INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM BOYLE

I’ll be very surprised if William Boyle’s A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself is not on my Top 10 at the end of the year. This humorous and at times harrowing look at a mob widow and retired porn star who connect over a stolen Impala, a bag full of mob cash, and some very bad men is one of the most unique and entertaining crime novels in some time. Boyle steadily building his reputation and in a perfect world, this would put him over the top. Bill was kind enough to take some questions bout it.

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Rena and Wolfstein are such unique characters. How did they come into mind for the book?

William Boyle: A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself started for me when my neighbor in Brooklyn told my mother and me a story about being invited over to our other neighbor’s house on the corner. When she got over to his house, he put on a porno movie and made a move on her. She left immediately, rushing home to her apartment. My brain was lit up with what ifs. What if she’d lashed out at him? What if she was a former mob wife, now a widow, who had felt protected her whole life but no longer had that sense of safety? My brain went there because the apartment she now lived in, the same one I had grown up in, was where the gangster Gaspipe Casso lived for years. What if, on top of that, she was intensely lonely, estranged from her daughter and granddaughter? That’s how Rena Ruggiero came to be.

The character of Lacey Wolfstein grew out of my desire to explore someone who was the polar opposite of Rena in so many ways: someone who had depended on friendship her whole life, someone who had lived hand to mouth, who had flown by the seat of her pants, who had been daring and wild and who could teach Rena to see the world in new ways. I’d always been fascinated by adult film star Lisa De Leeuw, who faded into obscurity and then disappeared, the legend being that she’d used dying of AIDS as a cover to assume a new identity and exist off the grid. I wanted to imagine an alternate history for someone like her, someone who had struggled after being spit out by the adult film industry and then thrived.    

MPS: The thing that sets them apart from most crime fiction heroines is that they are over fifty. What did you want to explore with women of that age?

WB: I love noir about older characters. Louis Malle’s Atlantic City comes to mind. One of my favorite lines in all of cinema is when Burt Lancaster’s Lou looks out and says, “You should’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean back then.” It allows you to do reflection and nostalgia in a different way, to really dig deep with regret. I wanted to explore the mythology of New York City from the perspective of women who know how to survive.

MPS: Your first two novels were a bit more somber. Did you set out to write something funnier?

WB: I like depressing stuff a lot, but I wanted to write something more in line with Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys or Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob and Something Wild. Those films are main go-tos, and they bring me a lot of joy when I’m feeling unsure of things. So, yeah, I wanted to write something that—to me, anyway—was funny. I just didn’t know if it’d be funny to other people.

MPS: What I like about the humor in the book is that it plays to the characters instead of the other way around and it is grounded in some very harsh realities in these people’s lives. Can you tell us how you approach humor with the people you write about?

WB: Thanks! That’s a great compliment. I don’t know if I really have an approach of any kind. There’s a lot of humor in the way people talk to each other, for sure. That comes from people I’ve known, my grandparents, my mother, all this drama in the little things. My mom’s not generally a very funny person (I love her, but that’s just not who she is), but one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard is when a light bulb blew out in her kitchen and she said, “Nothing ever works out.” I laughed my ass off. My grandfather and grandmother were both hilarious. As a teenager, there was nothing I enjoyed more than coming home and have my grandfather recap what he’d watched on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that morning: “Mr. Rogers took us to the crayon factory today,” or whatever. My grandmother was just fun and lighthearted, even when she was worried as hell. I think much of my sense of humor comes from them, this kind of mix of pessimism and joy.   

MPS: Was there a particular reason to set the story in the early two thousands?

WB: Part of the book is set in a Bronx neighborhood where I lived for a couple of years. My wife’s family is all from there. We moved there in 2006. So, for practical reasons, I thought it’d be good to set the book in 2006 since I haven’t been back to that neighborhood since we left in 2008. It’s also a time when not everyone had cell phones yet (I got my first flip phone late in 2006), so I was glad not to have to account for that and still exist a bit in what was left of the old city: getting lost with no map, needing a payphone, whatever. The city’s changed so much in the last thirteen years. It had already started before then, but things really amped up by the late aughts.    

MPS: Your mobster characters have a great feel of authenticity. How do you approach them?

WB: I was really fascinated with mobsters as a kid. Of course, I loved Scorsese movies. I read and watched anything I could get my hands on. I listened to neighborhood stories. As I was writing this book, I reread Jimmy Breslin’s The Good Rat to get me in the right head space. But, ultimately, I was just making stuff up, having fun, building off of the sorts of legends I’ve heard my whole life.

REVIEW: A FRIEND IS A GIFT YOU GIVE YOURSELF BY WILLIAM BOYLE

William Boyle is steadily making a name for himself  in crime fiction. He looks at the working and criminal class of his native Brooklyn with both an unflinching and sympathetic eye. In his latest, A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself, he demonstrates his range with that talent.

