Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jesse’s Girl by Gary Morgenstein

How much should a parent sacrifice for a troubled child? In Gary Morgenstein’s taut new thriller, Jesse’s Girl, the answer is – anything. Anchored around a floundering father-son relationship, finding roots and re-uniting vanished bonds, the timely novel about teen addiction and adoption follows a desperate father’s search for his son, who has run away from a wilderness program to find his biological sister in Kentucky.

Jesse’s Girl opens as a jarring phone wakes lifelong Brooklynite Teddy Mentor well after midnight. It’s the Montana wilderness program saying that his 16-year-old adopted son has vanished – and they haven’t a clue where he’s gone. Only two weeks ago, Jesse had been taken to the program by escorts to deal with substance abuse problems.

Jeopardizing his flagging PR job in New York, Mentor rushes across the country to find Jesse, who is off on his own quest: to find Theresa, the sister he’s never known. When Teddy finally discovers Jesse at a bus stop in Illinois, he is torn between sending him back or joining his son on a journey to find this girl in Kentucky. He decides to go. They become embroiled in a grisly crime when Theresa’s abusive husband Beau attacks her – Jesse stabs the big beast of a man, leaving him for dead.

Given Jesse’s misdemeanor criminal record, Teddy can’t go to the authorities without risking his son’s arrest. However, Beau is not dead, merely wounded, and he hunts them down, thirsty for revenge. Teddy, Jesse and Theresa flee across the Bluegrass State with Beau in hot pursuit. Seeking safety but finding trouble, their story leads them to an ultimately shattering question: is Theresa really Jesse’s sister or has he been scammed?

Gary Morgenstein’s previous novels are Take Me Out to the Ballgame and The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. His latest novel Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman, a romantic triangle about a divorced middle-aged man who falls in love with a beautiful rabbi, was just published on His play Ponzi Man played to sell-out crowds at a recent New York Fringe Festival.

Interview with Gary Morgenstein:

1. Why did you write this book?

Along with “Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman,” this comprises both sides of my Baby Boomer head and soul and heart: Love and parenthood. In "Jesse's Girl," I wrote from the perspective of a father of a teenager, which is fairly rare. Since we’ve lived in the caves, generation after generation it has been the duty of teenagers to torture their parents. As an adoptive Dad, I wanted to find a story that would weave in a father and son’s floundering relationship besieged by troubling issues on both sides -- a teen struggling with addiction and a father who feels he has failed as a parent. Then let all hell break loose over them and send them into a cauldron of a thriller, pursued both by the police and a deranged killer.

2. What was your favorite part of writing this?

My old and very dear friend who is my brother, John Balchunas, inspired the character of Klaus Weber. I had such fun writing Klaus and seeing what was sort of like him, but wasn’t entirely. Some things I wrote about Klaus, I said to John, that is how it really happened isn’t it, and he said no, and I said, well, I like my version better, more dramatic, feel free to use that for your life story. That is a very slippery mental slope to start on....Anyway, John, who lives in Madisonville, Kentucky (where several climactic scenes in the novel are based), was my unofficial “Bluegrass State” advisor. I’d worked in Kentucky for the now defunct Kentucky Post. Over the years I’d visit John, who’d lived in various parts of the state pretty much since we graduated college. But that’s not quite the same as living there. I’d be writing a passage and I’d email him, okay, if the characters are heading west from here, what road would they take…?

3. Where did you get the idea for this book?

I’ve never written about being a father. Maybe because it’s the hardest thing to write about since parenting is such a bewildering and painful confluence of emotions. In the novel (yes it is arrogant to quote yourself but bear with me), the protagonist, Teddy Mentor, talks about how when we marry we recite the vow “‘til death do us part.” Which is nonsense, as someone who is no longer married can attest. Or as the divorce rate can attest for that matter. But that vow really applies to being a parent. Take all the intense life-changing love and loyalty and feelings you have for your child, the way it changes when they become teens and aren’t your little doting boy anymore. Then blend in the anger and resentment and bristling rage that the parent of a teen battling the illness of addiction feels. Like could you please become an astronaut and blast off into space and leave me alone? Any parent who says they haven’t felt that -- or even said it -- are simply lying. This novel is my way of talking to all those parents and saying, you are not crazy. Hang in there. It will get better.

4. Are you a father? Were parts of it hard to write, emotionally, because of that?

Oh, there were times when I brought myself to tears. There’s nothing so nakedly raw as writing a difficult scene depicting the relationship with your child, because it is always layered with the emotional footprints of reality. Sometimes I’d have to break off because it was so agonizing. Then again, you can write scenes where your child actually listens to you and shows you respect, so how is that for the miracle of writing?

5. What's next for you?

My novel "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" will be published by Amazon in June. It's a political baseball novel, taking the economic turmoil and fear of contemporary America and combining it with the fanaticism of a baseball town. In my novel, Buffalo, New York goes mad over their Cinderella team, the National League Buffalo Matadors, driven by a ruthless owner, devious spinmeister, fading journalist – and one fan who really believes the rival team is the enemy.


Hummingbird said...

Gary's "Jesse's Girl" had me laughing and crying. Besides on being a compelling story about the strength of a father's love, the novel's plot makes for a great movie. Thanks for reviewing such a fine book and smart author

Karina Fabian said...

Thanks for letting us know you enjoyed the book! It's always helpful to hear from readers!