Patrick Radden Keefe on Empire of Pain


With information stuck between different apps and platforms. It's hard to get a full view of where things stand monday. Dot com. marcos is visual platform. Where teams run. All of their work over one hundred thousand organizations are using monday dot com to meet their goals to start your free two week. Trial go to monday dot com. That's a free two week trial with monday. Dot com him. One family responsible for america's opioid crisis. Patrick credit keith will join us to discuss his new book empire of pain. What makes a novel a choose your own adventure for adults. Liz egan will be here to discuss her latest pick for group. Text the novel. What comes after. Plus we'll talk about what we and the wider world are reading. This is the book review podcast from the new york times. It's april twenty third. I'm pamela paul. Patron kief joins us now. His new book is called empire of pain. the secret history of the sackler dynasty. Patrick thanks for being here. Thanks so much for having me back. So let's start with a very basic question. In case people are not aware of the sackler family and why he would be writing about them with title like empire of pain. who are the sackler. So this sort of to waste answer that question until a few years ago what. The sackler name Generally to to the extent that people were aware of this family it was a very wealthy family. One of the wealthiest families in the united states with a branch in the uk in london and they were known chiefly for philanthropy right art museum wings. Hundreds of millions of dollars to art museums and universities and medical research and would very often put their name on these bequests. If you you know in new york city go to the metropolitan museum of art and there's the sackler wing And that was what they were known for. What was more mysterious. Was the source of this wealth and it has People have become more widely aware. Recently that That the bulk of this wealth comes from a company purdue pharma which produces the powerful painkiller oxycontin in this era in which the naming of things and the un naming of things mounting and the on mounting has become very active. Is it still the circle ring. In the metropolitan museum is sackler still emblazoned on all of these buildings and donated wings. Well it's very much in flux. So as i speak today it's still the sackler wing but the has actually announced today initially. They said they weren't taking any future. Donations from the soccer is because of the connection between the family and the crisis and then more recently. They've said that they are You know i think assessing is is the word whether or not the sackler wing will remain the sackler wing. Some institutions have started to take the name down so tufts university took down the sackler name from a series of buildings Because the students there this is at the medical school had said. I don't wanna go to class in a building named after this family and and get my medical education. They're more recently. New york university has done the same. The louvre in paris is taken down the sackler name. So there's a real question for many of these other institutions and there's dozens and dozens of them were the name still stands whether or not they'll keep it all right. Let's find out why people want to take that name down. You start your book with arthur. The potter familias of the clan. Who is he and how did he make his money. And how did he differ from what some members of the family called the oxy. Soccer's arthur sackler was a kind of incredible protean. Very new york character. He was born in brooklyn in nineteen thirteen. He grew up the oldest of three brothers in a family of immigrants who had come from from europe and he became a doctor. He had grown up during the great depression and he was sort of forged by that experience and he had this amazing energy so he became a doctor and encouraged his younger brothers mortimer and raymond to become physicians as well which they did but arthur was also a businessman and so he started companies left and right. He got into medical advertising in addition to practicing medicine and ended up running his own wildly successful medical advertising company and made a huge fortune as the person who designed the marketing for valium. But was the valium tagline. How was it. so we'll see. This is what they call the minor tranquilizer and the idea was that there were major tranquilizers on the market at the time which were really for people who are psychotic for people who have pretty severe conditions that required a very strong response minor tranquilizers. The idea was look anybody who feels a little anxiety. a little. social nervousness or depression could take minor tranquilizer. and in the case of valium. What that entailed was overplaying. The therapeutic benefits the number of conditions abuse for playing the risks. So for instance. The risk the valium potentially be addictive which turned out to be and then really appealing not just to consumers but to doctors this was what arthur sackler really excelled that he was a doctor himself but in medical advertising and so his pitch was to the prescriber he realized that that was where the riches lay. If you could convince physicians to write prescriptions. That was how you developed a juggernaut and sure enough volume became at the time the most successful drug in the history of pharmaceutical industry. You have to wonder are not idiots. They'd seeing this. They knew this history. How did this work for oxycontin. Why wasn't there more skepticism in it for doctors. I mean i should say just for the sake of clarity. That arthur who i very deliberately chose to focus the first third of the book on arthur but arthur dies in nineteen eighty seven and it's only later in the nineteen nineties to other branches of the family which own this company purdue unveil oxycontin this powerful painkiller but with a similar playbook to what was used with valium. You know this question of how easily swayed physicians are was one that i really fixated on in this whole process. I don't know about you. I think people differ like even my wife and i are different about this but if i go see my doctor doctor tells me if i say i've got these symptoms but doctor says okay. Have you need to take wi. I will just sort of blindly follow his advice. Because i figured he must know i wife will second guess any doctor no matter. How expert with a little googling of her own but i'll just take it on faith and arthur sackler in particular had to notion. The doctors are kind of unimpeachable that they couldn't be swayed by something like advertising. He actually would say you know. It's not really advertising i do. It's just education. But as i dug into this i found that there's a lot of a lot of evidence that doctors can be swayed in a purdue pharma this company that still sells oxycontin. One amazing figure. I came across as i was researching the book. There was a period of time when they were spending nine million dollars a year just to buy food for doctors and if you talk to physicians and i have they'll say oh i would never be swayed by you know somebody. Buying a meal can change the way i prescribe. But you have to figure that at the company. They're not gonna spend that nine million dollars if they're not really closely looking at the numbers and realizing that actually it does change the behavior of the doctors. All right let's get back to the two other brothers and purdue pharma because as you pointed out oxycontin doesn't come to market until nineteen ninety-six. What was the company doing before. Then and how did they end up developing