Friday, October 17, 2008

An American Who Lives Life On His Own Terms - Douglas Kennedy

Douglas Kennedy is the most famous American writer in Europe. His books sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Bookstores find it difficult to keep them in stock. Here in the United States, however, Kennedy is not so well known, boycotted by publishing houses. Why? Is it because he personifies a different America? Yet the man — haunted by the fleetingness of time and the emptiness of our consumerist existence — really has only one creed, and that is Art. We met at the Cafe de Flore, in Paris, in the neighborhood of Saint Germain des Pres. He was right on time for our 11 o'clock appointment. As he happily extended his hand, I noticed that he had rounded out a bit with age (in both senses of the term). He greeted me with a pleasant "Bonjour" with a slight American accent. Several young Parisians sitting at a nearby table in this legendary cafe could not believe their eyes. Douglas Kennedy, in person, sitting only a few feet away! (After he left, they came over to ask me if it was really him). Kennedy put his umbrella on a bench and began by apologizing while looking at his watch. "I don't have much time, only half an hour. Is that ok?" Seeing me frown, he took out his cell phone and dialed. "Hello. I will be late..." After hanging up, he cheerfully added, "Now we have one hour."

Assuredly, the man was in a hurry. Along with his success, time has become a precious commodity. To say he has become successful is perhaps an understatement. His latest book, The Woman in the Fifth, published in 2007, sold over 600,000 copies in France and 250,000 in London. Although he has not been published in his native America for more than a decade, he has triumphed everywhere else. Today, Douglas lives in London with his wife, Amelia, and their two children. He also has a pied-a-terre in Paris, in this same intellectual and Bohemian neighborhood. Over the last few years, he has learned French and now speaks it fluently. "France? I like it here, and the French adore American culture... but yes, it's a damned shambles here," he declared, seeming to delight in the last phrase. For him, life is elsewhere, away from the famous "daily existence" that he writes about in his books. Death? "It doesn't scare me," he answered, brushing the idea away with a flick of his wrist. What really concerns him, however, is the cul-de-sac (also the title of one of his books) of daily life — a detestable job, a failed marriage, trapped in personal problems. It is for these reasons that he can only live "elsewhere," somewhere between his homes in London, Berlin, Malta, and Paris.

"My books have been translated into 18 languages," he continued with a smile. "I have a publisher in all those countries." Then the smile disappeared. "But yes, it does hurt me that I don't have a publisher in my own country." The reason for this lack of support is not because he has ignored America. On the contrary, the many facets of this nation make up the subjects of all his books. Among his thrillers are The Pursuit of Happiness, which portrays a journalist caught up in the web of McCarthyism, and A Special Relationship, in which a young woman dreams only of a quiet life with her husband, children, and a 4 x 4. George Bush's decision to go to war and the resulting events shatter her dream. "Since Bush became President, America's image has become disastrous around the world. The only positive thing to come out of this mess is that I have met many interesting people, artists for the most part, who, like me, were anti-Bush." Kennedy is more than a clever author of thrillers. He incarnates a part of the American subconscious, revolted by materialism and the blindness that it produces.

Kennedy admits to being somewhat of a schizophrenic — he criticizes his country while also adoring it. He loves it so much that, after his long 20-year exile, he purchased a home in Maine. Surprising, don't you think, for a man who recently mused, "Hell? It is living in a small town in the middle of Maine where shopping at the mall is the main cultural activity."

Douglas Kennedy, the writer who creates nightmares throughout his books, continues his own pursuit of happiness, which takes him, in a strange twist of fate, towards America.

by Marie-Pierre Valli, Watch Your Time, Oct 2008, p9

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