Tin House Books: American Dream Machine is set strongly in Los Angeles. It portrays the city in a way that’s incredibly vivid–it looks like LA, it feels like LA, a city that is famously hostile to writers. What role does place play in your writing?Visit Matthew Specktor's website.
Matthew Specktor: LA seems to have suffered over the years as the object of satire, derision, and hostility. In fact, with the possible exception of Chandler, it’s hard to think of a great writer who’s treated Los Angeles without pronounced ambivalence. Less Than Zero, The Day of the Locust, Play it As It Lays, The Player, What Makes Sammy Run. These books all organize themselves around a pretty jaundiced view of LA, or certainly of Hollywood. That’s fair: they’re all great books, and I think literature isn’t where you go for false optimism. At the same time, I wanted to treat Los Angeles very differently. I grew up here, and I wanted to shower as much thoughtful affection upon it as I could, the way that Philip Roth did upon Newark or Saul Bellow did upon Chicago, etc. I wanted to paint a more comprehensive picture of this place in its warmer, and more human, dimensions. To address not just glamor and disillusion, but also the more homely aspects of the movie business, which in so many respects isn’t much different from any other.
THB: The book is about a talent agency, and the movies. To what extent did the movies influence the book?
MS: I went to the movies a lot when I was a kid. I went to screenings and saw films when they weren’t especially appropriate, for instance I remember a Woody Allen double bill of Bananas and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sex taken in when I was seven or eight years old, and I think I saw A Clockwork Orange when I was eleven. I grew up on, in, and around the Los Angeles of Robert Altman and Hal Ashby. There was always a sense of intimate relation, because of my parents’ work, the people who made the movies were...[read on]