oxycontin. It was originally called purdue frederick this family business in arthur sackler bought it in nineteen fifty two. He basically bought it for his brothers and so the three of them owned it but it was really his younger brothers mortimer and raymond who were following in his wake who ran the company and for years and years it had it had a kind of steady business in very unglamorous staples antiseptic solution. That was very successful. They had ear wax remover. Various not particularly groundbreaking products over the counter products that they sold and and they they did a tidy business in the nineteen eighties. They started becoming more innovative. As a pharmaceutical company and they marketed a new drug called. Ms contin which was a painkiller. Morphine based pain killer. That had a quite innovative coating on the pill which would allow for dose of morphine. That would slowly filter into the bloodstream of period of hours. And eventually the that was very successful and the the patent on that was coming up and it was at that point that they thought well. How could we use that. Coding and find another drug that we could use with it and that was where they came up with the idea of using oxycodones. And they'd painkiller. And that gave birth to oxycontin this drug that now were familiar with what was so special about oxycontin successful. So it's really all about the coding the seal on the pills. There's only one active ingredients oxycodone on that drug had been around for decades nearly a century. And what happened. There was in the past. You know if you've ever been prescribed pirka down or percocet. There are prescription painkillers. In which you get oxycodone in quite small doses and it's mixed with or acetaminophen which means that you wouldn't take too much you bet because those can be toxic if taken in large doses. So you'd have a small dose of oxycodone in something like burke down or percocet. The real novelty of oxycontin was you could have a huge dose of this drug. Oxycodone that with this that what they call the content seal it would regulate the flow of the drug into your bloodstream of her twelve hours. This was the idea. So you get a kind of continuous almost like a drip of the drug into your bloodstream. And what that meant in terms of the market was that people wouldn't need to take. They would need to wake up in the middle of the night to take painkillers. In order to relieve their pain. They could sleep through the night because in theory in we've got to be more complicated in practice but in theory the drug lasted twelve hours and so there was a big marketing campaign with oxycontin where they would say you know it just takes two doses one in the am one pm and you're set okay. So this struggle comes to market in nineteen ninety-six presumably. It's used primarily and hospitals and then for post surgical pain rate. Has it become a big problem. Ms contin the predecessor drug had really been a cancer drug. There was a sense that it was a kind of nuclear solution that a patient would graduate to and it was it was morphine and there was a sense that it would be administered when somebody was battling really severe cat related pain or was in end of life care situation. The problem is that while that was a robust market and made hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the company. It's a limited market. And so what purdue and the sackler set out to do was position oxycontin as a drug not just for severe pain but also for moderate pain and that would be a much much bigger market in the united the company s itself estimated that there were forty to fifty million americans who suffered from some form of chronic pain. And so if you could position this drug so that it would be a kind of approachable alternative. Not the thing you go to as a last resort when you've tried everything else. But actually to use the tagline that they developed roxy content said. It's the one to start with and the one to stay with cow to well exactly and that was the intention. I think in ways that probably even they didn't anticipate with the want to stay with part turns out. This was addictive. They hadn't done any studies in advance on addictiveness and in fact in their marketing they rather cavalierly told physicians. that wasn't addictive. Basically what they would say. And i've interviewed lots of former sales reps from purdue who would go out and they would meet with doctors all day long and they would say you know dr. We've looked into this their studies. This is addictive. Less than one percent of the time said in part probably didn't even realize it in terms of the the stay component how culpable worthy. I mean at what point did they realize that this is having unanticipated consequences. This is something. I've thought about a lot and that i try and pretty carefully in the book these questions of culpability and you have to be pretty careful nuanced. I think in your discussion of this sort of thing because the opioid crisis which we end up with which i would argue really springs from the launch of oxycontin ends up killing nearly half a million americans right. It's just absolute catastrophe from a public health point of view. So i do think that you need to be pretty scrupulous about who you assign blame to. And in what measure and you know for me looking very carefully at purdue but then also the sackler family which owned the company which made billions and billions and billions of dollars from the sale of oxycontin and which ran the company. You know the the family now claims that they had only kind of distant occasionally. They got emails telling them what was happening at purdue but they really weren't weighing in in a major way i was able to. I think establish a pretty elaborate paper trail proving that that's not the case that in fact many members of the family were fanatically micromanaging. What happened in the business straight up until just a couple of years ago. So how do we assign blame so for me. The really critical point is not the original launch of oxycontin or the fact that they didn't do tests verdict or the fact that they design this crazy marketing strategy. And they thought that you know. Let's persuade doctors that these drugs addictive even though they didn't know that and they aim to make a drug for everyone to start with into stay with all of that i think is is hugely problematic and does end up birthing the opioid crisis that we know today morally though for me the really critical moment is after the drug is released pretty quickly thereafter there. Start being these indications that it's not what the family in the company of cracked up to be that in fact people are abusing it. they are growing addicted. Their overdosing under dine and word starts coming back to the senior leadership of the company that this is happening. I feel as though at that point. That's when it really matters. That's the moment where they could have said not. We're gonna pull the drug from the shelves but they could've said maybe we should slow down our marketing just touch. You know maybe we should be a little less assured about telling doctors. This isn't addictive. Maybe we should do a little soul searching here and think about the magnitude of suffering that we're hearing about and just kind of take a hard look at power handling this and that didn't happen. What was instead the both the business and the family kind of got into this defensive crouch and they said you know. The drug is flawless. There is no problem with the drug. The drug is not addictive. The problem is drug abusers that there are people out there. Who just you know. If they weren't abusing oxycontin they'd