Hedonistic 1980s New York revisited in new novel

12th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Conjuring up the hedonistic world of 1980s New York -- the endless parties, reckless spending, casual sex and drugs -- was the easiest part of US writer Robert Goolrick's latest novel.

The former high-flying advertising executive moved to New York as a young man from small town America and lived out what he saw as a dream.

In his just published fourth book "The Fall of Princes" -- the story of one man's rise and fall which he describes as "very much an autobiography" -- Goolrick revisits that world.

"I knew these people, I went to these parties, I did the things my generation did which is essentially to waste an entire decade in the pursuit of pleasure," he told AFP ahead of Festival America, a Paris event celebrating writers from North America.

"Trips to exotic places, clothes we couldn't afford, drugs that took all of the money we had left over. And always sex, indiscriminate, the seeking of the most pleasure we could find in our bodies," he said.

Goolrick is one of more than 60 North American novelists who will be discussing their work at the biennial literary festival. Canadian Margaret Atwood is the star guest at this seventh edition, which for the time time will also feature a few dozen French novelists. Other big names are US writer Richard Ford and fellow Canadian Nancy Huston.

Now in his mid-60s, Goolrick says New York was the place people of his generation went to to do all the things they couldn't do at home.

They thought they were living a dream but decades on he confesses he cannot forget the casualties.

"It still haunts me -- the ones who lived on damaged and dazed -- and all the ones who died (of AIDS), too soon and too quickly.

"I had come from a poor family in a small town and New York was a circus of decadence and pleasure," he said.

"We followed that dream and that liberation until finally the pleasure turned poisonous," he added.

- 'Redemption my only subject' -

Despite this, Goolrick, who now lives in a tiny town in Virginia, is nostalgic for the New York he knew which he describes as filthy, full of prostitutes and crazy people, and yet "somehow magical".

"In New York you could be anything and what you did didn't matter as long as you were amusing and made plenty of money to keep up with your friends," he said.

He is scathing, however, about the modern-day city.

"It has turned into a mall for rich people and luxury goods. Charmless without any character at all," he said in an e-mail interview.

He doesn't regret living there. But he doesn't regret leaving either.

Becoming a writer came about after what at first felt like a personal disaster.

At the age of 28 he had been a senior vice president for one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.

For 30 years he was handsomely rewarded for work he did not care about but which he was "apparently very good at".

Then in his early 50s he suddenly lost his job.

"The large salary was taken away. Instantly. It was a shocking fall for which I had never prepared," he said.

Starting to write, however, was not the fulfilling experience of which so many aspiring writers dream.

After six months of "desperation" and at a loss over what to do, he decided to go back to a novel he had started a decade earlier.

"By the time my first two books were published I was living in a tiny room on welfare. The ground came up fast and I hit hard

"It was sheer luck that I found a publisher and a new voice," he said. His other books are: "Heading out to Wonderful", "A Reliable Wife" and "The End of the World as we Know it".

Now a man in a hurry, he is already working on his next book about a love affair on the eve of World War II.

"Redemption is my only subject," he said.

"I don't have anything to say that does not have to do with the theme of goodness and how even the worst of us struggle to attain it.

"But to write about redemption, you have to begin with characters who are deeply flawed," he added.

Festival America runs until Sunday at Vincennes in eastern Paris.


© 2014 AFP

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