Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Feature Author Interview and Review - A Long Drive Home

Long Drive Home: A Novel 

A Conversation with Will Allison
Author of LONG DRIVE HOME: A Novel

1.  Your first novel, What You Have Left, has three viewpoint characters and moves back and forth in time. Long Drive Home has one viewpoint character and proceeds, for the most part, chronologically. Did you make a decision at the outset to structure this novel differently?          

I did. I wanted to write a book with a strong sense of tension and narrative momentum—more of page-turner—but one that’s still character-based, where plot is a function of character and not vice versa.

2.  When you were executive editor of Story magazine, thousand of submissions must have crossed your desk. How did your editorial work influence your writing?      

Reading through the submissions—we averaged about 50 a day—I was constantly reminded of the importance of 1) giving the reader a reason to care, and 2) keeping the story moving. I write with an acute awareness that readers have a lot of other things they could be doing besides reading my book.

3.  Where did the idea for the novel come from?

I live in New Jersey, in a quiet neighborhood much like the one described in the book—lots of kids, joggers, people walking their dogs. One morning a few years ago, I went out to get the newspaper. A car came flying down the street, going probably twice the speed limit. I remember picking up the paper and thinking I’d like to chuck it at the guy’s windshield, give him a scare. Then I thought, “You’re an idiot, Will. You could kill someone.” Then I thought, “But what if no one saw?” That was the seed of the story.

4.  Is the book autobiographical?

No. The circumstances of Glen’s life are similar to my own—I work at home; my wife works in the city; we have a young daughter; we moved here from the Midwest; etc.—but the characters and plot are wholly invented.

5.  Has your daughter read the book?

No. She’s only nine. Some of the language isn’t appropriate. Also, I’d hate for her to conflate me with Glen. She knows what the book is about, though. On the way to and from school, when I was writing it, she’d ask what part of the story I was working on. She gave me a lot of input. She still thinks Sara’s name should have been spelled “Sarah.”

6.  Is the traffic in New Jersey really as bad as Glen says?          

It seemed pretty bad to me, coming from the Midwest. I did some research when I started the book. New Jersey is the nation’s most congested state and has the highest pedestrian fatality rate. A 2006 study found that northern New Jersey has four of the ten most dangerous American cities to drive in—all within fifteen miles of where the story takes place. And a 2008 study ranked New Jersey drivers dead last in their knowledge of basic safety and traffic laws.

7.  Was the accident investigation based on a real case?

No, but I did get a lot of help from Detective Arnold Anderson, who recently retired from the Essex County Prosecutors Fatal Accident Unit. Andy read an early draft of the book and very patiently answered my questions. I remember being nervous when I first got in touch with him and said I was writing a book about a guy who tries to cover up his involvement in an accident. I thought Andy might think that’s what I was doing. He told me later that, yes, he did check up on me after that first phone call, to make sure I was really a writer.

8.  Was there any kind of moral you were aiming to impart in Long Drive Home?

I was very interested in the moral implications of Glen’s actions, particularly how he justified—and was later affected by—doing things he himself believed to be morally wrong. But no, I intended no moral lesson for the reader, only moral questions.
9.  How much compassion do you expect the reader to show Glen?

Obviously, Glen makes some terrible mistakes. But I do hope readers will put themselves in his shoes. That’s why I chose to tell the story from his viewpoint. If the story had been told from Rizzo’s or Tawana’s viewpoint, Glen might have come off as a clear-cut villain. That to me would have been less interesting.

10.  What’s next for you?

Another novel, one that may or may not revisit the characters in Long Drive Home.


A Long Drive Home shows how a series of seemingly unrelated decisions can lead to a tragic mistake.   Glen, an accountant, and his six-year old daughter are coming home from school when a series of events lead to a tragic car accident that results in the death of a teen.  Glen lies about his role in the accident to protect himself but as the investigation continues with a persistent detective in the lead, guilt eats at Glen and he can only watch as his world falls apart.  His wife divorces him and takes away their daughter, the one witness to the accident.  His moral character is shaken to the core and even in the face of his lies and the destruction of his life, Glen continues to cling to his story, afraid of the consequences.  Glen refused to accept his role, instead seeking someone else to blame for the accident and the downward spiral his life has taken.

The author, Will Allison does a wonderful job of showcasing the moral dilemma in this story.  What started out as a lie or an omission of truth builds into a huge, self-destructed force.  The main character, Glen, cannot live with himself as the lies continue to grow and take on a life of their own and the author allows us to become a part of Glen's psyche and see the mental and emotional angst he suffers from.  As Glen, whose viewpoint the story is told, tries to explain to his daughter years later, we come to understand the toll that day took on him and how the consequences of his actions weighted heavily on him.   The story is heartrending and we, the readers, are forced to examine our own feelings of moral ambiguity.  How far is too far?  How much of the truth can we omit and still be telling the truth?  Is telling the lie worth the mental anguish and the moral guilt?

Will Allison does an excellent job of splitting open the human psyche and letting us, through the eyes of Glen, peer deep into our own moral souls.

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