be using something else and they're they're morally degenerate and we share no responsibility for that. And when was that in time the the drug comes to market in nineteen ninety-six. When did it begin to realize the implications and respond in that way. The story that produce voice told us that they didn't get an indication of any major problems until early two thousand so four years later right this is like echoes of the tobacco industry. Yes yes exactly. So it's this question of what did they know. And when did they know it. And what they have always claimed including. I should say in congressional testimony in sworn depositions. They've always said oh. We didn't really get it in a sense that there was any major issue at all until the spring of two thousand and then we learned about it from media reports they learned about it from they claimed by reading the newspaper. One thing i was able to establish very definitive in the book is that in fact there is this paper trail really starting in nineteen ninety seven so just a year after the drug is released off sales reps sending messages back saying. Hey we've got a problem here. you know. People are abusing this drug. This is not working out the way we we got an image problem with this drug out there on the street and in an indeed in the medical community and there's very high level discussion by senior executives at the company some of whom subsequently testified under oath that they did know anything about this until early. Two thousand in terms of the timeline. It's very hard to reconcile what they have always said publicly. And what. I was able to substantiate with internal documents. You also spoke to those salespeople. As you mentioned earlier i mean what did they say. How do they realize they're going out there. There are meeting with doctors presumably. They're selling these drugs. How do they realized there's a problem. One thing i found talking to the sales reps. And i think this is this is true for executives at the company and publisher of the soccers as well as there was actually a fair amount of idealism. It might have been naive idealism but in the early going with oxycontin there was a sense that you know we're out here. God work were bringing relief to to hundreds of thousands millions of people who were suffering from terrible pain so it becomes this question of. How do you recalibrate your understanding. What you're doing as new evidence comes in and for the sales reps it was pretty immediate. Because they're out there meeting doctors and doctors would say god you know. My patients are coming back. And they're saying they need more and more they were talking with pharmacists. Who are concerned about some of the who. Were getting prescriptions. I had this amazing conversation with one. Sales rep the way. He discovered there was a problem as he'd been on the job for a while. I think this is in one thousand nine hundred nine so again before the company claims they ever knew anything and he had this one doctor who was a big prescriber and for the sales reps. They loved the doctors who prescribed a lot of oxycontin. They actually had a name for them. They called the whales. The way people in In vegas refer to big big gamblers because it's very profitable to have a doctor like that. And he went to call on the doctor and he found her just looking really downcast and asked what had happened and she said that she had a relative who had just died and that she had overdosed on oxycontin so literally the way. This guy learns that. There's a problem. Is that the doctor who he's been visiting who's been prescribing. So much oxycontin lose a family member to an overdose. We talked a little bit earlier about the division within the family between arthur's errors and the so-called oxy sackler the his brothers and their family members is there any other dissension in the family. Are there any internal whistle blowers anyone who would talk to you for this book. This is one of the big riddles for me is. I was convinced that there must be. And i spent a lot of time trying to figure out. Is there some apostate right some angry nephew absolutely someone who feels any measure of discomfort about the source of the family wealth. And it's funny because there are a lot of particularly younger. I mean i describe in the book and sackler who's a filmmaker who makes kind of social justice type films. There are members of the family who don't work for the company never have worked for the company and some of them quite righteously. Say why. Should i have to answer questions about this business. You know who would suggest that. I am in anyway complicit when i didn't make any of these business decisions and i kind of balk at that a little bit i mean i would never suggest that the level of complicity is the same but these are people who who are very very wealthy because of the sale of oxycontin. You know they all have these trusts which cumulate money coming from the sale of this drug and there is not a single person who has shown any daylight between them and their family any level of discomfort to a point where one thing i obtained as i was researching. The book was a private whatsapp log of a family. Chat among the heirs of mortimer sackler that lasted over a year. A back and forth. And you know a lot of it was planning dinners and wishing each other merry christmas but then some of it was talking about the pr problems for the family and all of these younger sackler for the business. But who have been hugely enriched by it. They talked about this as a pr problem. It was incredible to see that even in private on this line. that's just family members. There's nobody who says. Hey god maybe you know maybe we should take a beat and think about this. Maybe we do have some responsibility. I'm taking it. They are not pleased about the publication of this book. What was it like trying to get some kind of comment from them. During the process of your research. It wasn't pleasant. I knew from the outset that they would. Not i had written this piece in the new yorker in two thousand seventeen about the family and as soon as it was announced that i was doing the book i started. Getting legal. threats mortimer after branch was actually less antagonistic. But the raymond sackler branch of the family. Really kind of you know came after me with a whole string of legal threats suggestions that they might sue live outside new york city in the suburbs. There's a point that i describe in the book where there was a private investigator sticking out my house i should say. I don't know that the sackler said the investigator but it'd be hard for me to imagine. Who else would. And when. I asked the family whether they knew anything about this. They refused to comment the challenge for me as a writer is if you're going to tell a story like this without direct access to the people you're writing about. Can you do it in a way. That feels vivid and authentic and intimate enough that the reader doesn't feel like they're seeing these people through a telescope. And the way i manage to do that was through gathering a lot of documents through doing a lot of interviews and talking to people who who know the family but also through gathering a huge amount of private correspondence. So even though i wasn't i didn't have the opportunity to interview these people in person. The book is still very largely told through their own words where things stand now with purdue pharma and the sackler family. We talked a little bit about their name coming off of things. But where are they legally and financially as of now there are about twenty five hundred lawsuits against purdue pharma statement union is