It was really different for me because I never had that kind of community environment before. At the same time for a private person you feel a little bit of pressure that you have to be part of that community. That rubbed me the wrong way some of the time.
Q: When did it dawn on you this is great fodder for a book?
A: Right when I got there. I immediately became interested in the suburbs as a place. One of the early points of tension was at the driveway bonfires when I asked why they liked the suburbs and why they moved here. They would give me the usual kinds of answers about safety and a good environment for the kids. That was about all I could really get. I figured there had to be more about this idea of the suburbs, so I started doing a lot of research reading a lot of books, watching a lot of movies and documentaries.
It was really interesting to see the idealism people had, almost like moving to the suburbs everywhere in this country was like moving to Disneyland. It was this ideal perfect place where all your problems are solved and everyone is happy. I like that kind of idealism, but at the same time I see it’s not ideal underneath that veneer. There are a lot of difficult and real problems. I like that difference between the public life and what people idealize and what the truth is. It’s great territory for storytelling.
Q: Would any of your neighbors recognize themselves in your book?
A: I never based any of these characters on anyone who is real in the neighborhood. As a private person and as a person who wants to continue living there, I completely avoided that. One of my neighbors who read the book, she sent me an e-mail and said I really appreciate that I didn’t see any of our families in the book. She sort of feared it a bit.
The people in my real neighborhood are nowhere near the level of dysfunction as my characters. These characters are really a presentation of a darker view of suburbia. I wanted to explore that darkly comic territory. The suburbs seemed a good environment for that. The first thing I wanted to do was create characters that were believable who were convincing, funny, pitiful, depressing, flawed, damaged — but also do it in a way this is empathetic and nonjudgmental.
Q: None of the characters are based on real people but certainly the fictional suburb seems familiar. What is the name of the “third-ring” suburb in your book? Is it based on Andover?
A: It’s nameless. I tried purposefully to avoid a specific place or locale. I really didn’t even want this cul-de-sac to be associated with the Midwest initially. My artistic purpose was to make this an American cul-de-sac. I did leave some references in there, even though I tried to scour the book for them.
Q: You say it’s hardly biographical. Are there are parts of you in this book?
A: I think the overall sensibility, definitely. The common themes the guys in this book share are that each one is burdened by something and it’s not all the same things. I share that sense of understanding and knowing what feeling burdened is — as all parents do.
Q: There’s a lot of power washing going on in your book. What is the importance of that tool in suburban life and in your book?
A: The movie “Fargo” influenced me with the use of the power washer. In the story about the neighborhood alcoholic-masochistic-racist guy Gordy, he gets power washed by his son. That was a little bit influenced by “Fargo” and the wood chipper scene because the wood chipper was sort of this rural thing. What would be a spectacle scene like that at the end of my story? Power washer — suburbs — perfect. It just seemed to fit. Guys, they love their power washers, man.