What are the recurring themes in your work?

Jim Lehrer: There’s no connecting theme to my novels. I try to, in fact, usually not to do that. It’s whatever I want to do, I do.

Sometimes there are comics. There are several comic novels where nothing bad happens to anybody. And then there are some real tragic novels that started out to be something less, something different than they were. They ended up being something different than they were when they started.

But most of my recent novels are about people whose lives have not turned out the way they hoped they would and had to deal with it. Some of them dealt with it in kind of strange ways.

One of them recently, the guy decided just to remake himself as a former Marine. Claimed that he won a Silver Star in Vietnam for heroism. He’d never been in the military. But he got on eBay and got a little lapel pin, a Silver Star medal to wear. He was a clothing salesman in his 50s. And he remade himself. He got trim, learned how to cuss really well, did all the things that Marines did. And to be something that he wasn’t.

And I’ve written a couple of novels along that line. And I’m working on one right now, in fact, where a kid wanted to be something he just couldn’t be. And this one is about baseball and other things.

I hadn’t thought about it to this moment, but it may go back to those early days from the Depression and World War II.

And my father was a really good man. One of the really best people I’ve ever known. He was not “successful”. He had one little business. He had a little bus line in Kansas. It went bankrupt after a year. Crushed him. He never ever got over it. And he never got the big promotions and all that sort of stuff. And I think that left kind of a “Death of a Salesman” over me I think sometimes. I’ve read it many times. I’ve seen it many times.

I have a lot of friends that were contemporaries of mine. I’m now much older than some of these guys who reached their mid 50s, worked very hard to become Managing Editor, or to become the boss, or to become whatever, and they didn’t make it. And they had to finally accept the fact that they weren’t ever going to make it. And that’s crushing. That’s a really tough thing if you’ve lived your whole life toward making it. That was it! That was what you were going to do. No matter what it was going to be.

And I’m fascinated by that.

And I’m sure it’s because of my dad, and it’s because of those early days. And so my fiction is full of that kind of stuff – of people trying like hell to be successful.

 

Recorded: July 4, 2007.

Jim Lehrer writes about people fighting like hell to be successful.

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