Greg Olear’s second book Fathermucker (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2011), is also, according to Olear, “his best.” Jen Michalski talked with Greg about the trials and seductions of stay-at-home fatherhood in New Paltz, New York (the setting of Fathermucker), famous as the town in which Penny Johnson in goes to have in abortion in Dirty Dancing but now a hot spot for young urban New Yorkers, their children, and their yogurt made from breast milk.
Jen Michalski: For the reader, it’s O-le-air. Something I did not learn until I met you in person (and that you have a Transformers folder). Anything else you want to spring on your dear, unsuspecting fans before we get started?
Greg Olear: Olear is an Americanized version of the Slovak name Olejár, which has both a “j” and a cool accent over the “a.” It means “oil man.” My grandfather shortened it, thus making us Irish. The folder belongs to my son, or rather was bought for him by my mother; he could care less about Transformers. As for something to spring on you, I have strep right now—that’s how I celebrated the release of my book: by going to the clinic for Zithro. Ah, the glamor of the writing life!
JME: The title Fathermucker. Talk amongst yourself.
GO: When I was in France for my Totally Killer book tour, I was often asked what the title meant. It is impossible to translate without employing the swear word for which it is a euphemism—a euphemism I’m trying to coin, as an all-inclusive way to refer to the modern, co-parenting dad. So I found myself using the word motherfucker more often than I normally would in Paris.
JM: Fathermucker is the day of a stay-at-home dad with two small children, Roland, 5, who’s also somewhere on the autism spectrum, and Maude, 3, his sister. As someone who doesn’t have children (although I am a stay-at-home pet owner), I was a little worried that some of the nuances (or even not-so-nuanced nuances) of the book would be lost on me. I was in for such a surprise! Although you write of parenthood as almost being akin to the world in Defcon 5, this parenthood you portray actually appeals to me. I thought, “I want kids who, left to their own toileting devices, leave a poopy handprint on the bathroom wall!” Is something wrong with me? It must be the love and care with which you’ve woven your characters, especially Maude and Roland.
GO: If you haven’t cleaned kid poop off a set of $500 white blinds at your in-laws’ house, you haven’t lived. But seriously, thank you. I was talking to David Gutowski, aka Largerhearted Boy, yesterday, and he noted that many novels use children as foils, rather than developing them as characters. I’ve noticed this, too, and it’s something I hoped to not do in my book; I wanted to make the kids as strong as the adults, in terms of characterization. So it pleases me to hear you say that. Also, you’re welcome to babysit anytime.
JM: I think the reader will also be surprised to learn so much about Asperger’s and austim-spectrum disorders, and, of course, your son was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Despite the wicked humor in Fathermucker, being the parent of a child with disabilities can often be a heart-breaking, back-breaking, never-ending challenge. In the beginning of the novel, I felt overwhelmed for the narrator, Josh, but, by the end, I felt hopeful, even envious of him. Despite the challenges and crushed juiceboxes and nose picking, there is so much love! How much of Fathermucker is really your experience?
GO: There is love! Thanks for saying so. There is a lot of overlap with my life, obviously, especially with the kids, who I hope will grow up and read this book as a love letter. I share many—but not all—of Josh’s opinions, and a lot of my experiences as a parent informed the writing. Most of the places I talk about in New Paltz are real. And there really are people who make yogurt out of breast milk. That said, it’s a work of fiction, and I’d like to stress that.
JM: Did you ever approach the book from the view of a memoir, and if so, why did you decide on fiction?
GO: It was never going to be anything other than fiction. I mean, I need that framework, that narrative structure, that plot—however slight the plot may be in this book compared with my first one—to seduce the reader. With that framework, I can get away with having a whole chapter written as a long Facebook feed. Otherwise, it’s just me talking about my day, and it’s not like my average day is so unusual that you’d want to read a whole book about it.
JM: In the book, Roland has some rather large, foam, interlocking states he’s rather fond of. In fact, he takes certain states to bed. Are there really big foam states you can put together, like a puzzle? Where can I get them?
GO: I just looked online but I can’t find the one we have, which my godmother bought at Marshall’s three Christmases ago (my son’s birthday, like Roland’s in the book, is December 25). One of the best gifts he’s ever gotten.
To find out more about Greg Olear and Fathermucker, go to http://www.fathermucker.com/.