Hop­ing his fic­tion stays that way

Los Angeles Times - - BOOK REVIEW - By Carolyn Kel­logg I started in 2011, very aware of

In Kar­lTaro Green­feld’s novel “The Subprimes” (Harper: 320 pp., $25.99), the di­vi­sion be­tween rich and poor has opened into a chasm that’s fun­nier than it should be. Newfree­ways bring the1% to their homes in­Mal­ibu while the un­der­classes— ev­ery­one whose credit is sub­prime— use the hope­lessly slow405. So­cial pro­grams have been pri­va­tized: Pub­lic hous­ing con­sists of aweek­long voucher to Mo­tel 6. Mean­while, thewealthy Pep­per sis­ters and their Chris­tian ally, Pas­tor Roger, drill for America’s last drop of oil. Into this comes Richie Sch­wab, a semi-em­ployed jour­nal­ist with a habit of mak­ing bad de­ci­sions, and Sargam, a mo­tor­cy­cle-rid­ing hero­ine who helps home­less fam­i­lies cre­ate a set­tle­ment in an aban­doned de­vel­op­ment in theNe­vada desert. Green­feld, who lives in Pacific Pal­isades with his fam­ily, spoke to us about the book by phone. Pacific Pal­isades is a pretty ritzy neigh­bor­hood. Does that­make you a prime?

Pacific Pal­isades is the townI grewup in. I don’t see my­self as a prime be­cause Iwas grand­fa­thered in. My­child­hood friends, some of their dadswere auto me­chan­ics; they had blue-col­lar pro­fes­sions. That isn’t the de­mo­graphic of Pacific Pal­isades any­more. My­daugh­ter now­goes to Pacific Pal­isades High School where Iwent. I’m see­ing first­hand the changes in al­most ev­ery strata in this com­mu­nity. That’s one of the rea­sons I made fun of it in “The Subprimes.”

When did you start the book?

the credit cri­sis, thiswave of fore­clo­sures, and then fin­ished it in the con­text of dis­ap­point­ment with Barack­Oba­maand dis­ap­point­ment thatOc­cupy didn’t amount to more than it did. In your book, Sargam be­comes a leader of the un­der­class. Is that wish­ful think­ing? If you could rewrite his­tory, would you give Oc­cupy a hero?

I be­gan towon­der what­would a truly trans­for­ma­tive per­son, or hero, be like in this day in age. We had this great, mul­tira­cial prom­ise-giver in Obama, but our hopes were a bit mis­placed. He’s cer­tainly a very suc­cess­ful prod­uct of our mer­i­toc­racy, but he hasn’t re­ally been trans­for­ma­tive. I be­gan to step back and­won­der, what would that per­son re­ally look like? We ex­pect our trans­for­ma­tive fig­ures to have gone toHar­vard law. To have de­cent credit scores. I be­gan to think: No, a truly trans­for­ma­tive fig­ure emerges as some­one who doesn’t have any of the mark­ings of suc­cess or virtue as rec­og­nized by our so­ci­ety. Like Je­sus Christ. That char­ac­ter I had in mind be­fore do­ing the book.

Then, dur­ing the 2012 Re­pub­li­can de­bates, I thought: What if you take the eco­nomic poli­cies these guys seemto sup­port— elim­i­nat­ing the IRS, end­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, theEPA, theFDA, pri­va­tiz­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity— and see what Amer­i­ca­would look like. That sounds very se­ri­ous, but the book­makes the aw­ful­ness funny.

I knewtherewere funny riffs in it, but I sawthe over­all arc as kind of tragic. What I’m say­ing, what I’m pre­dict­ing (fic­tion­ally, at least), is go­ing to hap­pen to America ifwe con­tinue on this road of ag­gres­sive pri­vate-sec­tor dom­i­na­tion of eco­nomic pol­icy. Did you have any mod­els for the ul­tra-rich, ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive Pep­per sis­ters?

I started with the pas­tor, and then I thought, he is an ide­o­logue but he doesn’t have eco­nomic clout. So I cre­ated these two sis­ters whomayre­sem­ble a very prom­i­nent pair of for­merly lib­er­tar­ian and nowdeeply Re­pub­li­can petroleum ty­coons. Howabout RichieSch­wab, who, like you, is a writer liv­ing in Pacific Pal­isades?

One of the things that hap­pens when you’re writ­ing a novel set in the near fu­ture is you start to spec­u­late, “What would hap­pen to me?” I made the de­ci­sion to do an ex­ag­ger­ated near-fu­ture ver­sion ofmylife. My­day job has been, iron­i­cally, to be a busi­ness writer for a lot of pub­li­ca­tions. I thought it­would be in­ter­est­ing to have a busi­ness writer grad­u­ally com­ing to terms with the fact that he’s es­sen­tially a pro­pa­gan­dist for a sys­temthat is crush­ing peo­ple.

Is fic­tion, satire, a good place for so­cial com­men­tary?

I don’t know. Most good fic­tion has an el­e­ment of so­cial com­men­tary in­her­ent to it. Fic­tion’s dura­bil­ity, in part, is be­cause it of­fers so­cial com­men­tary. Doyou see things hap­pen­ing in real lifenowand think, “No, no, I was just mak­ing that up?”

Iworry real life will eclipse this book very quickly. When­ever you’re writ­ing about the near fu­ture, you’re al­ways go­ing to get some thingswrong and some things right. I’m hop­ing I’m go­ing to get a lot of stuff wrong.


REAL-LIFE eco­nomic is­sues fuel Karl Taro Green­feld’s novel.

Sports Il­lus­trated / HarperCollins

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