Q&A with Craig Nova: Double Solitaire
Interviewer: In Double Solitaire, Los Angeles seems to be one of the characters in the book. Was this intentional?
CN: As in almost all aspects of writing a novel, everything is discovered as the pages pile up. And, yes, after a certain point the city seemed to exert its presence. Or its mood seemed to suggest the ominous. In the book Los Angeles began to exist as though it was making the events in the book possible.
Interviewer: How did that happen?
CN: The first thing is that I grew up there. The city was the physical manifestation of what we mean by cognitive dissonance. For instance, the place had a lovely climate, and a large part of it seemed glamorous, since the studios were there and of course movie stars. It seemed, in many ways to be a place where everything was possible.
But underneath that was a world of viciousness, whether in crime, the pornography mills in the valley, drugs, the awareness of the corruption that goes along with fame, snobbery of a particularly California variety, which is one based on fame and new money, not to mention Los Angeles has a keen sense of the artificial. No one really was what they seemed to be, and behind that falseness lurked, or so I thought, endless possibilities for the ominous.
Interviewer: You grew up some time ago and then went to Berkeley and Columbia. This means, of course, that you got away pretty fast. Do you think Los Angeles has changed, or the aspect you write about in Double Solitaire has changed?
CN: Not at all. The essence of Los Angeles is precisely the same, since the subjects I am interested in are even more intense than they were when I went to Hollywood High. And, of course, I go back to California from time to time. But here is what is the same. The nature of power, how it is used in Los Angeles, the immunity that fame so causally assumes for itself, the way it corrupts, the exploitation of almost everyone who is part of the fame business or who wants to be in the fame business. The essence of the ominous, as far as I’m concerned, is the difference between how some place appears and how it really is.
And it is the same now, in that its essence is what it was when I was growing up. You know, when I raced movie stars on Mulholland drive, or when I went trick or treating at their houses, or more troubling, when I saw the endless numbers of young women and young men who had come to Los Angeles to find a way into the movie business. 99.99 percent of them don’t make it. So what happens to them?
Interviewer: It seems as though you have added an anti-Los Angeles. What is that?
CN: Paris. The idea is that Paris is as far away from Los Angeles as you can get, not just geographically but from the point of view of style, elegance, politeness, and beauty. Paris is glamorous in a way that Los Angeles would like to be when it grows up.
Don’t get me wrong. Paris and France for that matter have many problems, but part of Paris is still beautiful and polite in a way that eludes Los Angeles and the US. It is a matter of sensibility, which is one of the hardest things to describe.
Interviewer: Why did you call this book Double Solitaire?
CN: It seemed like a way to suggest the intense loneliness of a man whose job it is to make sure some scandals don’t happen or aren’t discovered. He lives alone, can’t talk about his work, spends his time keeping secrets, and yet, underneath it all, he is a moral man. Or, to put it more precisely, the book is about the emergence of this moral man.
Interviewer: If you had to say one thing that a novel is about, what would it be?
CN: I think that almost all human beings know, in some deep place, the difference between right and wrong, and often a novelist explores this fact, or how someone, either a character or the novelist himself, by telling a story, discovers the truth of this knowledge of right and wrong with more precision. In fact, I tried in Double Solitaire to show this awakening or this recognition.
Interviewer: So, you are saying that Double Solitaire is an account of a rebirth.
CN: You could put it that way. Surely, it is an account of a man who sees things he just can’t tolerate anymore.
Interviewer: How does this happen, or what is the event that makes this possible?
CN: Love. The main character falls in love with a woman. I think that one of the most powerful aspects of falling in love, and I think this does happen, is how the person who has fallen in love wants to be perceived. In this case, Farrell, the main character, is desperate for the woman he falls in love with to think of him in an admiring way, at least along moral or ethical lines. The last thing in the world he wants is contempt from the woman he loves.
And, you know, I think this is true for everyone who falls in love, men, women, people of any persuasion. They do not want the person they care about to think badly of them. “Want” is an understatement. Desperate for approval is more like it.
Interviewer: There are some desperately sick children in this book, or sick teenagers. How do they work, particularly where Farrell’s coming to terms with what he does is concerned?
CN: The children act as a sort of moral chorus. They can’t stand all the things that people do when they are being devious or unethical. The kids can’t stand lies, nonsense, posing, any kind of deviousness. They have nothing to lose, and this gives them the authority to expect the absolute best from people.
Interviewer: How does this work for Farrell?
CN: He takes one look at them and knows they are correct in what they think, and just as he wants the woman he falls in love with to think the best of him, so does he want the kids to do the same. This is a powerful moment for a man who has been living at the edge of what is moral or legal. It is a moment where everything begins to change.
Interviewer: There are a number of killings in this book. What is your attitude about them?
CN: I believe in something Raymond Chandler said, which is that murder is “an act of infinite cruelty.”
Interviewer: And yet, the book has some funny moments. Is there one you particularly like?
CN: I have always been intrigued by the unexpected. For instance, there is a scene in which two armed, Russian extortionists try to get a raccoon out of a vending machine, with what can only be called mixed results.
Interviewer: If there is a moral norm in the book, who do you think it is?
CN: Rose Marie, the woman who works with terminal kids. She has very precise ideas of right and wrong, is not shocked by anything, and is willing to forgive, so long as sincerity is involved.
Interviewer: What is the greatest pleasure in writing a novel?
CN: I think it was EM Forester who said that the pleasure of writing a novel is seeing how it all comes out. I think he was absolutely right about that.
Interviewer: I wonder if you could say something about how your work?
CN: I think it is important for a writer to acknowledge the people he has learned things from. In this instance, it is Robert Graves, who said, “There is no such thing as good writing. Only good re-writing.”
"The Paris Review asked me to interview myself a while back about the writing life and novels I had published, and I enjoyed doing it. It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to do the same for Double Solitaire."