suing the company over its role in the opioid crisis. Roughly half the states are actually suing the sackler orders individually. And you end up in this kind of crazy situation. In which over a period of about a decade the family started really aggressively pulling money. Out of purdue so they would get these huge disbursements few hundred million here a few hundred million there and over about a decade. They took ten billion dollars out of the company and in private accounts offshore and their private trusts and so forth. And what happened. Is that you get this huge storm of litigation these lawsuits and at that point. The family says all will work. We're just going to put the company in bankruptcy because the bank. The company doesn't have any money anymore to deal with all these lawsuits. So you end up in this strange state of affairs where purdue pharma is now in bankruptcy in evacuees according in white plains new york. The sackler have not declared bankruptcy. Because they've taken all the money out of the company and the the big legal question now is what kind of accountability they may or may not face. Will these lawsuits by the states. Be allowed to move forward or will the family do with. I think they want to do which is wrap this whole thing up in bankruptcy court they would make a contribution that proposed contribution of i think four and a quarter billion dollars and what they've made like eighteen billion dollars off this. I mean nobody even really knows we know we know for sure. And it's been it's been documented and they don't deny that they took the ina. I think it's eight years. They took more than ten billion dollars out of the company. So so if you think about it that way right. I mean four billion dollars a lot of money on the one hand on the other hand. The one other thing to add is that just this at the end of last year. Purdue pharma pled guilty to fraud to any charges for the second time actually hit had done so in two thousand seven as well so you've a period of time when the company is committing fraud. It's since pled guilty and the family is taking money out and what they're saying is we'll give you forty cents on the dollar for what we took out so much about the story. I would sound very strange to people who don't live in this weird little country we live in with its odd practices from the bankruptcy to the the way in which the firm suitable industry is structured. But one big question. I imagine people who don't live here have to ask. How did this drug get to market in the first place. Why is there so little regulation not to absolve the soccer family. Or purdue pharma of responsibility but you have to wonder like why was no one else paying attention to this. It's a great question. i should say i mean. I focused on the family for a number of reasons in part because i felt as though their story had not been fully told in part because honestly i think it's a great story i mean i've always been fascinated by family dynamics and and i i love to read family sagas and so that was the particular story that i wanted to tell that is not to say by any stretch that there isn't plenty of blame that can be assigned elsewhere and part of the story i wanted to tell was actually a a structural one about the way in which in our system in the united states. Money just pollutes everything. And so whether it's the department of justice which kind of let the company off easy or congress which i think not until fairly recently engaged enough scrutiny in this way and his is all too easily bought off by donations influence-peddling or in this case the fda into the role of the fda. I think is is a real problem here. So what the soccer's would say you look. All we ever did was sell a drug that was approved by the fda. What was wrong with that. And if you put a lot of stock in the fda being good at doing its job then that might be persuasive. Answer but in the case of oxycontin. There's a story i tell him. The book about a guy named curtis wright who was the chief examiner at fda responsible for approving not just the drug but also the marketing language. That could be used. So curtis right approved the drug and then he leaves the fda and within a year he goes and takes job at purdue pharma for four hundred thousand dollars in compensation. I've foyer the foyer. The fda to try and get all his communications pieces together and they were never responsive. So i sued. And i got a judge in new york to compel them to turn over thousands of pages of documents to me. But when it came to curtis redskin indications. They said you know. It's the strangest thing we don't have anything left. It must have all just gotten lost or destroyed. I'm going to translate one word for listeners. Foia is freedom of information act. I guess is how you would put it to request documents okay. It's a very complicated story. I wanna ask you one final question related to that complexity but on a personal level your book say nothing came out in two thousand nineteen. So you're paperback was out last year. You also had this great. Podcast outlasts summer which i think defined my early slash mid pandemic period winds of change. Where i would like to stalk around the neighborhood listening to that series and you were writing this book. Explain how that was done and now that it's basically all over what are you doing. Oh god yeah. I mean the To take the second parks. I i wanna take a nap. I'm exhausted the it's been a long. I mean it's been a long year for all of us right right. There was also that pandemic there was no matter. The truth is that twenty twenty was supposed to be. We can all tell some version of the story right. There were a lot of things i was going to be doing in twenty twenty Say nothing was going to be coming out in other countries. And i was gonna do some interesting travel and so forth. Everything just got swept away and so in terms of the writing of this book. I found that it was very helpful to have all of my plans canceled for a year and be forced to stay in my home. It's like house arrest for writers. I m somebody who particularly when it comes to things like just getting a book written. I have like confinement fantasies. Sometimes you know. I think if somebody could just cancel all my plans my social obligations and you really can't do anything but but sit in your room and in this instance. It was one of those bizarre ways. In which the awful things happening in the world for. We're kind of helpful. So i am tired at this point. I think going to take a break all right well. The very good result for readers and for listeners is that you have three different. Patrick radin keith. things that you can consume. Nothing and patrick was on the podcast for that. The second is his excellent podcast. Winds of change and his new book of course is empire of the secret history of the sackler dynasty. Patrick thanks so much for being here. Thank you for having me. This podcast is supported by better. Help counseling therapy as a place. Where you really dig deep into who you are without needing to be too concerned with the relationships that you have with other people all of your life's responsibilities. It's just you time that's heavily. Joe have clinical support at better help. Join the millions. Who are seeing. What therapy is really about listeners. Book view get ten percents off the first month of better help dot com slash book review. That's better h e l p com slash book review. Hi this is melissa clark from new york times cooking. Who doesn't love a simple one pan. Neil take my shakshuka with federal recipe for instance in a single skillet. You get perfectly cooked eggs nestled in a bright and fragrant