Gallin’s intent to borrow his grandson so that Bernardo could consecrate some perverse act of loyal, loving abandonment saw him Tuesday morning in a cold cab going uptown to visit Kiran. She was Bernardo’s wife—or widow. His mind was rotten with Denmarkian doubt. Everything he did now had at least a whiff of turpitude, but only this foul part proposed to infect an innocent, Tyler, and it scratched at his soul. In a way what Bernardo wanted was beautiful. In a way so was the snake.
Remember all the dark thoughts many people harbored after 9/11–despair, grief, revenge, survival, protection and opportunity? In Pretend All Your Life, erudite wordsmith Joseph Mackin thoroughly taps into them. At times unsettling, Pretend All Your Life is pierced with hopeful moments. It delves into loss and reinvention. There are also those who saw 9/11 as the chance to try new projects, personae, careers, starts. Dr. Richard Gallin is an art collector, plastic surgeon and man with vast wealth. So much that he doesn’t know what to do with it sometimes. His only child Bernardo, who worked in finance, died in the Towers that morning, his wedding ring found among the rubble. Gallin finds he’s no longer alone in his turmoil. The entire city has strangely transformed as its inhabitants and the rest of the nation cope with the unimaginable loss, frustration and new vulnerability. When Gallin’s son appears one night with a unique proposal for his father, Gallin’s world becomes topsy-turvy and even more tempestuous. Amidst the tragedy, Mackin finds a sense of logic and renewal for his characters. The end result is the potent, refreshing post-9/11 novel Pretend All Your Life.
Amy Steele: Why 9/11?
Joseph Mackin: It just seemed like a lot of stuff was happening very fast. It was such a strange time. And these (terrorist) actions overwhelmed the media, overwhelmed the world. With the events, as tragic as they were, it seemed that people were losing their bearings in a way that was out of scale and were really searching for something elusive.
I had been interested in appearances and how people don’t seem to fit their appearance, or believe that they don’t fit their appearance. The culture especially in urban areas in the United States seems to be focused on how you present yourself. On making yourself up as you go along. Then I saw a whole country rethinking itself in the same way. Trying to determine whether its appearance matched what it really was.
People had to think about a new darker future and what that meant. The Miguel character sees 9/11 as an opportunity. As it says in the book, it’s helpful to know your enemy. It was a time when other people, who were previously thought to be on the outside, were welcomed into the inner circle.
Amy Steele: Does the story drive the characters or do the characters drive the story?
Joseph Mackin: I think a little bit of each. When I think of a character, I think of the character’s story, not necessarily who the character is. Sometimes the character itself pushes you in certain directions and I try to follow that.
Amy Steele: Why did you choose to focus on a father and son?
Joseph Mackin: The father and son works as an example of the different generations of Americans and even the older character that’s seen as a mentor to Gallin. That’s another generation. The post-WWII generation.– so there’s a three-tiered father-son relationship. I thought the differences in the inherited wealth and wealth that was created and what the priorities are of someone who gets those privileges without necessarily having to earn them.
Amy Steele: [Pretend All Your Life] is pretty dark but also there’s some hope in it with people trying to invent themselves.
Joseph Mackin: Some of the circumstances are bleak. But it happened and it was bleak for many people. But I do think that out of difficult times, things blossom. I think the characters aren’t bad people. They’re just people trying to make the best of themselves in their world with the skill that they individually possess. I didn’t think there were any villains in the book although a lot of things happened. There are certainly villainous acts that go on in the book. But in a world where people don’t seem to recognize the same rules that they had just months ago, and in a world where characters become more desperate because of their circumstances, I think some of the rules get bent. Now whether they should’ve been bent from an ethical perspective, is not for me to say. I know that people are morphing in certain ways that are inconsistent with how they had been before and how they have been since.
Amy Steele: All the main characters are men. Is it difficult for you to write women?
Joseph Mackin: The women are particularly strong in creating art and creating ideas.
Amy Steele: How did your experiences working at the Paris Review and studying in Spain affect your writing?
Joseph Mackin: I wouldn’t call myself an international personality. I think an awareness of other cultures is always important and an awareness especially after 9/11 when other cultures come barging through the American borders. I was already interested in that. There is an isolationist attitude amongst some Americans. I think they can no longer afford to have that. Any experience you’ve had with any other culture would help in adjusting to the so-called New World Order.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about the novel?
Joseph Mackin: I think it’s a layered treatment of the notion of identity and ambition and what responsibility means. I think the different stories go together to reinforce the importance of those kinds of things and how different people deal with them. I thought it represented a pretty good piece of the contemporary scene.
for more information– visit Joseph Mackin’s website