A Pushcart Prize winner and former Wallace Stegner Fellow, Eric Puchner follows his lauded story collection with his first novel, Model Home, which portrays the financial ruin and personal crises of the Ziller family in devastating detail against a backdrop of California in the early 1980s.
Does your own childhood bear any resemblance to that of the Ziller kids?
Not in terms of any of the actual events being autobiographical, but I did spend my teen years in Southern California, partly in a gated community that was similar to the Herradura Estates from the novel, and we were downwardly mobile in the same way. My father was a failed businessman who constantly lived beyond his means, and some of the details from the book, like the furniture and cars being repossessed, were things I lived through. But in terms of the actual family itself, it bears absolutely no resemblance to my real-life family.
Real estate fiascos and financial struggles are pretty timely subjects. Was that intentional?
It wasn't actually. When I began, it was before the whole subprime loan disaster, and I was thinking about what happened to my own father. I hadn't anticipated the whole real estate crisis.
Is there any idea or feeling that you want your readers to be left with?
I had a friend read it, and she wrote me probably the nicest e-mail I could ever imagine, which was that she felt absolutely wrecked after reading it. Although it's hard for me to wish that upon anybody, that's certainly what I hope for. That's what I love and want and crave from novels myself. I don't think the novel is utterly despairing. I want the reader to be emotionally wrecked, but to also wish there was a sequel and want to read more about the Zillers.
Your characters blush a lot—why?
That's interesting. I'm not sure why. It seems like people do blush a lot. The idea of shame and the distance between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us fascinates me, which is one of the reasons that I wrote the novel with multiple perspectives. That moment of recognition when we realize that we're perceived in a vastly different way than we imagine ourselves is a moment in which we blush.
Do you blush easily?
I knew that was coming. I do. Yeah, I do.
Are you blushing now?
I might be.