US author Douglas Kennedy: We've turned into a bunch of conservative idiots
US novelist Douglas Kennedy poses for photographs during an interview in Paris, France, 04 July 2019. EFE/EPA/IAN LANGSDON
By María D. Valderrama
Paris Jul 12 (efe-epa).- Douglas Kennedy is one of the best selling American novelists in France, where he spends much of his life, putting him a comfortable 6,000km away from home to criticize politics and the wave of conservatism engulfing the United States.
A New Yorker who for the last four decades has split his time between Paris, Berlin and London, Kennedy is an avowed social democrat and a loquacious political speaker, especially when it comes to all things American
His latest novel, "The Great Wide Open" (Penguin, 2019), tells the story of a young editor Alice Burns in 1980s New York in the times of excess under the Ronald Reagan era as she delves into tales of family life at a time when her own family has collapsed. It has just been released in Spanish, under the title "La sinfonia del azar" (Editorial Arpa).
Question: So, you're like the opposite of that small-town America?
Answer: The fact of the matter is when I look at my generation of Americans, and the book is all about my generation of Americans, we've turned into a really conservative bunch of idiots haven't we? I was thinking about this the other day. In relation to the novel and just in relation to the fact that I find right now so disappointing and so hard to kind of get my head around.
I grew up at a time when there was change. And the book is all about that period. Right after the 60s. You know I was a teenager at the end of the 60s, in 68 I was 13.
In terms of literature, it was an extremely exciting and changing time. And then basically there was this big white reaction against it which started with Reagan and the book is interesting because it follows that period from Nixon through Carter into Reagan with Ford briefly in there and Reagan has turned out to be the most influential president in America since Franklin Roosevelt.
Q: Do you think Donald Trump is a result of Reagan?
A: Oh yeah, very much. I really do.
Q: So why are we here now?
A: Fundamentally I think there are two Americas and we hate each other.
The book basically talks about that moment in America when the culture wars began, which was the era of Nixon. And so the family, the Burnses, is — I don't want to use them as a direct mirror, I don't like that, it's a little too obvious — but they're living through this enormous change and they're basically going through a kind of, experientially, very much the same things that were going on at the time.
I mean the father is an old Irish Catholic working class hard-ass who's made good and is in the CIA like my father was. Like my father was. That is my day.
Q: So your dad (a former CIA agent involved in the coup d'état to install Augusto Pinochet in Chile) would call you a communist?
A: I think I'm what a European would call a social democrat and my father would definitely call me a red.
My biggest regret was I never thought Sanders could win in '16 and Hillary turned out to be the wrong candidate. You know. But look what we've got.
And we're getting into a terribly dark time. I think it will end eventually.
Q: The dark time or the world?
A: I think the cycle will change. I do think there be a reverse. But I think it's going to take time or it might take a cataclysm and it might take a huge economic downturn or a war for that matter for it to change.
Q: Is there much of you in Alice Burns?
A: There is and there isn't. There are certain things.
We went to the same university, also to Ireland to Trinity College. The rest is all invention. But the parents are very close to mine and my mother did get into real estate but was never successful unlike Alice's mother who becomes very successful.
My father was in the CIA and he was in Chile and he was very much implicated in the coup against Allende which I only found out about later which was interesting.
Q: How did you learn about that?
A: He took me out the night two years after it happened the night before I went off to university in Dublin. We went out to a Japanese restaurant in New York.
Father and son passing back and forth a packet of cigarettes and smoking and my father began to tell the story and he said, you know, you do understand why I've been in South America so much and also why when you were very young I was in Haiti and I was also in Algeria.
I said yeah, you run mines he said well that's true but I have this other job and it turned out he was an agent of the CIA and he was sleeping with the daughter of a member of a Pinochet's inner circle.
Q: He told you this that same night?
A: Yes, I was 19. Amazing.
I think that was the night I became a novelist. EFE-EPA