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  • Pike's Folly
  • Written by Mike Heppner
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  • Pike's Folly
  • Written by Mike Heppner
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Written by Mike HeppnerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Mike Heppner

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42725-0
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Nathaniel Pike, a headstrong billionaire, is purchasing a piece of federal land in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and turning it into a huge, inaccessible parking lot. Orbiting Pike and his aspirations is a cast of perfectly flawed eccentrics: Marlene, who is shy and vulnerable but also a budding exhibitionist; Stuart, Pike’s assistant, who is Marlene’s husband and a failed writer; and Heath, who films Marlene’s public nudity and turns her into an Internet star. In this grand tale of the folly of the modern world, Mike Heppner skewers the extravagance of wealth, and the class that grows up around that wealth, even as he casts a humane look at the people involved.

Excerpt

“They ate me alive,” said the excitable man sitting across from Henry Savage’s desk one June morning in Washington, D.C. “Absolutely tore me to bits. All I said was, ‘Those people are no more Native American than I am,’ which is true. Of course, you can’t say things like that in Rhode Island, so everybody went nuts. The Journal took their usual self-righteous stance, the cannibals. I lost all of my old business contacts. Even Buddy wouldn’t talk to me. People are so uptight these days, so goddamn conservative—and I say that to you as a fellow Republican.”

“I’m not a Republican,” Henry said.

“Oh. Then I say that to you as a fellow Democrat.” Nathaniel Pike took off his sunglasses, cleaned them with a neatly folded handkerchief and put them back on. In the interim, Henry saw that Pike’s eyes were a sparkling blue, like a beautiful woman’s. “Anyway, here I am, still dreaming, still going strong, even twelve years later. You can hate me, Mr. Savage, but you can’t keep me down, and you know why? Because I don’t hate anyone. I refuse to. I hate fakery, I hate falseness, but I don’t hate people.”

Henry shifted in his seat. His erect posture behind his desk conveyed something about how he liked to conduct his business, with stiff formality and an unwillingness to be swayed by emotion. A similar bearing might’ve been useful in practicing meditation, if Henry had been inclined to such a thing.

“My problem is, I get restless,” Pike confessed. “My mind’s always going a million miles a minute, and I can’t slow it down. It’s terrible how I can’t stay focused on any one thing, and even when I do, no one else gets it, you know? Whatever I think is beautiful, everyone else thinks is crazy.”

Surrounded by his government-issue office furniture, Henry felt stifled by Mr. Pike’s overlarge presence. Pike was one of the wealthiest men in the United States and, with his good looks and wild reputation, more charismatic than most. Trace wrinkles in the corners of his mouth were the only indications that he’d aged at all since dropping out of high school. He’d kept in good shape simply by living life at a frantic pace. His arms and legs were both longer than seemed in proportion to the rest of his body, and he carried himself with the assurance provided by a healthy, well-stoked ego.

The parcel of land Pike wanted to buy from Henry’s department was one of several properties that the Bureau of Land Management made available each year to the private sector, largely acreage that the Interior Department deemed no longer suitable for public use. Most of it was out west, in such land-rich states as Arizona and Colorado. Pike’s was the only parcel that the BLM still owned in the entire Northeast, and it consisted of seven and a half acres of untapped wilderness in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Henry had no idea why Pike wanted the land, just that he was willing to pay top dollar for it.

Dressed smartly in his seven-thousand-dollar suit, Nathaniel patted down the top of his full head of brown hair and took a swig from a bottle of Poland Spring. “I’m not the kind of person that you normally do business with, isn’t that right, Mr. Savage?” he asked.

“I don’t know what kind of a person you are,” Henry said.

“Visionary. Ambitious. Passionate. Not afraid to stick my foot in my mouth. If I were a fruit, I’d be a banana. If I were a car, I’d be a sleek limousine. If I were a . . .” Pike snapped his fingers. “Gimmie something else to compare myself to.”

“A TV show.”

“If I were a TV show, I’d be a ten-hour miniseries, like Roots or The Thorn Birds. No Richard Chamberlain, though—that guy’s a joke.”

Henry saw that Pike liked thinking of himself as a comedian, so he did the polite thing and smiled. “I don’t know, Mr. Pike. I worry about what’s in that head of yours.”

“Well, don’t. And don’t listen to what other people say about me. It’s very easy to get a bad rap in a small state like Rhode Island.”

Pike chuckled at this. He’d lived in Rhode Island his entire life, and over those forty-two years he’d built a reputation for wasteful, eccentric behavior. Most notoriously, he’d bought an old farmhouse in the East Bay, then surprised his neighbors by demolishing the house and rebuilding it piece by piece, down to the last detail—furniture included. No one knew why he did what he did or said the things that he said. To call him a provocateur didn’t quite capture it. A provocateur, yes, but a charming one, a persuasive one, maybe even a dangerous one. Everyone in the state had an opinion about him, usually either very good or very bad.

