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  gary indiana

I followed the Menendez trial on Court TV before going to Europe for a book tour. Then one day, I was sitting in a wine bar near the Hotel Lutetia in Paris, waiting for the novelist Jean-Jacques Shuhl to show up. He is always late for any appointment, and I was irritated. I had just bought a yellow legal pad and a new fountain pen so I began writing down the exact quality of my aggravation with Jean-Jacques. Then I thought about my brother, from whom I had been alienated for many years. I segued from Jean-Jacques to my brother. I tried to write down all the reasons why my brother and I became strangers to each other, and why I resented him. Then I remembered an incident from our childhood in which I had the impulse to grab a shotgun in our hall closet and shoot my father. I didn't shoot my father, but I suddenly understood why somebody would. I imagined what it would have been like if my family had been much, much worse than it was--if the occasional terror we experienced when my father was drunk had been a different type of terror, a daily twenty-four hour terror. And I realized what it was like to be Erik Menendez. So I had my subject, it just appeared in front of me over a glass of wine.

When I came back to New York, I started following the Menendez trial closely. I watched it all day on Court TV and then watched all the analyses on the evening news. I hardly left the house for eight months. Once the trial finished, I went to Los Angeles several times. After some preliminary contact with a few of the Menendez principals, I decided the book should be a novel, because I wanted to have two different narrative tracks, and I wanted to be able to go inside people's heads without reference to anything factual. I knew I wanted a fire, mudslides, rain, and an earthquake. I also wanted two-middle aged men who had been lovers twenty years earlier, who were now best friends, but who also resented each other. This became three people because I wanted the trial and the media frenzy around it to be woven into the daily life of the characters in the second track of the narrative, so I made the third person a drive time radio host. This plotline became a kind of black comedy, homosexual version of "How To Marry A Millionaire," with the three golddiggers becoming three substance-abusing gay men stumbling through various awful and romantic experiences. Then I started adding other characters, all of whom had their complicated problems and strange connections to the trial.

I wanted to make a picture of Los Angeles that showed, by implication, the way everyone is connected to everyone else, with two or three degrees of separation, and I also wanted to show that child abuse of one kind or another is invariably the trigger to later social behavior. Eventually, I came to see both tracks of the narrative as a commentary on the Catholic ethic, which I view as: do whatever you feel like doing, then feel guilty about it, and then expect to be forgiven. Kill your parents, run over some stranger while driving under the influence, etc. Lyle and Erik Menendez became the ultimate products of this type of thinking. I added the themes of the "secret Scientologists" and the attacks on Buddhism because I wanted the book to resist all forms of magical thinking, and show how "spirituality" is often a cosmeticized version of acrimony and snobbery.

But the main impulse behind this book was simply that I thought: "What if I write down exactly what really goes through people's minds when they think of the people close to them? All the things they never say, all the resentment and anger they suppress because of manners, all the ugly shit locked up in people's brains that causes them one fine day to pick up a shotgun and blow somebody's brains out?"
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Copyright © 1997 Gary Indiana.