tomato sauce surrounded by creamy nuggets of melted fed up. It's a delicious breakfast. But it's just as good for dinner and it won't leave you with a lot of cleanup you can find this recipe and oliver fan favourite one pan recipes at n. y. T. coming dot com and cooking. Has you covered with recipes advice and inspiration for any occasion joining us now to help. Celebrate the one hundred. Twenty fifth anniversary of the book review tina jordan. Hey tina hey pamela. So today i'm going to talk about bylines because of course today all of our reviews are signed but in the beginning only a few of them were and then only when they were written by a well known critic or scholar in one thousand nine hundred ninety five. The editor of the book review noted that the annual holiday issue was remarkable for the large number of valuable contributions from writers have in their respective fields. But this really was the exception. Because the unnamed pundits regularly took potshots at authors and poets and drama some of whom began writing directly to the paper's publisher asking that he intercede on their behalf. And that adolph ochs. He was very firm and courteous in his replies and he told people i should be pleased to have noticed taken. If your book. But i do not interfere in fact i cannot do so without totally demoralizing our organization but there was one review in particular that set people off and it was a review of george bernard. Shaw's plays pleasant and unpleasant a collection that was published in eighteen. Ninety eight and in the end signed review review. A few choice lines from it. Here's a good one. He is not a touch of the poetical in his composition and the critic and satirist who is not a bit of a poet cannot reasonably hope to win. Wide renown is dramatize but my favorite favorite lines are these. Mr shah's new book is one in which multitudes of readers would find intolerably dry. A smart that of historical perversion is called. The man of destiny. Itself is supposed incident in the life of napoleon and does show that shaw has the instinct of stagecraft and the neck of devising situations. If only he had a poet's gift he might become a real dramatist. I kind of love this. Obviously george bernard. Shaw was an incredibly important playwright of the era but this relief was the norm that these reviews were not signed and in fact it wasn't until i believe the early nineteen forties that the rule was that every single review be signed who that was very common in the era. I mean for a long time time magazine articles weren't signed. Newsweek didn't i don't think had bylines the economist but still doesn't have bylines. Absolutely things were not signed in the case of critics though i do feel like criticism began to be signed earlier than other things. Well let's hear about more of those bylines in the weeks to come. Tina thank you so much. Thank you pamela. It's time for our april group text. Pick and elizabeth egan is here to talk about it. Liz thanks for being here hemlock. Thank you so much for having me on thrilled to be here to talk about what comes. After by joanne. Tompkins are what kind of book is this. This is an atmospheric thriller slash mystery slash garden-variety. Just really good book about a small town in the pacific northwest. That is reeling from a tragedy that the title what comes after is very apt because this is the story of what comes after a tragedy where two teenage boys have died. One has been murdered. One dies by suicide and we follow pregnant sixteen year old as she wanders out of the woods on the outskirts of town and arrives at the home of the father of one of the boys and we see how the town except the girl and hold off on asking some pretty difficult questions about who she is where she came from and as they piece together who she is. We do also really. The vibe is watching the the town and these two parents recover from this huge loss okay. There's a lot in there. But i want to start with the wandering out of the woods thing because i'm thinking to myself as you say that we need to make a list of all of the novels that start with someone wandering out of the woods and then compare that with i mean. How often does someone wander out of the woodson real life right. Never he where. I live in suburban new jersey. The person you wanders out of the woods is somebody. You want nothing to do it. So okay that aside suspending disbelief for a moment on that. But i guess it is a very effective thing in a book to have someone wander out of the woods. It's sometimes it's a child who's been held captive for who knows how many years into windows who her parents are and other times. It's someone emerging after an attempted murder. And i don't know what it is. Well i guess this person wanders out pregnant right. She does and actually. It's worth noting. This is the second group textbook in one year where we've had somebody wandering out of the woods. The other one was dear child writing right. Which i i'm sensing you have an affinity deals in this case. Actually you do know a little bit. And i'm not giving anything away but the girl evangeline you do learn right from the get go that she has been abandoned by her mother. Who is a drug addict. And she's leaving this trailer that she's been living in with her mother so it's not like she's a woodland creature she's really down on her luck and she has a connection to the boys who have died and i won't go into what it is but she knows that the father of one of the boys is living alone in this big house and so she she seeks him out and he opened his home to her. And there's this amazing theme in the book which i didn't get into so much in my review of it. But this father who she takes up residence with his name is isaac. He's quaker and he's really struggling with his faith in the wake of his only child's death so we get these this story of the community rebounding the families rebounding the story of evangeline pregnancy. And we also have the story of a man's search for faith which is not necessarily my favorite story line. But i knew very little about quaker ism and i thought that joanne tompkins this is her first novel. I thought she handled. It was such a light and thoughtful touch and that to me elevated this book into a different level of of beauty. I would say the things we don't know at the beginning of this novel are who is the father of the child that evangeline is carrying. What happened to the two dead teenagers. Exactly and why and what her connection is to those characters and those are the underlying mysteries in the in the book. Yes and i should say that. Because i always think i know everything when i start a mystery. I always think i've solved it. I thought oh. I personally liz egan. I know who the father of this baby is. And i'm just telling you right now. I really didn't. It's it's a true shock. So it's a real mystery and it unfolds very slowly and gracefully and poetically with a lot of fog and views of the southbound and pine trees. And i think i mentioned this in my review. Our maybe i didn't. There are a lot of animals in this book and unfortunately for us pamela. there. I don't think there are any cats but i love when the family dog is a is a character and in this case there's one named rufus got under my skin. You mentioned earlier that this is his debut. What why did you choose it. It's really fat. It's a long book. And i was looking for something that i could really lose myself in. Also i am the mother of three teenagers. And i'm constantly looking for the book that makes me feel a little better about how little i know about what's running through my kids heads at any given time. I'm aware that on some level