When I studied The Long Goodbye—and I just love Philip Marlowe, and he's just the most wonderful character ever—one of the things I realized was that Philip Marlowe causes all of his own problems. He could be a successful private detective. He's had plenty of offers from people to pay him a lot better than he gets paid. And yet he always kind of bets on the wrong horse. He always gets involved with people who, if he were sane, he wouldn't get involved with.
So I started to see that, as ridiculous as this sounds, the motor for the plot is Marlowe's codependence: his interest and willingness to get involved with people that are fuck-ups and losers.
And one of the things that fascinates me about recovery, recovery as I've seen it, is that you shouldn't care about a lot of these people in AA. You shouldn't care about them the way that you care about them. They're not good horses to bet on. Their recovery is unlikely. The fact that they're ever going to become productive citizens is unlikely. And that's what to me is so heroic and wonderful about it: these are the lost causes, and they really are lost causes.
In The Long Goodbye, all the problems begin when Philip Marlowe decides to defend this drunk named Terry Lennox. Terry is really an asshole—he's a problem. And yet the heroism is that Marlowe takes him on even though he is a problem. Marlowe's not trying to end apartheid or anything—he's defending this guy who's a pain in the ass.
It seems like there's a strong theme in your writing about what it means to be a good man. It's a natural fascination, but you make it more explicit than some. Where does this fascination come from, for you?
It feels like what I personally wake up with every morning. I'm six-foot-three-inches tall, over 200 pounds, and I'm from an Irish-Catholic background. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I think I look like the face of patriarchy in America. I think, "What must people see when they see me?"
But that's not who I feel like. I feel like I grew up in the '70s and over-identified with my mother and believe in feminism and all the other things that came out of my time. And yet I also am aware of the power, beauty, productivity, and effectiveness of, for lack of a better word, the masculine principle in American society. I love John Wayne. I love crime novels. I haven't met an Elmore Leonard novel that I didn't love. I loved watching Justified on TV. All that stuff is profoundly beautiful and meaningful to me, and yet I also know how problematic it is. I'm very aware of how problematic a figure like John Wayne is, and I'm very aware of how problematic a figure like Randy Chalmers, my hero, is.
For me, getting up in the morning is an act of reconciling the paradox of what it is to be a man in America. And it's not merely interesting: It's a matter of saving your life.
For example: Randy. I love Randy so much, and I love men like Randy who have figured out a way to negotiate their own impulses toward violence. Part of what I love about him is that he makes terrible mistakes and then he has to figure out how to live in the aftermath of his terrible mistakes.