I had a call from a friend of mine. He said, “I found one of your manuscripts.” (This is a friend to whom I’ve given early drafts of my work.)
“Did you, Peter?” I coaxed.
“Yes, and I think it’s very good indeed.”
“In what way?”
“Well, it depicts the American family in a way that’s both real and stimulating.”
Typical American Family?
I thought: I haven’t written anything about the American family. He must be looking at someone else’s manuscript.
“Are you sure it’s mine, Peter?”
“Yes, it’s Sable Shadow and The Presence.”
So, I thought, he must have picked it up again three or four years after I sent it to him.
“Do you want it back?”
“No that’s fine, Peter. You can keep it.”
This incident got me thinking about that particular novel. It isn’t really about the American family. Rather, it’s the story of one man’s struggle with good and evil, success and failure. But at the same time it is populated with characters, all of whom are American, and who make up his extended family. His mother is a rather distant woman, more concerned with her social life than with her children. Henry’s father is an alcoholic who has failed in his career ambitions, and while seemingly remote from his children is intensely proud of them. Henry’s sister is bright, aggressive and with all the self-confidence that Henry lacks.
Henry’s wife, a psychologist, is also unsure of herself, but she places all her confidence in her husband. Their children are William and Helen. William is adored by his father, and represents ‘all that I wish I could have been’ in a reflection of the relationship between Henry and his father. Helen is a blonde gay beauty who goes through the agonies of coming out to her parents and finding unexpected acceptance.
Henry has two domineering grandfathers: one very wealthy who manages to lose it all, and the other an autocrat who dedicates himself and his family to his alma mater, Notre Dame.
Apart from the family there are several positive role models for Henry and two malignant influences. These two are the last CEO of the corporation for which Henry works, and a female employee who has sexual designs on Henry.
Putting these characters together was not a difficult task. They seemed to come alive on the page. Perhaps this process was facilitated by similar people and relationships I have experienced, though the novel is not autobiographical – even though it is told in the first person.