PW: Is Riverside [setting of The Last Good Day] based on an actual New York suburb?
Peter Blauner: It's a mixture of a number of New York and Connecticut suburbs. You don't want to get pinned down on any particular place, because then you're responsible to the people who've lived in that town to be strictly accurate, in a journalistic sense, and this is hopefully a work of imagination, with its own history. So, the town in the book has to be a character that stands on its own two feet, the way any other character would.
PW: Did you begin writing The Last Good Day immediately following 9/11?
PB: No. I had written a draft of it that I'd finished shortly before 9/11, and there was a sense of inchoate dread that hung over the book that didn't seem specific to any characters or immediate dramatic situations of the book. When 9/11 happened, there was a void in the middle of every single scene that 9/11 immediately fit into. It was there all along. When I looked at the manuscript shortly after 9/11, I found all these references to the World Trade Center I hadn't realized I'd put in.
PW: You juxtapose the anxieties felt by the characters in The Last Good Day with the general malaise following 9/11, suggesting that nowhere, including an affluent suburb, is safe.
PB: Most of my other books have been very urban novels specific to New York City. I think on 9/11 America, and the world in general, began a new era, in the same sense the day after Pearl Harbor began a new era. This is an era when the president and the AG and Tom Ridge seem to routinely get on TV and radio to tell us something terrible is going to happen, we can't say where, we can't say how, we can't say what, but you should go on about your daily lives anyway. Well, that's a peculiarly charged mental atmosphere for people to be living in. And more than any rehashing of the events of 9/11, that's what I'm try to capture.
PW: Your take on the problems of juggling careers and families is quite realistic. Is it meant to be advice on how to help working parents? Or a warning to those still contemplating children?
PB: Neither. I don't try to be judgmental or prescriptive in my writing. I'm relying on the lessons of novelists and journalists and songwriters that I've admired over the years. Just kind of dig in, researchwise, and keep my eyes open and observe, and let the chips fall where they may, in terms of the way I depict my characters. I don't try and make them more heroic than they really would be, and I don't try and condemn them, either. I just try and make them as real as possible.
PW: While the class conflict between the blue-collar Mike Fallon and other, richer members of the cast is obvious, his immigrant working-class heritage is also a status symbol, to the extent that it almost hinders the investigation. But other cast members who started out on a par with him [in high school] have improved their stations in life. Which are you suggesting, that America is an immobile caste system or that social mobility does indeed exist?
PB: In general, I'm trying to look at the class system within the context of a novel. In America, we don't look at class straight on very much, we look around it, and we see the products of it, and we have a lot of confused attitudes about money and the status it confers. I was trying to find a dramatic context to show you a literal cross-section in the book. I'm not being judgmental, I'm trying to give you a realistic portrait of what America is like, that the working class is the basis of these communities, that it's literally the foundation these communities stand on, yet people often forget where they come from. You can't. The past will always come back one way or the other and force its way up through the soil... High school can be a last shot at democracy in a town like this, where you're all thrown together. Then class breaks you apart over the years, and throws the conflict between past and future into stark relief.