By Leslie Lindsay
Debut thriller about a man grappling with his sense of self after his life spirals out of control.
~WEEKEND READING|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
Ani Katz will have readers on edge the entire time they are immersed in her riveting debut, A GOOD MAN (Penguin Books Original, January 14 2020). Katz plays with the dysfunctional family dynamic, an unstable/unreliable male narrator, and the picture-perfect family. Thomas Martin is a devoted family man with a beautiful wife, a sweet daughter at a private school, a home on Long Island, a job as an ad man. He has an eccentric family of origin he’s running from–but sheltering–at the same time. In a sense, A GOOD MAN is a fairy tale, complete with flittering glimmers of dysfunction.
Thomas Martin is a devoted family man with an enviable life: a beautiful wife and daughter, a well-appointed home on Long Island, a job at a prestigious Manhattan advertising firm. He’s also a devoted brother and son, yet this family of origin is disturbingly sheltered.
What happens when Thomas’s life—and ego—are rocked to their core? Through a series of unfortunate events, one seemingly right after another, his entire world devolves. He becomes a bit unhinged. Things unravel. He’s telling his story, but can he be trusted? Tension and discomfort abound in A GOOD MAN. There’s a palpable sense of impending doom, and I wondered just how much was real, how much a figment of his imagination, a defense mechanism, a form of coping.
That said, some events may be perceived differently by different readers. Some triggers in terms of family dynamics, incest, abuse. Is Thomas a monster? A hero? Something in between? Is he simply a good man?
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Ani Katz to the author interview series.
Ani, wow. What a deliciously dark tale. I always think we’re sort of haunted into a story. What was the driving force for you in A GOOD MAN? Were you inspired by an event, a character? Something else?
Thank you! The very first spark for the idea for A GOOD MAN came from a similar tragedy that happened several decades ago in the extended family of a close friend of mine. Initially, I thought that I would use that story as part of a multigenerational family saga, but ultimately I couldn’t really justify that choice. I had become increasingly aware of this frustrating trend in contemporary literature, especially in true-crime inspired fiction, where something really shocking and gruesome happens, but the reader is kept at a safe distance, and isn’t forced to question their consumption of those kinds of stories. But I kept thinking about men who commit intimate violence against their loved ones, and why those stories were so compelling and disturbing to me. I decided that if I wanted to explore this kind of story I had get inside that voice, and that I would have to force my readers to come along for the ride.
“Ani Katz is a brilliant writer. I sat down to read A GOOD MAN and didn’t move until I’d finished it. This is a spellbinding work of psychologically potent art. I can’t wait to read what she does next. I loved this book.”
Caroline Kepnes, author of You
You wrote A GOOD MAN solely from the male POV—Thomas’s. And you do it so well. Yet, you’re a woman. What kind of exercises—or research—did you do to understand Thomas—the male ego, his world, and other pieces of making his voice come to life?
Writing from a man’s point of view — and Thomas’s particular point of view — was not as difficult as I initially thought it would be, and it got easier as I got deeper into the writing process. I struggled most when I first started, when I felt I had to adopt a more obviously repulsive voice so that readers didn’t find Thomas too sympathetic. But as I kept going, I realized that approach didn’t make any sense. Thomas only works as a character if he’s familiar and understandable; the reader won’t stick with him otherwise.
My research was multifaceted: I read a lot of relevant books, including Emmanuel Carrère’s The Adversary (a true crime memoir about the case of Jean-Claude Romand, a man who for nearly two decades pretended to be a respected doctor before his lies came to light, leading him to murder his family in 1993), Joe McGinniss’ Fatal Vision (an account of the trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, an army physician found guilty of slaughtering his pregnant wife and two young daughters in 1970), and Errol Morris’ A Wilderness of Error, which is a critique of McGinniss’ book. I also read some great pieces of longform journalism about various cases of men who had committed acts of violence against their families, and spent a lot of time on men’s rights blogs and other websites that promote traditional masculinity in order to absorb their ways of speaking about women, marriage, and family.
In the end, embodying Thomas’s voice felt almost natural. Whenever I got stuck, I would return to the same guiding questions I always keep in mind when writing a character: Who do I know who’s like this, and what would they do or say in this situation? What fears, desires, insecurities, and anxieties do I myself share with this character? Since so many aspects of Thomas’s mindset are so pervasive in our culture, those qualities became easy to access on the page.
