Americans at this particular time. I think fiction, like history, is best understood as a series of particulars, not generalizations.
You've said Frank is not someone you'd want to write about again. But do you ever escape someone you've thought about for so long?
I will probably keep bumping into lines that I write or phrases that I say or hear that I realize I could foist onto a character that would be Frank. I think that will probably go on happening to me after such a long history with him.
Actually I hope so.
You obviously think a lot about greed and real estate and America. Living part-time in New Orleans, what are your thoughts about that city's future in that regard?
I think that city will never be what it was. It might become something that we would like, but it's not going to be what it was again. And it is probably just because of governmental entropy and misfeasance. Many of those people who were washed out of their homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, for instance, will not come back. And I don't think that there's a strong motive in the government, in the upper class of New Orleanians -- the Republican plutocrats -- I don't think there's a strong urge to have those people come back. I think they think that New Orleans can get along just fine and become whatever they want it to be without the help of those individuals whose lives were there and now are gone.
Does that depress you, to think that it will be a different city than the one you're used to?
I feel mostly the loss of the people made to leave and who won't be allowed to come back. The city would have changed anyway. It would have gone on to become something different. Whether or not it would have become the little Las Vegas I think that many city fathers wanted it to become, I doubt. But it would have gone on changing.
And who's to say that somebody won't make the best out of these regrettable circumstances? But it won't be the best for the people who got pushed out. It might be the best for the people who are permitted to stay.
Your writing is so associated with introspective upper-middle-class malaise ...
I wrote all kinds of other books, too, that are set in Montana that are not about that at all.
But I am thinking specifically about The Lay of the Land and the two previous books, in those terms ...
I see the wider picture [laughs].
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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