Such audacity never failed to impress Henry. The playboy’s life was completely foreign to his own. He wondered, what makes a person like Nathaniel Pike tick? No responsibilities, no obstacles in his path. Is it just the money? Or is it some other characteristic that he has and I don’t?

“We’ll have to do this properly, of course,” Henry said. “You’ll submit a bid, just like everyone else. I’m supposed to give preference to the neighboring landowners, so we’ll need to act now.”

“Fine, fine . . . anything else?” Pike asked.

“Yes. Just promise me that you won’t do anything crazy up there,” Henry said.

His old-fashioned sense of integrity amused Pike. “I’ll promise you one thing. I will do nothing to that land that will not make it more beautiful.”

“It’s beautiful as it is,” Henry protested.

“Damn right. Everyone should get a chance to hike the White Mountains. I’ve got a lady friend who runs a ski lodge in North Conway. I keep trying to get someone to go up with me, but no dice. People are intimidated by me, I think.”

“Oh?”

“Sadly so. I’ve got to learn to tone it down. A little less tempest, a little more tact.”

They spent the rest of the meeting discussing Rhode Island politics, about which Pike knew a great deal. He spoke of his friends in the state senate as if they all owed him money, and in fact many of them did. His life sounded so renegade, so unlike anything that Henry had experienced in D.C. It thrilled him to hear about it, and he suspected that Pike probably had a similar effect on others.

Leading him out of his office, Henry said, “I sure hope it cools off tonight. I’m taking my wife to a Beach Boys reunion concert in Annapolis. Do you like the Beach Boys?”

Pike responded with exaggerated enthusiasm. “Gee, I haven’t thought about those guys in years. I once produced an independent film, you know, with Brian Wilson, back in the eighties.”

“Really?”

“Hell yeah. That was a wild time.”

Henry, feeling outclassed, retreated. “Their music’s pretty corny, I suppose, but my wife won the tickets.” He cleared his throat. “What time’s your plane out of Reagan?”

“Three o’clock. Don’t worry about me. I’m going to take a walk around the Mall. Strange name for it, don’t you think?”

Henry escorted him as far as his outer office, then returned alone to brood behind his desk until lunch. His secretary, Rochelle, was still glowing from some compliment that Pike had paid her on his way out and was fairly useless to Henry for the rest of the morning.

Pike flew out on an afternoon direct to T. F. Green Airport, which got him home before the commuter rush. That night, he took his personal assistant, Stuart, out for a bite to eat at Café Nuovo and bragged about his trip to Washington. Over the bar, Gregg Reese was prattling on TV to the news anchor from Channel 6. Always selling something, that one, Pike thought. Well, at least he’s trying.


From the Hardcover edition.
Mike Heppner|Author Q&A

About Mike Heppner

Mike Heppner - Pike's Folly

Photo © Frank Heppner

Mike Heppner lives in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with
Mike Heppner
author of
Pike’s Folly

Q: Entertainment Weekly has written that you’re a “fearsome cultural critic disguised in novelist’s clothes.” One could argue that the truth of this statement is borne out in PIKE’S FOLLY, namely with its descriptions of younger characters like Stuart, Marlene, Allison, and Heath. What are you trying to say (if anything), about the twenty- and thirty-somethings of today?
A: I don’t think of these characters as archetypal or emblematic in any way, and I’m reluctant to tell people what constitutes their collective identity. To be honest with you, I have such little contact with anyone other than my immediate family that I’m the last person to answer this. Generally speaking, I think one’s twenties are a time to experiment and make mistakes. Obviously some mistakes are worse than others, but when you’re young, you at least have the benefit of being able to recover from a vast majority of those mistakes. I’m thirty-three now, and I feel my mistake-making days are over. I guess you could say that the character of Allison is exploring life a little and screwing up a lot, and while all that seems traumatic at the time, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. She’s more together than I was at her age. Heath is in that phase too, though I think he’s less likely to grow out of it. Stuart and Marlene, being a bit older, have a more defined sense of who they are, for what that’s worth—probably not much.

Q: Do you miss being in your twenties?
A: No, I like the age I am now. You have to get excited about getting older. I’m not looking forward to rotting away someday, but I don’t need to be twenty-one again.

Q: I’ve heard that true Providence history inspired much of the book. Is there a real life counterpart to the farmhouse where the Reese family crimes of yore were played out? Is there anything else that matches up to real events in history?
A: No counterpart to the farmhouse that I’m aware of. The brief chapters that take place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are all “drawn from fact.” I’ve tried being accurate with my contemporary references to Rhode Island society and politics. But most of the book is a fable.

