Lily King delves into the complicated relationship between an alcoholic and his daughter in Father of the Rain, her powerful new novel.
Your novels tend to revolve around a domestic situation where secrets or dysfunction have dramatic consequences. What draws you to this kind of situation?
Those are exactly the kind of novels I love to read. I'm very interested in the way people interact emotionally.
In your novels, children are often vulnerable to unreasonable or dangerous adult behavior. Is this a motivating issue to you as you conceive of your books?
Children are always vulnerable. I know this from personal experience. I have three stepfamilies as well as my family of origin. I've had to adjust to them and also go back and forth among them. I became an observer of human nature because when you are in those situations you have to be.
Your insight into adolescent psychology is marvelously sensitive. Do you have children?
I have two; they're nine and 11. I've told them they can't read my books yet.
Your portrait of the narrator's alcoholic father is intimate and intense. Do you have experience with that?
I've observed a lot of alcoholism in my life. There's a lot of emotional truth in this book. It was extremely difficult to write, so it's fortunate that I didn't have a deadline. It would just come flowing out of me and then it would just dry up. I would get a low and I would have to stop for a while, and I'd go back to it later.
Daley, the narrator, clearly understands her father's self-destructive personality and the damage it has done to her life. Yet her love for him is convincing, because you demonstrate compassion for him and for other flawed characters. Is it difficult for you to maintain this attitude toward your less appealing characters?
No. That's entirely the way it comes out. My mother was my second reader. She said that exactly—that I was not judgmental—and I was so surprised.
Did the novel's themes--alcoholism, racial prejudice, feminism--arise out of character development or were they issues you intended to confront?
They just came as I wrote. In my novels, they come and I'm like, "No!" The same thing happened with The English Teacher. It was the rape. I didn't want to write about rape.
Are you looking forward to your extensive book tour?
I had a new revelation with this book after I wrote it and the first people started reading it, and I heard their reactions. I've always thought of writing as sort of active communication. My real interest now is to ask readers, could you hear me? I'd like to have a dialogue with readers.