How Richard Thomas aims to redefine Atticus as ‘Mockingbird’ comes to L.A.
Richard Thomas is the new author of Mockingbird, the new book that has put a new spin on the classic American novel. He’s the son of John Updike and the grandson of John Barth, and he was recently named to The Washington Post’s “40 Under 40” list of young fiction writers. Here, he talks to Peter Kaminsky about what’s next for “The Bird” — and his own literary career
You were named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for your earlier novel The Beautiful Room Is Empty, but you’re currently writing a new book. Can you tell us about your new work, Mockingbird?
Mockingbird is essentially a reinterpretation of the “Moby Dick” story with added complications. It begins in early-May of the year 1950 and is set, in all its detail, on the island of Nantucket. The story centers on Jim Fergus, a young lawyer living in New York, who comes home for the summer because his father is dying and his mother is ailing. He meets the family of two Nantucketers, Bill and Jane, and becomes infatuated with their teenage daughter, Atticus O’Neill. He tries unsuccessfully to seduce her, but she ends up falling in love with him anyway, and the romance turns into a love triangle. As it proceeds and the novel’s narrative unfolds, it becomes more and more clear that Atticus is a “Moby Dick” character, a whale of a man. When Bill O’Neill finally dies and Atticus returns to New York, he finds that he too has become a whale—a whale on land. As he travels across America, he feels compelled to write about what the world is like, how we live, how people live, love, sex, death—everything to which the novel turns. The result of his quest for truth, he discovers that he is the true representative of the American dream.
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