Q: So why Rhode Island?
A: I was born there and moved to Michigan with my mom when I was six. Every summer I’d go back to Rhode Island to spend time with my dad. Then when I was in my late twenties I moved back to Rhode Island. I just like it. It’s easy to make too much of the size, but the fact that it is so small gives it a special character. It’s possible to know every landmark and vista in the state, which I think makes it unique. I don’t live there anymore—my wife’s job took us up to Boston about two years ago—but we get down there a lot. It’s a short drive. By the way, I think not being a true “Rhode Islander” made it more possible for me to write the book. Sometimes it helps to be an outsider.

Q: The character of Stuart is a young novelist who has written a debut novel and is married. You are a young novelist who has written a debut novel (and successfully finished your second) and you’re married. Are we supposed to see a bit of you in Stuart?
A: I’d rather you didn’t, though that’s fine too. I made Stuart a writer because I wanted to put his feelings across with as little play-pretend as possible. He’s a lot more passive than I am, more cynical and defeatist. But I can relate to him, sure.

Q: In what sense?
A: In the sense of working toward a goal that in some respects has defined your life for a number of years (in my case, writing a novel), accomplishing that goal, then realizing you still have some time left on the earth, and wondering what to do next—that part I can relate to. But Stuart’s response and my response are so different. I didn’t become morose—at least I don’t think I did. I just wrote a morose character and put him in a book.

Q: PIKE’S FOLLY is, among other things, a snapshot of our imperfect world. All the characters are caught in some sort of foolishness. What made you want to explore this aspect of humankind and how did you come to the title PIKE’S FOLLY?
A: PIKE’S FOLLY just sounded right—I went through a number of titles but kept coming back to that one; it suggests something about the book without revealing too much. Reading from Thomas Cleary’s translation of the Dhammapada: “A fool who is conscious of his folly is thereby wise; the fool who thinks himself wise is the one to be called a fool.”

Q: I have to admit that my favorite character is Marlene. Where did you come up with the inspiration for her?
A: She’s my favorite as well. She wasn’t really inspired by anyone in particular. When I was writing her, someone told me they couldn’t understand why a person with so many body issues would want to expose herself like that. It made sense to me, but the challenge was getting it to make sense to a reader. She’s a potentially alienating character, but I think we come to sympathize with her.

Q: How do you go about researching a character like that?
A: I don’t think you can. You just try to imagine what’s in her heart and mind and go from there. Certainly you can find a wealth of information about exhibitionists and nudists on the Web, but I think most of it’s pretty dishonest—I don’t know how truthfully people represent themselves online. That’s part of the exhibitionism too, I suppose.

Q: Heath’s obsession with Brian Wilson plays a big role in the novel, to say the least. Why did you incorporate this into PIKE’S FOLLY?
A: I love Brian Wilson. I love the Beach Boys. Stop reading this right now and listen to “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” or “Let’s Get Away For Awhile.” Or “Darlin’,” or “Long Promised Road.” I love those artists who somehow manage to straddle the line between experimentation and accessibility. This book needed a spiritual guide—a guru of sorts—and Brian got the job. Like so much about this book, I was motivated more by instinct and feel rather than some rational plan.

Q: How do you think your writing has grown or changed since your debut novel, The Egg Code?
A: I haven’t read The Egg Code since I put it to bed, so my memory of it has dimmed somewhat. I was trying on a number of different hats, and some fit and some didn’t. Working with my editor Gary Fisketjon has taught me an awful lot about writing—I’m sorry, but he really is a genius.

Q: As a teacher, what advice do you have for other young writers?
A: Please make it worth the paper it’s written on. Try to change a life—I think anything short of that is a waste of everyone’s time.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: My next novel is so different from either The Egg Code or PIKE’S FOLLY that it’s nearly unrecognizable as the work of the same person. My writing has become a lot simpler and less showy as I’ve gotten older. I’m trying to write more from the heart than the mind. I went through a personally shattering experience while I was writing PIKE’S FOLLY (which had nothing to do with my “writing career,” but rather with something much more urgent and immediate). PIKE’S FOLLY, which is a boisterous and (hopefully) loveable book, was my way of maintaining my sanity during that experience. I didn’t write it because it made sense from a professional standpoint or to prove anything to anyone, but because it offered an escape from all that. The “all that” forms the subject of my next book. After that comes something lighter, but that’s far in the future.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“Brims with fun. . . . The kind of Waugh-like breezy black humor that cloaks a biting satire.”
Esquire

“Heppner is a fearsome cultural critic disguised in a novelist’s clothing.”
Entertainment Weekly

Pike's Folly is all about subtlety, both in what the story explores and in how Heppner lampoons that. . . . Subtle, humane–and therefore true.”
Detroit Free Press

“Sparkles with wit, poignancy and humor.”
The Temple News

  • Pike's Folly by Mike Heppner
  • April 10, 2007
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $14.95
  • 9780375727269

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