What did you find most challenging as you wrote? How did you reconcile those challenges?
The entire premise of this novel was fairly risky, and I knew it would be tough to pull off. Though in some ways I found it surprisingly easy to capture Thomas’s voice, it was still hard to thread the needle of the unreliable narrator, specifically how to show the slippage between Thomas’s perceptions of reality and the perceptions of others without making it too gimmicky. Though I’d purposely avoided it for the majority of my drafting process because I knew it would sap any faith I had in my own writing abilities, I went back to Lolita, which is such a master class in how to show those moments when the mask comes off to reveal the reality of abuse without ever rupturing the narrator’s control.
I also spent several weeks struggling with the ending of A GOOD MAN; I knew the entire novel would fail if I couldn’t nail the final act. I had to figure out how to handle it unflinchingly, looking directly and plainly at what happens without resorting to gratuitous or graphic violence. I passed a lot of nights lying awake in bed trying to figure it out from a craft perspective, just thinking it through. Then, even once I’d figured it out, I still wouldn’t be able to sleep because I was so troubled by what I’d just invented.
Thomas works in advertising and lives on the picture-perfect north shore of Long Island. How might this story have been different if it was set, in say, Boise, Idaho? Would it be different? Was the setting intentional on your part?
The setting was very intentional for a few reasons. For one, it comes back to the adage of writing what you know: I grew up in Bay Shore, on the South Shore of Long Island, so it’s a place I’ve thought about a lot. I was also interested in how suburban Long Island represents such wildly different things to different people. It’s a place of both enormous wealth and serious poverty, sometimes side by side in the same town. It’s idealized as a place that’s outside the city but also close enough to commute, but it can also be very provincial and isolating. Many families settle there because the conventional white American view is that the suburbs are “safer” than the city, but Long Island has also been the site of brutal violence, like the Gilgo Beach murders of sex workers, as well as anti-immigrant hate crimes. If you’re white and affluent, it’s a place of privilege; even though we’re in deep blue New York State, many parts of Long Island can be very culturally and fiscally conservative, and vote Republican most of the time. This setting is an important layer of Thomas’s psyche. He craves the kind of picture-perfect life that Long Island seems to promise, but as one discovers, there’s rot under the facade.
Can you tell us a little about why Thomas references operas so frequently in A GOOD MAN? Does it have something to do with comedy and tragedy? The hero’s journey? Another purpose?
Thomas uses his extensive knowledge of opera to gild and sugarcoat the telling of his story. Being a connoisseur is integral to his sense of self as a cultured, upwardly mobile person, and the specific works that he references are often convenient rhetorical crutches that help him explain away his behavior. Tannhauser, especially, is all about a man who gains absolution through the destruction of a selfless, pure woman. Opera also signals a link between Thomas and his abusive father, who was the other notable connoisseur in the family. Overall, I think that opera is a really fitting medium for this story; it’s so steeped in melodrama, with such life-and-death stakes.
Thomas is obsessed with telling his story. What’s obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Like many people, I’m generally obsessed with geo-politics, especially the Democratic primary. I’m also a third grade teacher, so on any given weekday the emotional and intellectual lives of a bunch of eight and nine year olds take up most of my headspace. I’ve found it very helpful to have a day job that’s connected to reading and writing but that doesn’t require me to sit at a desk all day writing what someone else wants me to write. Working with children to help them develop their own literary lives re-energizes me, and inspires me to do my own work in my (admittedly too infrequent) free time.
Ani, this has been so insightful and intriguing. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything else I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
I think this covers it. Thank you!
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, L.Lindsay. Give me a follow for more like this, and other bookish news @leslielindsay1
For more information, to connect with Ani Katz via social media, or to purchase a copy of A GOOD MAN, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ani Katz is a writer, photographer, and teacher. She was born and raised on the South Shore of Long Island, New York, and holds an MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Yale. She lives in Brooklyn.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
I hope you do!
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
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Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020 and the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available this spring. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author photo courtesy of PRH and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, L.Lindsay. Give me a follow for more like this, and other bookish news @leslielindsay1]