This novel is a family saga with several themes: the advantages and troubles of urban life, ambitions for improvement, the struggle to overcome middle-age malaise.
The Wakemans live in a large city in the northeastern U. S. The novel tells about their various attempts to pull themselves out of mental, physical, and spiritual low points. The characters include a professor and his family, a recently retired business man who wants to open a temporary home for underprivileged children, their sister who is a classical musician, and their half brother who wants to be mayor of their city. The story includes three interludes that take place in a society that has gone haywire with technology and the paranormal. One of the characters wonders if reality is disintegrating.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
For me, writing fiction has included a touch of experimentation. Each of my stories is different from the others. The “Wakemans” is the only extended improvisation I’ve written. I began writing it without notes or outline. One of the few things I knew when I started was that I would aim for 99 chapters, one short of a hundred, as a sign of imperfection. I began one chapter without knowing what would be in the next one. I revised the manuscript many times and tightened the narrative. I also added three interludes set in a future that is awash in technology gone awry.
Another thing I knew at the start was that I would write mostly about the adult members of a well-established family I eventually decided to call the Wakemans. They don’t resemble any family I know — all the characters are fictitious.
This family is surely my response to various novels I read, in particular Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks”. (Shameless namedropping. I admit.) Anyone who points out a vast gap between Mann’s work and mine will be right. Still, my characters have better prospects than the later generation of Buddenbrooks. This no doubt has to do with the opportunities that many North Americans still see.