One year before she begins writing a novel, Susan Issacs usually conceives of a character in her mind, and this character later turns him- or herself into a book. But for her eighth novel, Red White and Blue, she started with a larger idea.
In Red White and Blue, released this November, Isaacs explores the American character. The book focuses on the present-day hero and heroine, FBI agent Charlie Blair and reporter Lauren Miller. Blair and Miller are both working on the details of an anti-semitic hate crime in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But Red White and Blue isn't just the facts, ma'am.
In more than one way, the fundamental question in this book is "What is really American?" Is it a pioneering spirit or a melting-pot mentality? That the book focuses on a hate crime is yet another way of looking at who is an American, and with what rights.
In late November, Susan Issacs brought these questions to BookPeople. With the dark, amply curled aura of a third generation American of Eastern European descent, and the classic outfit of a New York intellectual (black top, slacks, and a brightly colored swath of scarf), Isaacs read from Red White and Blue to a small yet attentive audience.
Of the three representative passages Isaacs read from the novel, one gave us a glimpse of Blair's bloodline by relating the story of Jake, the Jewish progenitor of Charlie Blair who ended up in Wyoming after he gambled his way across the country. The next passage frames Blair's character by detailing an interaction between Blair and the leader of Wrath, the anti-semitic, anti-government organization that carried out the hate crime the novel revolves around. Isaacs ended with an article written by Lauren Miller, Charlie's love interest who tries to positively define American character while defaming Wrath. Together, the readings gave a taste of the book's structure, key characters, and theme.
Isaacs' theme has a life of its own, as do her complex characters, especially since they have such detailed, colorful histories. "The subconscious is any writer's finest collaborator," said Isaacs of her writing. "The character comes before the book. Then you work to get the voice right. At the end of the book, you're no longer writing, you're just the stenographer." In this case, Isaacs seems to be the stenographer for a thoughtful commentary on what constitutes the American spirit.
-- Meredith Phillips