Saturday, March 6, 2010

Walking on the Wild Side

By Michael Wiley

In celebration of the publication of The Bad Kitty Lounge this week, I'm walking -- and dancing -- on the wild side --

In the mid-1970s, when I was fifteen, I wasn’t sure which song was more romantic, “Everything I Own” by the bubblegum band Bread or “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed. If Bread’s soft melody and promises to give up “my life, my heart, my home” just to “have you back again” clearly set the right mood for making out with my girlfriend in my parents’ basement, I suspected that Lou Reed’s hookers and hustlers knew things about life and love that the members of Bread would never know. Even at my most uncertain teenaged moments, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to live like Lou Reed’s characters, but the characters fascinated me. I knew that they wouldn’t be caught dead with a Bread record and if they were spending time in a basement it wasn’t in their parents’ house and they were doing more than making out.

I grew up but I didn’t grow much wiser. I live a pretty Bread-ish life. I’m happily married to a woman with whom I gladly share “my life, my heart, my home.” Our friends are varied but over the years even the biggest misfits among them either have drifted away or have settled into middle-aged complacency. Many of them are in relationships in which they also share life, heart, and home with spouses or partners. But I still like Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” – still like the danger, the edge, and the sex that Lou Reed conjures in it – still listen to it from time to time, while my Bread records disappeared sometime around 1980.

Moral ambiguity interests me. When I write, I try to catch the ambiguity­ that I’ve experienced and that, if my readers speak truthfully, seems to be a common human characteristic. In my books, I take this ambiguity further than I live it myself. I write about men and women who know the pleasures, safe as they may be, of committed lives, hearts, and homes, but are drawn by forces inside or outside of them to danger and crime. They enjoy being home with their families but find themselves in rooms with murderers and deviant lovers. Worse, they find themselves enjoying the company. “Whoops!” they think later, as they shower off at home, “how did that happen?” And the next day it happens again.

So, in my new novel, The Bad kitty Lounge, my hero, a private detective who looks like Lech Walesa from the Solidarity days but with abs and no moustache, struggles as hard to reconnect with his ex-wife as he does to find the killer of a nun. But he messes up. Time after time. And others in the book mess up too: the nun, the detective’s ex-wife, his new partner. These characters put themselves on roads of goodness but the roads take them to various kinds of hell. But my hero eventually does catch the murderer and he does find his way to life, heart, and home (even if they don’t look like what he initially has imagined).

Moral ambiguity excuses nothing, of course. But it explains a lot. I believe that most people, even people who do very bad things, are essentially good or would like to be. That’s not to deny that some people are truly evil. I know a few of them. But purely evil characters are tiresome – less interesting in works of fiction than characters who, like the rest of us, possess both good and bad. So, the characters in my books take walks on the wild side. They get hurt. Some recover. Some die. And for reasons that I can’t fully explain, that pleases and satisfies me as both a reader and a writer.


Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Michael. But I'm wondering: Did you really listen to Lou Reed as a kid, or was it all Bread?

Sophie Littlefield said...

Congrats on the release! And it's Lou Reed, of course - what could be more romantic! Maybe Barry White...

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Sophie! Not much of a competition between Lou Reed and Bread, is there? I've been listening to Street Hassle since writing the post. Yes, Barry White does it too.