that's developmentally appropriate. But this book reminded me that. Teenagers have a life separate from the adults around them and even now in the middle of the pandemic they have secrets. They have their own adventures. That try to keep track of but there was something about this book that fell if kind of reassuring to me as strange as that sounds because it begins with this terrible tragedy but is really actually a book about life and tomkins presumably is effective at capturing that teenage mindset and voice. I thought she was. I'm eager to hear from a teenager. Who's read this book. Because i read it. And i felt the teenage voices seemed very authentic. But if i've learned one thing in my years as the mother of teenagers they have a whole different. A meter. For detecting a word. That i i won't say on the podcast nonsense. Let's say yes. Yes exactly so. If you were running a book club on this right now that would be what you would want to know from any teenage members who happen to wander in. but what else would you want to ask everyone over authors. Would you open your door to somebody who arrived on your front porch with no history in your life. Would you have the capacity to dig deep in your lowest moment and share yourself with somebody else. The way the people in this book do. I thought that was an interesting question. Also i think that questions around the quaker piece of it were were really interesting. The way that isaac the father relies on his religious community to help him through this in your tux column. You compared the book to other novels really different ones and i'm curious why you chose them and if you could describe each of them to listener so that they know what those books are about the i was. Gabriel talents my absolute darling. Few years ago that one is about a girl who's living alone with her father who is horribly abusive and what connected it in my mind to what comes after was the of atmosphere and wilderness around their home. She's this almost feral kid who finds comfort in the land and is like a i i it was. It's been a while since i've read it. But i think that she'd like knows how to use a bow and arrow and she travels barefoot miles at a time and her self sufficiency reminded me of evangeline. Actually the opposite where she's living in this hone that's probably abusive and not conducive to little kid. Life in what comes after. I found the opposite. They're they're such a center of warmth and peace in the home where evangeline takes up residence. So i thought it was an interesting comparison aren't in the other book is lionel shriver's we need to talk about which i think i'm the only one in my demographic who is not read that book you have got to remedy that situation. It's a story told from the perspective of a mother whose son has turned out to be a bad seed and she has long suspected that he isn't normal. Of course what is normal. But that he isn't well and we hear his story from her perspective after pretty much. The worst has happened. That was very succinct. Liz it's interesting. 'cause i always think of that book as i think. The shorthand at the time was this is like the the dylan klebold book. This is the post columbine. How could that happen. How does someone raise a child like this novel. I don't know if shriver based on either of the columbine killers but perhaps it's just that it landed at around that time but for whatever reason they're closely associated in my head. I closely associated them until i read. Sue klebold memoir. She's dylan klebold. Mother and i had a completely different perspective on her relationship with her son and what their home life was like when he was growing up. After i read that book she was a guest on. The podcast of that book was a really powerful conversation. I almost listed her memoir and commended reading with what comes after. But it's so real. It felt almost wrong to parent with fiction. Felt too casual. But it's really a stunning book to the book is what comes after by joanne. Tompkins give us one last like you want to read this. If kind of idea you want to read this if you're grappling with the idea of why terrible things happen which i think we all are right now. How do you pick up and walk forward into the world when you're feeling disillusioned and devastated and yet this is not a sad. It is sad book. But it's a book where you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Always make me wanna read everything oh good. I'm glad to hear that. I think you like this one all right. Elizabeth egan is an editor at the booker view. And she writes. Our monthly group taxed column joining us now to talk about what we're reading my colleagues john williams and lauren christianson hater. Everybody amer so john. What have you been reading. I have a little mini quest story to go with what. I'm reading this week. Which i always liked because it's so easy to find everything nowadays. I've been looking for a while for this book by jane. Garden called crusoes daughter said novel. She's best known here. I think for her book. Old filth which i read a million years ago and i think i read another book of hers half a million years ago but a few years ago i talked on the podcast about this short book that was published in britain called robinson who publisher there who used the pen name to write it and it's all about robinson crusoe it's about hundred pages it's part memoir but it's really a cultural study of the novel's reflection of british culture and also this sort of remarkable number of books and other artistic works that have been inspired by it and one of the things he mentioned. Was this jane garden novel. And so i've been looking for it ever since it's out of print tier. I finally just ordered it from the uk. I couldn't even find it in used bookstores. So i felt like when it when it takes you so much work to get a book. You're really into it. You think this better be good and it is. it's fantastic. i'm about ten pages away from the end of it. It's about a six year old girl named polly flint. Who is an. She's not orphaned quite yet when the book starts her father drops her off at her two aunt's house. Aunts live together on the northern coast of england in a fairly isolated. Place right the water and polly's mother has just died and two months after her father drops her off he dies. This all happens very quickly. So not spoiling anything. And the two aunts one is bleak and one is gentle as polly describes them their religious. They don't like poly doesn't want to go to church. She has kind of stubborn disbelief from a very young age but also from a very young age she loves the novel robinson crusoe to the point. Where to the point of obsession really. I think when she's an adolescent. She says she's read at twenty three times and she goes on to keep reading it and when she's in her early thirties. She translates it a couple of times. She writes us. I think what she calls a spiritual biography of the novel. And what's great is that there's that through line of this beloved book and and the way she talks and thinks about it but it's a fairly short novels less than three hundred pages and it doesn't it feels even a little bit shorter than that when you're holding it in your hands and yet it has this great old fashioned sweep where you get polly's life from well the time she's six when she's dropped off at the house to toward the end of the book. She's in her forties. I think and it happens without you really realizing that that much time passing and she has these relationships with a couple of people she ends up meeting locally it's pretty sparsely populated place but she falls in love with a couple of people. One of