The first line of The Constant Heart, a new novel of mine, is: "It's about time someone talked about what it's like to be a man now, and how even the term 'man' has become a dirty word." I was asked by the editors of the Huffington Post Blog to explain how this line and this book came into existence.
The first thing that comes to mind is that there are times when the only thing to do is to get into drag. Or, perhaps it is better so say that Betty Friedan would understand perfectly why I would write such a line.
A few years ago I was a judge for the National Book Award, and the number of novels one reads for this occupation is simply staggering. Another judge told me that her kids had made a fort, and not a small one, out of the books that had arrived.
But, as I worked my way through what seemed to be an endless pile of books, I began to feel that something was missing in the novels I was reading. It took a while, but soon the missing item was simply unavoidable. I missed, and was unable to find, one sympathetic, decent, moral, self-sacrificing, brave, praiseworthy character who happened to be a man.
Instead, what I saw was a parade of rogues: rapists, sadists, manipulators, wife beaters and abandoners, drunks and drug addicts, and other such expressions of social pathology. And once I noticed this, I began to look for an exception to this gallery of psychopaths in the books I read on my own. After all, I am a novelist, and it is my job to see what other writers are up to. With very few exceptions (books written by friends, which I think is unethical to mention), I found the same tired and previously worn out wing jobs, in novels, doing the same nasty things to women and to the world.
So, The Constant Heart is meant as an antidote to the causal reduction of men, so obvious as in such comments as the one I read in the New York Times and made by Maureen Dowd, "Men are dogs."
In the evidence of my own life and in the evidence of men I know and admire, I know that this is not true. And, of course, by saying so, I feel like Betty Friedan, and how she was the object of such animosity for daring to say what was true. Women were used and discarded. And, channeling Betty Friedan, I want to say, "No, men are not dogs."
It is time someone pointed out the casual bigotry of such comments.
I wrote this first line and a book about decent men who face dramatic and troubling circumstances involving women they love because such characters have disappeared from fiction. I believe these characters are sincere and realistic, if only because in my own life, as a man, I am sincere in my beliefs and steadfast in my devotion to my wife, my daughters, and to being there when they need me. This attitude, demonstrated over many years, is simply not visible any more, not in the novels I have read recently, and so I think that it is time to take a look at those men who love the women they live with and who are willing to do almost anything for them.
So, I feel like Betty Friedan when she said that women were used and then discarded, something people, many women included, didn't want to hear.
In that same spirit, I want to say that men are not dogs. Amazing that such a thing should have to be asserted.