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover ImageRena Ruggerio, a mob widow of “Gentle” Vic Ruggerio, defends the advances of her elderly neighbor Enzio with an ash tray to the head. When he hits the floor and there’s blood everywhere, she panics and takes off in Enzio’s classic Impala to the Bronx where Angela, the daughter she hasn’t seen since she discovered she was involved with Richie, Vic’s right hand man. Angel turns her away but she meets up with her granddaughter, Lucia, at the house next door occupied by Wolfstein, a retired porn star who supplements her income scamming men. Lucia wants to live with Rena, because her mother is hooking up with Richie. Due to Richie’s slaughter of several crime family members, an old mark showing up at Wolfstein’s house, and a bag packed with mob money they end up with the three ladies hitting the road in the Imapala to Wolfstein’s freind Mo in Florida with Richie and a killer named Crea behind them. Oh, and Enzio is still alive and wants his car back.

This book differs in some ways from Boyle’s first two, Gravesend and The Lonely Witness, that both carried more somber tones. They showed the effect of isolation and how people become trapped in their lives and behavior. This story starts that way, with Rena contemplating how anything past her block is foreign to her. However when circumstances pull her with the brasher and more outgoing Wolfstein, she sees a larger world and place for her in it. Boyle tells a believable story of connection, particularly the female variety, and the give and take that plays out in it.

There are a lot more laugh out loud moments than you may be used to in Boyle’s work, but the humor services the characters instead of the other way around, which often happens in books of this type. In fact there is a touch of melancholy to some of it as is Rena and Wolfstein choose to laugh instead of cry at what is dealt to them. These women refuse to be punchlines and he respects that.

A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself  is a look at female friendship up against the worst men can produce. It’s funny, thrilling, and scary at times. Boyle may have broadened his canvas, yet keeps that tone grounded and his characters real. If this one won’t get you to love him, I don’t know what will.

From the Web: William Boyle on Daniel Woodrell

One of our favorite rising stars of crime fiction is William Boyle. His status in the states, while high, may be eclipsed by his popularity in France, where he’s in the running for several prizes and his novel Gravesend has been published as part of the prestigious Rivages/Noir collection. Recently, for LitHub, a website that agglomerates the best of the literary web while also bringing readers original, provocative content, he wrote this piece about a favorite author of his (and many), Daniel Woodrell.

As fans of both Boyle and Woodrell, we suggest getting one of the Woodrell books mentioned in Boyle’s article, then getting his own novel, Gravesend, and see how Woodrell’s tales of the Ozarks influence Boyle’s gritty new York burrough. Rural noir has been perfected and defined by Daniel Woodrell, and we’re glad to see growing interest in his work. Tomato Red, Woodrell’s most famous contribution to the genre, soon hits the big screen, so start with this one before you see the film and work from there!

Read William Boyle’s ode to Daniel Woodrell. 

You can find copies of Boyle’s Gravesend on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

You can find copies of Woodrell’s works on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Crime Fiction Friday: “Far From God” by William Boyle

 

 

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  • Introduced by Scott Montgomery

William Boyle will be joining us for our New Voices In Noir Panel, coming up Tuesday, August 2nd, at 7 PM. His work has the tone and style of great crime fiction and movies from the Seventies, like this little piece that has those crime staples of country music, a trip across the border, a questionable girl, and a loaded gun.


“Far From God” by William Boyle

“Things had not gone well in Bay Ridge. Rufus had lied. Ganyuk had been waiting for them at the club. But they had got what they had gone there for, even if it meant cutting down a couple of the Russians. 

Now he was just sitting there, in the kitchen, with a bottle of Rheingold. He had put on the radio. They were playing “Lost Highway” by Hank Williams. It was one of his favorite songs. He wondered what station was playing it. It was rare these days to have a station play Hank. Now it was all bad rap and bad pop. He took a long pull off the Rheingold and relaxed. Lit a Lucky Strike. Thought about Donna. Her straight black hair. The anchor tattoo above her right tit. The little knife she kept in a holster around her ankle. Her breath on his neck.”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with William Boyle

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

 

I’m looking forward to introducing our readers to William Boyle this upcoming Tuesday, August 2nd, at 7 PM at our New Voices of Noir panel discussion. Boyle joins Bill Loehfelm, Alison Gaylin, and Megan Abbott for the panel discussion. His short stories and Gravesend, his first novel, feature hard-luck people stuck in life. To give you an idea of him, here’s a quick interview we did.

MysteryPeople Scott: Gravesend is an ensemble novel, set in a decaying working class part of New York that is a character itself. Did you start with the idea of the place or the people?

William Boyle: I grew up in the neighborhoods of Gravesend and Bensonhurst. I knew I wanted to write about the place. I’ve mostly lived away from Brooklyn since college, though my family’s still there—I’ve spent time in the Hudson Valley, in Austin, in The Bronx, in Mississippi—but I carry the neighborhood with me. So, it started with that feeling, I’d say, of being trapped by the place you’re from, whether or not you’re physically there. A lot of the action of the book actually takes place away from Gravesend—upstate, in Manhattan, in other neighborhoods—but it’s still and always about people made and shaped by that specific place. The people are the place. My characters are stuck there, for the most part, except for Alessandra, who’s just returned after living in L.A. for years. A lot of how I feel about the neighborhood—how I fall into old struggles and fall victim to old sadnesses when I’m back there—went into her character.

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