Memento Park, a Backward Leap into the Future

His stolen heritage, if you will. That’s why Virgil, to me, was essential to the telling of the story. Does he know it? To suddenly realize, hey, wait a minute, dad is human, that can be a terrifying shift of the ground beneath your feet. I have all of the predictable resistance to faith and religion. But that more or less happened as it was written. I love the way he handles time. Matt would make an interesting subject for a psychiatrist who practices regression therapy. He’s got a career as a working actor by the time he’s 19. Great question. She literally couldn’t finish a sentence for the grief and the tears. I consider my roots and my interests as being literary. But I think what they share is what I’ll describe as the same engine. It doesn’t always mean it’s pleasant, but this is what sets us free. The truth. I find in writers that I like a great deal, the same kind of terrain being worked out. Joseph O’Neill called it thrilling. Matt becomes aware of this object [painting] that has historical and financial value. ¤
Andre Hardy is an MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles. They wanted to blend in, not stand out. What he sees in Rachel, she represents that path of Jewish education, the culture, that long, long history that she embodies. Even as flawed as my father was, he was dad. I didn’t have any real religious education, of any kind. Three most interesting choices. Could you tell me about the restitution of his religion? My mother tried to talk about her wartime experiences a few times. I’ll say that Matt was a little too cut off from himself to even experience emotion. We had gone through two edits, two full passes where she kept trying to scale Virgil back. My editor and I, the only place where we clashed was around Virgil. And dad set shit right. We can trust Matt’s account of what’s going on. How beautiful. He is a graduate of St. Answers. What does the self consist of? Gosh, that is so interesting. Earlier we talked about shame being a driver. If this is true, what is the genesis of Matt’s anger: fear or love? I would notice stirrings of resentment, as if something had been denied, whenever I have been in a synagogue. The only difference is that I was painting a Star Trek model and not the World War II airplane. MARK SARVAS: First of all, the writing process is long to begin with. I mean that to the root of his behavior, he is a performer. How do you measure it? There is an unrealism about him that one hope recedes and become something else as the novel progresses. I joke that Memento Park is my Banville rip-off. I think he senses it. With Harry Revised, admittedly, I was in a rush. I’ve heard it said that there are really only two emotions, love and fear. There is no more evading. They seem very different to me in most meaningful measures. Harry was a bit of a bumbler. I’m an atheist. That’s funny! I’m not sure I’ll pick just one. His journey is about authenticity, locating the authentic self. The first time Matt experiences an honest emotion is just before getting his ass kicked by a couple of goons. And then, suddenly, it becomes too late to ask those questions. I think classifications are for marketing people and bookstores to figure out. Whose version of my father is more authentic? And he’s very aware of who’s watching and what the moment calls for. Tell me where that came from and how it showed up in his adult life. Here’s why: I think there’s a moment when you recognize the chickens have come home to roost. Thank you. Ultimately, I think it’s for readers to decide. This particular journey was interrupted by the birth of my daughter, the death of my father, divorce — there was a fair amount of chaos. He describes it as feeling electrified. My head was too far up my own ass to care about this history or to inquire after their stories. There is an incident where his dad spanks him until he wets his pants. History. What is Matt missing? All these years later, exactly 4,149 days since the release of his debut novel, Harry Revised, it seems I got it right; Memento Park is a steady drumbeat of deep human emotion. He’s so much in my veins that when I started writing Memento Park, it wasn’t a conscious thing, but I knew that structure fit the story I wanted to tell. Could you talk about the craft decision to start the book at the end then work backward in time? He’s mad that he’s been denied his heritage. Matt, in some ways, is a conventional unreliable narrator. It’s not a whodunit for sure. So, part of what the novel is tracking is my own journey. So, unrealistic may be the best of the choices. Salman Rushdie called the novel a gripping mystery. Unrealistic, maybe that is the most right. You have to. That’s quite too big a subject. I was heavily influenced by two books. His entire existence up to this point had been a performance. The German government has been doing that for decades now. I think it’s critical to write as if you were in it, as if you’re feeling it. Who is Virgil? I mean, we had Christmas trees. But it had already been taken by other books. Why does he need pain in order to feel? I came to realize that there was a lot of youthful narcissism, self-involvement, self-absorption. I think fear, shame, and those kinds of things come to a head in that moment when Gabor beats Matt for spilling paint on the rug. And your question is forcing me to consider that, to put them on a continuum with each other. He is a walking case study of fake it till you make it. He created a seamless ship through the present narrator, diving to flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, and I never got lost. But there is emotional restitution, true? I remember thinking, who’s that guy? Until this moment, I’ve never thought about the two books in relation to each other. Matt is utterly reliable in that way. Is Matt unreliable, uncertain, or unrealistic? There is a self-sufficiency that you see in Matt. This incident in particular was important to show early on because in that moment there was a lot of fear. Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland is one of them. She struggled with Virgil. [Laughs.] I’m mainly considering Matt’s wrestling with the absence of religion in his life. I had the pleasure of sitting with Mark just days before Memento Park’s splashy debut at Diesel Bookstore. [Laughs.]
