‘Obsess’ – Gary Beck Interview

Obsess by Gary Beck is published by Cyberwit, a small independent publisher in India. Obsess and other of Beck's books can be bought on Amazon.

Aloka: First of all, the title of your novel is intriguing and you open with an epitaph to ‘all the young men who hunger for a better life’. In your own words, can you explain to our audience what your book is about?

G.B: Obsess is a novel in the literary tradition of poor boy makes good, that follows Joe Slade, who grows up on a hard scrabble farm in South Carolina. He discovers he’s smarter than his dumb family and when he gets to school he learns he’s smarter than his classmates. This starts him on a path of self-improvement. He becomes an athlete, a scholar, then becomes obsessed with getting rich. His story is about finding his piece of the American dream.

Aloka: Little Joe Slade grows up in American poverty. Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Do you feel any affinity with your protagonist?

G.B: My family was poor at times and we were homeless for a while. I don’t feel affinity with Joe because he’s a fictional creation. I do feel passionate involvement with the development of the character, and his admirable struggle to overcome his difficult beginnings.

Aloka: In your book you talk a lot about the importance of education and the American dream. Would you like to expand on your feelings there?

G.B: We live in an unequal society dominated by the 1%. The American dream is only a reality for those fortunate enough to have opportunity and they are a dwindling minority. Education is the only venue for advancement unless one is in a protective nurturing system, sports or crime.

Aloka: Poverty and wealth are consistent themes in your book, as is the conflict between individual and national identities. How much do you find these issues relate to your own experiences? And why do you feel it’s important to share these viewpoints?

G.B: I have known poverty and prosperity. I have watched my society de-access the blue collar class, then the middle class. We are in a growing crisis that may lead to less and less freedom for most of us. I write about the issues that I believe endanger our democracy, deplete our economic future and isolate us in cities where we are vulnerable to imposed control. I want people to be more aware of what’s happening to us even if we can’t do anything about it.

Aloka: We see the character here grow from childhood to adulthood in a coming-of-age way. Was it difficult to capture those changes of perspective?

G.B: Coming of age is a traditional theme of literature. I am very comfortable exploring the growth and development of a dynamic character. What I sometimes find difficult is to make sure I don’t let concerns with economic or political issues interfere with the development of the character.

Aloka: As Joe’s character develops he is thrust more and more clearly into the world of the privileged business class. Some of your characters share interesting and extreme political opinions. What do you think yourself about the current financial situation in America? Are we heading for revolution?

G.B: Wealth has moved more and more to the 1% and a small group controls most of it. Wealth is used to hire politicians and influence or direct foreign and domestic policy. A revolution is improbable, strife between rightists and leftists is a distinct possibility since differences between various groups are virtually irreconcilable. The growing incidents of violence are a direct threat to the stability of the nation and hopefully won’t erupt into civil war

Aloka: Through Harriet we’re taken through many discussions and explorations of abstract art and its development. We at Aloka are especially interested in the intersection between art and fiction. How has art inspired your work? What are your personal opinions on the current art world?

G.B: For most of my adult life, when I couldn’t earn a living as a theatre director I worked in art galleries and was a private art dealer for a while. Art and art related themes frequently occur in my work and other elements of my experience emerge as subject matter. I specialized in American art of the 50’s and 60’s which I knew moderately well. I left the art world in 1970 and have only followed art casually, since my time after that was committed to my theatre.

Aloka: You set a good proportion of your book in Catalonia. Is this a place you’re personally familiar with? What compelled you to use this as a setting in contrast to America?

G.B: I’ve been to Barcelona, and later learned about the Catalonian movement for separation from Spain. I didn’t so much use this as a contrast to America’, but couldn’t help exploring how ethnic groups build their identity while living in a country and then are urgent to separate from that country. I see ethnic groups in America that are isolated from the mainstream of life, and live in neighborhoods where even the street signs are in a non-English language. The melting pot of America has cracked.

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theater. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and his published books include 31 poetry collections, 13 novels, 3 short story collections, 1 collection of essays and 4 books of plays. Published poetry books include:  Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions, Fault Lines, Tremors, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings, The Remission of Order, Contusions, Desperate Seeker and Learning Curve (Winter Goose Publishing). Earth Links, Too Harsh For Pastels, Severance, Redemption Value, Fractional Disorder, Disruptions and Ignition Point (Cyberwit Publishing Forthcoming: Resonance). His novels include Extreme Change (Winter Goose Publishing). State of Rage, Wavelength, Protective Agency and Obsess (Cyberwit Publishing. Forthcoming: Still Obsessed). His short story collections include: A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other stories (Winter Goose Publishing). Dogs Don’t Send Flowers and other stories (Wordcatcher Publishing). Collected Essays of Gary Beck (Cyberwit Publishing). The Big Match and other one act plays (Wordcatcher Publishing). Collected Plays of Gary Beck Volume 1 and Plays of Aristophanes translated, then directed by Gary Beck and Collected Plays of Gary Beck Volume II (Cyberwit Publishing. Forthcoming: Four Plays by Moliere translated then directed by Gary Beck). Gary lives in New York City.

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