them goes off to fight in the war world. War one happens. War two starts to bloom into the horizon. You get this great sense of history and also of this very isolated life lived against its background and she's a great character. It is written in the first person from her perspective. And i'm loving it. And actually when i started to think about talking about it on the show today i realized that you know. I think i like it even more than i was feeling as i read it. It's it's i think it's going to stay with me for a long time. Jane guard number children's books too. So it's kinda interesting that she's she's starts. This went off from the perspective of child. Yes you can almost study this book much closer way to find out what she's doing with the fact that she's telling the story from the perspective of herself almost at every age and it's very seamless. I'm not quite sure how she does it. Gardens done a lot. She's in her nineties now and she might still be writing. But i was gonna ask the both of you though. If you've ever read because i actually haven't read robinson crusoe itself. I read after. I read that book. I mentioned it also talked about james. Kosei is novel foe. Which is also about runs chris which is great and it mentioned. Muriel spark novel. That i have but i haven't read yet and all the i mean it left me with sort of twelve to fifteen books to read afterwards but i've never read the foundational tax than i wonder if it's great or you were bored by it or i haven't read it either. I read that jeff l. And fo the say in a class that i took in college that was about the origins of the novel because robinson crusoe is considered one of the first novels. Some people might argue that it was the first novel in so far as it was really about the interior already of the person so i read it largely as one reads for class. Not for pleasure but about that question. I think it's worth reading for historical reasons if nothing else to just get that sense of. How did people create those first novels. Had that of all. There's this great senior. I think police on a train and she's talking to someone. She's always defending the novel against her aunt. Thinks that it's i don't know if she says boring but she she wonders why she's bothering with it. And i think there's a man who says defoe you're reading to fill. You should read dickens. He'll make you laugh so there's like she's though is trying to tell people that this is actually a great work. And they should they should read it. Lauren what are you reading these days. I am reading debut collection by dish affiliate. A secret lives of church. Ladies it came out this past summer from west. Virginia university press. It's nine stories. it's a slim collection. Paperback all centered on the lives of black women at various stages in their lives and they're really pushing against society's expectations of them whether you know figuring out their own sexualities or growing up and just gaining new understandings says as all of us can relate to who their parents are. The parents flaws in how those shaped who the daughters are themselves it just really astounding collection and the one story. That i really can't get out of my head is called peach cobbler. It's narrated by the daughter of a single mom who you know. She's just known for making this really incredibly rich and sweet dessert from scratch all the time. She does it by intuition. Which in very limited. Aching experience i have. You really can't do you know. She just kind of feels out the proportions of the ingredients. But it's just this magical desert and her daughter witnesses for making this all the time and she smells it. And she's kind of like salivating for it but the mother never lets her. Taste it because this. This cobbler is for pastor. Neely who's a character. Who is the pastor in the town who is married with family and he just comes over to their house where this mother and daughter live to eat the entire pie himself. You know he's like he's so he's so hungry for it and it's it's just it's this really like carnal enjoyment that he gets out of this pie and the daughter watching him. It's a it's a really interesting. Look at hunger and desire but after he's finished with it you may take some other back into the bedroom and they have this this ongoing affair and eventually the girl experiences mail betrayal of her own. She's an adolescent girl. She she has feeling of being used and then discarded and she experiences that for herself but beyond that great storytelling. There's just this really quiet effortless power of the sentences that video rights. I wanna read just a really short sequence. It's like four sentences that i mean. I think i could still cry but podcasts. I won't cry podcast line. I start crying. Crying almost poached. The bag are is that she. The daughter has learned or taught herself to make this by herself. She just figured it out and she's really proud of herself. And it's this accomplishment. And she imagines making it for pastor neely as well it's just she's just imagining this that she she writes. I imagined him tasting my cobbler and telling me it was better than my mother's the best in the world i also imagined sent him a piece with ground up glass baked into the crust and watching him crumpled to the floor more than that. I wanted my mother to know and be proud. That i could make good cobbler. Mostly just wanted my mother. I feel like you posted one of these sentences on instagram. And it freaked me out. I think i emailed diese. When i read that i just i still find it so powerful i feel encapsulated so much of decided feels like to be like a young woman in the things that you want. And you're informed like maybe don't get and you know. I'm hardly the first person to love this book a. It's really made a clean sweep of this year's awards at. I think it was a finalist for the national book award won the pen faulkner and the story prize. I think it's up for a couple of other things including the l. a. times book prize at i. Just i really can't say enough great things bad so anyone hasn't read it. Go pick it up. It's very slim collection. That's been on my radar pamela. What are you reading. I feel like the theme. This week is kids because one thing picking up the dickens is one of my kids is reading dickens. Right now and something. That released depress me that he said because he does find it really funny. He's reading david copperfield. And he read aloud to me. This really terrible letter that mr macabre writes in the novel and just for the bad writing of the mr macabre but in writing is even worse than the way that mr macabre speaks and he said to me. You know i remember. You always talking about this character. When i was little. I was like what you know. It's it's one of those moments where you realize that because apparently just like blah blah blah. You're not even listening to yourself. Talk errantly i. I knew. I'd spoken of your ira heap. But i did not realize. Apparently talked about mr macabre so recognizable character to him. I'm gonna pull john williams. Which is what. I think of when john would come into the podcast studio with like three novels in pale. Like i have read these three books while you have struggled through chapter of yours. I'm gonna talk about two bucks. The first is the book that i just finished which was true grit by charles portis. And it's just one of those things where you know. I i feel really irritated at myself. Like i just no matter how many times people said you have to read it. You have to read it. I'm like no i don't. I've seen the movie three times. I don't need to read it. I've done that. And i'm talking about the coen brothers