Excerpted from Loss of Innocence by Richard North Patterson. Copyright © 2013 by Richard North Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Quercus, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q. Where were you and what were you doing in 1968? How would you sum up how America changed during that pivotal year?
A. In 1968, I was a senior in college. The world outside an Ohio college town had been roiling for several years – the civil rights crusade, anti-War fervor, revolt on urban campuses. But 1968 was the year it all cracked open, a spectacle at once so shocking, horrifying, hopeful and enthralling that one could not turn away. The Tet offensive tore the lid off the official lying about Vietnam. Gene McCarthy came from nowhere to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination. Bobby Kennedy jumped into the race, and Johnson dropped out. A white racist murdered Martin Luther King; American inner cities exploded in violence. A second shattering murder – the assassination of Robert Kennedy – felt like the death of hope. The Russians smashed Czechoslovakia's move toward autonomy and free expression. The Democratic convention turned to Hubert Humphrey amidst massive police violence against anti-establishment protesters. And then Richard Nixon rose like a phoenix from the ashes to grasp the presidency.
For me, as for others, that year was vivid and visceral, turning our expectations – indeed, our lives – upside down. Guys I knew died in Vietnam – for nothing, I realized. I worried about the draft. I fell in love, not knowing where I'd be next year, or the year after that. My friends and I got sick of being lied to: if the patriotic eyewash used to sell Vietnam was murderous blather, perhaps the broader received wisdom we'd grown up with was toxic, too. My parents and I regarded each other across a chasm of mutual incomprehension. The fault line that was 1968 had separated us from certainty.
But, in this maelstrom, one of the most remarkable developments was the women's movement, which burgeoned from a pioneering effort to a force propelling millions of young women toward a different life, with few examples to guide them. I've always wanted to write about this moment in our history and, as I reflected, I focused on this year as a tipping point for American women, and hence the women who came after. That is why I chose to write a coming of age novel focused on the change in the life of one young woman, against the backdrop of these tumultuous times. Hence Loss Of Innocence.
Q. What made you decide to transition from the legal thrillers that brought you such a early success to more character–driven dramas like Fall From Grace and Loss Of Innocence?
A. In my mind, there really was no such transition. Even the handful of books which took place in or around the courtroom were, to me, narratives driven by a deep concern with character, and how dimensional humans react under the pressure of events.
Beyond that, I explored many other settings – political novels at the presidential level; geopolitical novels involving the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma, exploitation of African oil, the threat of nuclear terrorism by non state actors; psychological novels; expirations of issues like gun violence in America, the death penalty, PTSD and other challenging subjects . Whatever the subject, the novel was focused on the impact of characters who were as fully dimensional as I could make them.
So, to me, Loss Of Innocence reflects my concerns with society, family, and the inner lives of dimensional human beings, set in a vivid context – a year of explosive change. The most distinctive element is I chose to explore this – successfully, I hope – exclusively from the point of view of a 21-year-old young woman.
Q. As a male author, what is your method for ensuring authenticity in your female characters?
A. First, like many men and my generation, I benefited from the women's movement. Beginning at the end of college, the new freedom reclaimed by cutting – edge women had the not – so – paradoxical effect of freeing men. For the first time, most of the women in my life are simply friends, whom I could talk with about anything from politics to careers to sex the expectations within marriage – quit of the assumption that we were slipping into roles defined by someone else. And I suddenly realized that the experience was an enormous relief – the difference between Kabuki Theater and relationships which seemed a natural and organic to the individuals involved.
There's more, of course. I'm the dad of two daughters to whom I feel very close, and whom I've encouraged to realize their individual potential. I'm a novelist, of course, whose job it is to imagine lives outside my own. And I'm not afraid to ask for help – in this case, by interviewing a number of women who came of age in that same era era, conversations which – because of the women's movement – were rich, candid, and encompassing, full of an ease and honesty and humor largely impossible for our parents. In some way or another, we had all been there, and there was much to say. Without them, the texture of this book would not be the same.
Q. As a longtime resident of Martha's Vineyard, what have you seen change and what have you seen stay the same on that iconic American island?
A. The island remains a haven for intellectuals, artists, and a range of interesting people who, while generally quite privilege, bring with them a variety of viewpoints and experiences. And in its natural beauty, it remains one of the loveliest spots on earth.
But some things have changed, and not for the better. Economics continue to make life harder for full-time Islanders to buy homes and live a life here. The social life seems more divided between year-round residents and the generally more affluent summer people. And, like other places, we are touched by the influence of the newly wealthy, many from the financial services industry, who build homes which are unnecessarily large, environmentally insensitive and, all in all, monuments to ego divorced from their physical and social context. To me, this is a melancholy development that reflects a larger coarseness in our society.
Q. Among other things, you dedicate this book to the memory of Ted Kennedy. Were/are you close to the Kennedys? Are any characters in this book based in part on any of them?
A. In the last decade or so of his life, Ted Kennedy became a good friend, and I remain very close to his wife Vicki. As I remarked in the afterward, wholly aside from his remarkable contributions to our civic life, I could not have asked for a more generous spirit or considerate friend than Ted Kennedy– as to which I could cite numerous examples. And Vicki is among the most inspiring leaders I know, who continues her own discerning and compelling advocacy on a host of issues from health care to protecting Americans against violence to promoting a more expansive sense of our obligations to each other.
But none of the fictional characters in Loss Of Innocence are in any way based on the Kennedys or any other public figure. Instead, the very real figure of Robert Kennedy appears at two points in the novel, as recalled by one of the young characters, Benjamin Blaine, whose life was profoundly influenced by RFK. To portray this remarkable and complicated historic figure, I not only did extensive reading, but relied on my friend Jeff Greenfield, a close advisor and speechwriter for RFK throughout his final campaign. I'm reasonably confident that, overall, I got Robert Kennedy right.
Q. There are some links between the characters in Loss Of Innocence and the characters in your previous novel Fall From Grace. Will you continue to develop these families and the Martha's Vineyard setting in your future work?
A. Definitely. Loss Of Innocence is the second novel in a trilogy – a prequel to Fall From Grace. The sequel to Fall From Grace, Eden In Winter, It will appear in 2014, and concludes the story of the characters in the prior novel, very much in suspension at its end.
Q. Well Whitney is the clear protagonist, is there an antagonist or "villain" in Loss Of Innocence?
A. There is no one antagonist, although the narrative reveals imperfections , or much worse, in a number of the characters surrounding Whitney – which, in turn, influences not only her perception of her life but the course it takes. This includes virtually everyone around her – her patrician mother; her domineering father; her beautiful but damaged sister; her best friend Clarice; her fiancé Peter and, of course, Benjamin Blaine, whose entry in her life helps catalyze feelings of independence, emotional freedom and sexual curiosity. Several of these characters do things which shake Whitney to the core. So that the narrative, rather than focused on any one or two characters around her, represents what I hope is a very involving narrative in which complex and interesting characters influence each other, Whitney most of all.