It’s an interview. The moment that you’re referring to, in which Matt is reading email tributes to his deceased father, and they’re describing him in such glowing terms, that’s taken directly from my life. Where is the self? I’m going to have the beautiful model girlfriend, the successful acting career, all these things that make my life look solid and therefore I am solid. Marisa Silver touched on its historical elements. He does not exist if he doesn’t have an audience. What is he afraid of? He’s angry about all that was kept from him. Finally, I wrote her an email. Funny you ask that. I think of Matt as isolated rather than lonely. What exactly is Memento Park? Would you say that Matt is lonely? My mother’s father, who is the most observant member of our family, was so angry after the war that he stopped his religious practice completely. Well, there are a number of episodes in this novel that draw from life. Oh, it’s fear, surely. In seeking religion, what was he trying to restore? She didn’t quite get why he was there, what I wanted him for, and why there was so much of him. Rachel is certainly physically attractive, but, remember, Matt shares his bed with a model. They had no use for a God that couldn’t save them from camps. I don’t care much for labels. I came to understand how little I had asked my parents about their childhood, about their early lives in Europe during the war. We view our parents as these pillars and paragons who can make the world right for us. I wanted her to understand what I was going for, then if the conception was totally wrong, she could help me prove it. A recognition that you can’t skate through it anymore. I think shame is what Harry and Matt share. But, only with respect to his own feelings. Now when I look back, I often wish I’d taken a little more care. And I could trust in that. Matt was finally letting go, and it felt electrifying. JUNE 3, 2018

I HEARD MARK SARVAS READ from Memento Park nearly four years ago, and I recall the excerpt involved the protagonist Matt Santos’s complicated feelings about his father, Gabor. There are these things that complete us, complete our journey, restore something that was lost. While the novel is technically sound, it excels as a character study. With Memento Park, it was important to tell the story right. And, let’s face it, Matt is a little rootless. I think that Matt felt isolated, but he was able to take away what he needed to get him out and on to the next step of individual journey to California. I thought that moment was so well done, by the way. You can restitute in dollars, obviously. I had that same moment reading my father’s emails after he died. I realize for me, and it came to me very starkly, I’m wrestling with levels of shame throughout my work. Is Matt attracted to Rachel, or the idea of Rachel? I like a story. That being said, I don’t think Memento Park is really a thriller, or mysterious enough to satisfy someone who reads that genre. The Sabbath alone being one of them, a slice of sanctified time and space for rest and reflection. Then, beyond that, this was more ambitious than my first book. It was a common phenomenon among first-generation, postwar immigrant families that fled Europe, the war, that they were done with religion. Recompense, restitution, or remunerate: which word would you pick to describe Memento Park? I’ll pivot it back to my personal working through with this novel. More directly, I was influenced by John Banville’s novel The Book of Evidence. We don’t feel like he’s holding back; we feel like he just doesn’t have it figured out yet. And I kind of felt annoyed, irritated, that I hadn’t had the chance to experience that more fully in my life. His only concern was what’s the next step in my journey, where’s the next place I have to go, what’s the next thing that I have to do. And that freaked me out. It’s the classic immigrant work ethic that I was exposed too — that push, push, push mentality. [Laughs.]
Duly noted. Pick one to describe him. That’s part of why he’s so agitated. Himself. And he’s furious in the moment. I don’t believe in God. And I’m going to say he is both attracted to her and the idea of her. Yet, simultaneously I’m still aware of a deep thread that runs through the history of humankind. Even while experiencing something profound, he knows it’s just lapping at the surface. Would you say that Matt and Harry, the protagonist of your first novel, are brothers, cousins, bros, or have absolutely nothing in common? ¤
ANDRE HARDY: I calculated the release date of March 13 will make it 4,149 days since Harry Revised was published. We had a damn good time unpacking the ideas behind his touching novel. One of the working titles was Restitution. My father died in 2009. There is a scene where Matt is in the temple experiencing the singing, having an incredible moment, until he thinks about his parents. My editor was still lobbying for that title until a fairly late date. I kept resisting. What is he mad about? Is he more than just a device? I was raised a secular Jew. Let’s stay with our theme of “R” words. Matt, you know, he’s a little more successful. Remembering the moment with the Mezuzah, it’s not her that he becomes obsessed with, it is what she experiences in the moment that he wants to feel. The lesson he’s taken away from his family is how to fend for himself. Matt’s perception of his father, Gabor, appears to be at odds with everyone else’s. As he digs into the painting’s history, he must come to terms with the painting’s religious dimensions. I want to keep the readers interest. I told her Matt is an actor. This is a key question in my third novel that I’m writing right now. It caused me to wonder which self is the truer self. I marveled at how he accomplished that. Matt is an actor. And so, I remember writing and feeling a transference. Then, all of sudden he’s pissed. Some decided to forsake a God that had forsaken them. I think it is asking: What does restitution even mean? What took the baby so long to be born? Mary’s College of California and was the fourth pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1984 NFL draft. There is an abiding need to be a part of something bigger. Rachel has history, a place in a culture with a long history. [Laughs.] Perhaps it’s better to call it an homage. I preferred Memento Park, but it’s definitely a story of restitution. He’s got his life together, he’s less of a schlemiel than Harry. When I imagined what it would feel like to get my ass kicked, I literally experienced an electric jolt. Hmm? Mark had captured a universal human emotion in his prose. So you don’t think this qualifies as lonely? I don’t understand Hebrew, I don’t know the prayers, but I felt a sense of belonging. All of the above. I believe in plot. Each of us as writers has an engine that motivates us, something that we’re wrestling with. He must have an audience or he can’t play.