Jack Caufield never imagined that he would wake up one day and find a dead woman in his bed. That sort of thing didn’t happen to guys like him. He was on his way to law school, but instead of fielding Socratic questions from law professors, he finds himself facing the third degree from a bunch of angry cops. Despite their efforts, they find nothing incriminating, and Jack is allowed to get on with his life.
Over the next fifteen years, he becomes a modestly successful corporate lawyer, a well-paid but insignificant cog in the Wall Street machine. He’s resigned to playing a disappointing role in the system that he has come to disdain, until he learns that his encounter with that unlucky girl may not have been coincidental. Confronted with the possibility that the men who run the prestigious financial institution that he now represents may have been involved in a shocking conspiracy, his search for the truth is complicated by the knowledge that discovering it could cost him the career that he’s spent his life chasing.
We almost want to end this interview right now so we can get to reading! Tell us more, though.
Peripheral Involvement explores Jack’s struggle to reconcile the reality of his life against his expectations and to refine his understanding of success. Along the way, it looks at the absurdity of the modern-day financial industry, the current state of the American Dream, our propensity for self-deception… and baseball.
Baseball? Okay. Now we’re wondering what genre this is.
I never felt like Peripheral Involvement had an obvious genre. It’s pretty easy to list the things that it’s not. It’s decidedly not fantasy, romance, horror or science fiction. It’s not at all for teens or young adults. It gets a bit trickier, though, when I try to define exactly what it is. A mystery? Well, there is certainly a big element of that in the story, but I’ve always hesitated to bill it as such, or at least primarily as such. Annointing a novel as a “mystery” creates the expectation that everything will be solved in the end, but one of the things that I was trying to explore in this book was the reality that we often have to live without satisfactory explanations, or affirmations that we made the right choices. There is a resolution in the end, but there is no Sherlock Holmes-like character that puts all of the pieces together.
All of that makes sense, but we have to give the readers something.
How about suspense/thriller? Again, there’s a lot of that here as well: the possibility of a high-reaching conspiracy, life and death consequences… but there’s also a strong focus on the main character’s perception of himself, and the world around him, that I wouldn’t want to minimize by appealing solely to readers’ thirst for adrenaline.
That kind of stuff suggests literary fiction, but that label always makes me squirm a bit. When I hear it, I always picture myself in a high-school English class trying to unpack the symbolism in Moby Dick, or something along those lines. That’s definitely not the kind of thing I was going for here. Besides, it seems redundant to call a novel “literary,” doesn’t it? Aren’t they all?
True. But we’re still going to have to press you for a definitive answer.
In the end, when pressed, I tell people that Peripheral Involvement is a realistic-literary-mystery-suspense-conspiracy-thriller. But all I really hope is that they find it to be an engaging story about an interesting character.
Tell us about this interesting character.
Jack Caufield is very smart, but lazy and more than a little narcissistic. He’s jumped through all the hoops that he was supposed to, and he’s been successful, but he can’t figure out why he isn’t more satisfied with his situation. In the end, though, I think his honesty makes him a sympathetic character.
Have you written any other books that we should read next?
Not yet, but I’m working on it. I’m about 60,000 words into a new novel, completely different from the first. It’s a noir/mystery set in the Florida Keys, involving a disgraced former televangelist, his daughter, and an old-money New York family. I hope to finish it sometime in 2014.
Come back and tell us about it when it’s done.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, before heading off to Duke University to study mechanical engineering. After spending two years working as an engineer in Maryland, I changed course and enrolled in the University of Michigan Law School. For the past fourteen years, I have represented banks and hedge funds as a transactional attorney in private practice in New York. I live in Manhattan with my wife, Erinn, and my two daughters, Maureen and Madeleine.
Do you have a website where we can keep up with your work?
How easily do new storylines come to you? If we give you four random words – Man, Woman, Mexico, Future – can you give us a brief storyline?
I’m thinking of a man that runs a hedge fund in New York, who’s very successful and very rich. When his investments start to go badly, he tries to recover his losses through a bunch of speculative trades in commodities futures contracts, none of which pan out. With his fund reduced to a Ponzi scheme and knowing that it’s only a matter of time before his investors send the FBI after him, he makes arrangements to flee to Venezuela, via Mexico. His wife, who knows nothing about his troubles, is forced to decide on the spot if she’ll drop everything and follow her husband and his money into exile…