In my novel, In the City of Shy Hunters
, there were so many dead friends to write about. There's a line in Shy Hunters
: "It's the responsibility of the survivor to tell the story." As I was writing the book, I felt the wisdom of that line very keenly. And since I was the one responsible, I had to get the story right. In order to get the story right, I had to go back to the Manhattan of the '80s and tell everything I knew that was true about those days, everything that was true about that place. I really became obsessed by it. For many people, the story of In the City of Shy Hunters
is just too harsh and too real. There is so much death and it doesn't let up. But that's the way it was for me. Everyone was dying and I knew I was sick and nowhere could I find redemption. In many of my books, I go to nature to soften the blows of the hard story I'm telling. But in Manhattan, there was no nature. Even Central Park was designer nature. So there was no respite. The widespread affliction, the calamity, wasn't just death. The epidemic was also the fear of death. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. That's what a plague is.
In Now Is the Hour, the character of George Sereno was based on a Native American man I baled hay with one summer. At the end of Now Is the Hour, the character of George and the narrator become lovers and drive off into the sunset. I was a little concerned about the happy ending — in the sense that perhaps I was creating a "feel good" book. But I was also concerned because the "real" man I'd baled hay with had killed himself. The concern was, Do I have the right to retell this man's story with a different ending? I remember the writing moment when I decided not to end the life of my invented character. I was at a point in the story where I could've had George, out of fear and desperation, choose to kill himself, the way the man I knew had. But I chose a happier ending. I guess I somehow hoped that by writing a happier ending, perhaps in some way I could dispel some of the suffering of the real man. I know that is me playing God. But I am God in my novels, so I decided to give the invented man the hope of a future the real man didn't have.
In I Loved You More, the character of Hank is based on a good friend of mine. My friend died in 2008 and we hadn't spoken in seven years. In many ways I Loved You More is an open love letter to him. And I really loved writing this love letter. I loved re-creating my friend as a character. Of course, almost immediately in the writing, the character I created wasn't my friend at all. He was my invention of my friend. But then I really came to love my invented character. Maybe even more than I loved my friend, but I don't think so. There were so many ways this love letter was wonderful. Mostly, I had the opportunity to remember — to actually go back to places and events and make myself be present in them and go through them again. There's something so strange about fiction, telling the lie. The lie actually brought me back to times and events and places I had totally forgotten. Ultimately, by telling this story, I came to understand so much that I would never have understood about my friend, about us, had I not written the story. And on my part, so much was forgiven. When you forgive, you lay your burden down. You don't have to carry it anymore. And by writing this love letter, somehow there is also the hope that my dead friend can lay down his burden too.