movie. I haven't seen the john wayne version but of course you do have to read that book. It's just a perfect. Have you both read it. I love that book. I bought it after the appreciation. Piece that we ran soon after he passed away. And i still haven't read it yet but it's on the shelf all right so john. Let's talk and we won't reveal anything to you. Lauren seen the phone or the either foam. It's all right lawrence mike. Yeah it was a long time ago. That i read it when i say a long time. Goes probably isn't a smug and superior tune twelve or thirteen years. Probably the memory of the details isn't super close. But what i remember is how funny it was and also how perfect it is as an exercise in a very very overused word which is voice. Yes yes it's like the perfect pitch of capturing this character's voice throughout the book is is really remarkable so so for those who haven't read the book and haven't seen the movie just in short is about a fourteen year old girl they mattie whose father is killed this is in the eighteen. Seventy s in arkansas so very much kind of frontier western novel but told from this fourteen year old girls perspective and she wants to avenge his death by going after the killer and she seeks to employ a federal marshal to help her with this task. And you know it's interesting that you say voice. Because my one problem and lauren here i i i feel like i just need to say this. No uncertain terms. Read the book before you see the cohn brothers. Phone buys hailee steinfeld in that film to my mind. She is maddie. she's never not going to be mattie. And matty can resist without her and lauren. I envy you that you will find your own mattie because you haven't seen the film you will hear your own version before you on here haley's and then after you've done both of these things he will come back on the podcast. Please send us. It's so interesting that you say that. Because i love the coen brothers and i really liked that movie. I saw a couple of times. But because i had read the book i i kind of felt like haley wasn't maddie and i. I thought she was doing a good job. But i could never get over the fact that she didn't match the one in my head. Wow so each one really ruins the other. Yes yes okay. No but i think john you did it the right way and lauren you will too. And that's all. I have to say about understood. But there are these things these cadences to matty's voice and it's so persuasive and it's so winning that i was working on some a writing project of my own after. Nfl myself wanting to write. You know she she. I mean i'm not even gonna say charles portis. Because i feel like just like he just like she's yes she writes in because it's also supposedly account that she's written and he is writing in the style of these women's accounts of history. He's giving legitimacy to that perspective from the time she writes in this voice. That is so winning that you just want to take it on. you know. i don't know. I want to write and speak like mattie from now on totally 'n things with an exclamation point very strategically she's strong influence. She is all right. So the other books that i read and lauren. I know that you read this too. So i'm eager to hear what what you think is clara and the sun by kazu ishiguro. I don't know how deep breath. I loved this book. I think that. Lauren you and i are both super fans which i feel like as an understatement of remains of the day which is another novel where the book and the movie are truly incredible separately as works of art but this book which rodica jones came on the podcast to talk about a month or so ago again from a very distinct voice. Which is that of a an artificial friend which is a kind of a creature who is developed at some point in the future to keep company for children. And i don't wanna say much more than that but you talk a little bit. About what what you thought of the book i mean i just. It was incredible old fashioned straightforward storytelling. Of course we are experiencing the world through. The eyes of clara is artificially created to have emotions that are adjacent to those of of a true human but so much more perfect than that. And i think it's a really incredible. God like indictment of of actual natural humanity that you know i just kept thinking when i was. I could never be as selfless as clara. I could never thinking clearly or at the thing about clara is that she's really gifted. She's not even the newest model of artificial friend but she's just so gifted in her perception and so. I think it's a a wonderful premise. For an author to set out for himself to tell the story of a real girl who is clara's eventual companion. You know through the eyes of someone who is just singularly adept at noticing things and perceiving human interactions and motions. If either of these things is true would you say the his intent seems to be to inspire us to be better or satirically to show us how bad we are. Oh i don't think at all it's it's to show us how bad we are. I don't think that the the humans are portrayed unsympathetically there. It's very realistic and relatable it's almost a parable the world is quite small that he draws very relatable these characters go through falling in love and growing up and growing pains and all those kinds of things that are very universal and certainly not pessimistic anyway. It's definitely inspiring and it. Just a as meditation on loneliness clara's designed to keep company and why we need that. It's a really interesting question of of why you know. Loneliness is something that needs to be addressed. And and it's it's a really great way of coming at the loneliness that we're all feeling have been feeling but in a universal way. We've always been lonely. It's beautiful storytelling. I guess the the parallel with true grit really is voice and the challenge that i think is shapiro set for himself or maybe one of the challenges is how do you create the interior already. The perspective of someone who isn't human and works of science fiction have done that before. But i don't think that he is. He's interested in that less from the point of view of technology and more from the point of view of humanity and he uses this deceptively. Simple language to articulate the way in which clara thinks and that to me also is mastery in itself and restraint. He doesn't show off in any way. He sticks to the rules that he sets out for himself. So clara never has the is overly complicated thoughts or expressions because she's not capable and so to kind of define for yourself meaning ishiguro. These are the rules. This is the world of this creature that i'm setting out for myself. This is what she can. And you know isn't is not capable of seeing and then to abide by those and to have that run throughout and yet also have character development. I think is just such an interesting talent and achievement pulls it off you both. Give them something to read this week. And i resent that. Well you know. That's that's usually the thing that you do that irradiating here to annoy one. Another all right. Lauren john let's run down. Titles again what did you re a red crusoes daughter by jane garden. I read the secret lives of turkey. Ladies dacia fila. And i read true grit by charles portis and clara and the sun by kazu. Grow remember there's more at ny times dot com slash books and you can always write to us at books at ny times dot com. I write back not right away. But i do. The book review. Podcast is produced by the greek pedro rossato from head. Stepper media with a major cyst for my colleague john williams. Thanks for listening for the new york. Times i'm panel.

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