Last month saw the release of a new book by author Queenelle Minet entitled In Memory of Central Park. It is a futuristic story of New York City. In the book, the city has seceded from the United States. Within this microcosm the author describes political, social, and environmental issues that mirror our own global issues today. It is also a love story, based on the author’s own relationship with her husband and her years of practice as a clinical psychologist. The characters are vivid and real against the fantastic backdrop of a futuristic city that is in peril. A compelling–and provocative read.
Ms. Minet co-authored the book with her husband, Dr. Aaron Spilken, who passed away in 2003 before the book was completed. I had the chance to interview Ms. Minet this month about her book.
Amanda: Thank you for taking the time to discuss your new book with me. I don’t get a chance to read fiction as often as I’d like, but I actually picked it up and read it in a single day. It reminded me that I need to take time to read more for pleasure.
I’d like to ask you a few questions and share you answers with my readers. First of all, the original manuscript for the book had been started by your late husband. What was the single biggest factor for you deciding to finish the story?
QM: The most important reason I decided to finish the book was my realization that the quirky vision of New York City my husband had created was an extremely apt metaphor for the world we live in today.
Amanda: In the book, the future you paint is bleak. The citizens of New York live totally disconnected from the natural world. In fact, as the title suggests, Central Park has been destroyed to make room for more housing. Do you see this same disconnect happening in the world today? Do you think it is a real threat for future generations?
QM: Yes. I don’t think it likely that Central Park itself will actually be built over. Rather, the destruction of Central Park is a symbol for the destruction of nature that’s going on all over the world—damage that is so extensive and so serious it threatens the earth itself and all its life forms, including humans. The basic root cause is the same as that which resulted in Central Park being built over in my novel—overpopulation. In 1986 humans reached the earth’s carrying capacity. Ever since, we’ve been living beyond our means by over-exploiting our fisheries–whole species of fish are in serious threat of extinction, overgrazing pastureland so that it becomes desert, destroying forests, and polluting the earth’s water and atmosphere. Add to this the Co2, global warming problem and the fact that by the year2050, the population is projected to reach 9.1 billion (an increase of approximately the size of the populations of China and India put together) and the future does indeed look bleak.
Amanda: The citizens of New York suffer a terrible fate because they have poisoned their own environment. Yet, up until the very end, they refuse to believe they are in danger. What parallels do you see between this fictional scenario and the environmental concerns that people are ignoring today?
QM: The parallel is quite clear. Look at what the main concerns are in the world today—the economy, terrorism, the War in Iraq. While these things are worthy of concern, they are not nearly as serious a threat, nor will they cause nearly the loss of life and suffering as will the environmental problems that so far are not being dealt with in any effective way. It seems that only when millions are actually displaced by flooding, only when millions are actually dying from starvation, only when uncontrollable fires are actually raging across drought stricken lands will people wake up and realize the danger they are in.
Amanda: The book describes a society that, over time, has become controlled by a single political party which has offered them ‘protection’, and in exchange has taken away their freedoms. What important factors do you think have contributed to this political landscape?
QM: Well, once again, this is going on right now in our own country. Civil liberties have diminished as never before since the Bush administration has been able to use terrorism as an excuse to carry through with their desire to greatly strengthen the presidency—to make it more like an old fashioned monarchy or a dictatorship.
This is something Bush and Cheney and the hand-picked coterie of lawyers they surrounded themselves with had expressed a desire to do before 9/11 ever occurred. The President has placed himself above the law, he’s said that he has the right to declare war without the consent of Congress, he’s interfered with every sector of the government from the Justice Department to the Environmental Protection Agency and subverted them to his own political aims, he’s declared vast amounts of information top secret and refused to disclose information about the goings on of his administration even in the face of court subpoenas , he’s authorized illegal wiretaps, tortured people and imprisoned them without the right of habeas corpus, and he’s gotten away with all this largely because the American people have been willing to barter away their freedom, and certainly the rights of anyone who’s a foreigner, in hope of staying safe.
Amanda: In a great show of irony, the political party that has limited the freedoms of all the citizens in New York calls itself The Liberty Party. They use a picture Statue of Liberty as their symbol, but the real Statue of Liberty has long since been eroded away and is no longer identifiable. Why do you think this irony is lost on most of the citizens?
QM: Well, why was the irony lost on the American people that The Clear Skies Act weakens pollution controls or that the Protect America Act is a screen for infringing upon our civil rights? Why don’t people get it? I’m not sure I know the answer to that. Maybe they don’t get it because they’re too busy dealing with the day to day issues of their daily lives to pay attention, or maybe it’s the fear factor we’ve already discussed. In Memory of Central Park depicts the citizens of New York City re-electing the Liberty Party year after year because they felt this party had kept them safe by building the shell around Manhattan, though in the end, that strategy fails and ends up making people more unsafe.
Amanda: One of the most compelling things about the story is that, despite its futuristic setting, the characters and their relationships are easy to relate to. How much of your experience as a psychotherapist was beneficial in crafting these fictional personalities?
QM: The backbone of In Memory of Central Park is a love story. By that I don’t mean the kind of unrealistic relationship contained in romance novels. My experience both as a psychotherapist and in my own marriage played a big part in crafting the love relationship between the main naturally having had a great deal of experience regarding what this characters Noah and Margaret. I try to show how the events in their childhoods affected them so that as adults it’s difficult for them to succeed in intimate relationships. This is a very common problem which I often encounter as a therapist, and it’s a shame. It causes a great deal of pain which could be avoided if couples were to understand what they are doing to block themselves from achieving the intimacy they long for, and then, of course, do the hard work of making changes. Three of the major characters, Noah, Carl , and Phillipe, are psychotherapists, so somewhat strange profession is like helped me to write these characters.
Amanda: The love story between Margaret and Noah takes center stage among all these other political and social events. Their connection is physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual; and your writing about them is deeply intimate and personal.
QM: Yes, this relationship is partly autobiographical. The relationship between my husband and me did not go smoothly for many years, but finally we did work through our problems and then we had the most wonderful relationship imaginable. We were connected in a very deep way on all those different levels you mention. I wanted to recreate both the struggle and the pain and the wonderfulness of our relationship. I also wanted to communicate that even though achieving a deep and satisfying intimacy with another person is often difficult, that it is possible, and if achieved, that it’s one of the greatest blessings life has to offer.
Amanda: Do you have a favorite character in the book? If so, which and why?
QM: Well, I really love all the characters in the novel. I love Noah, the narrator and protagonist because he’s very much like my husband, but Phillipe and Amy are so unique and funny that they are also favorites.Really, it’s hard to pick just one.
Amanda: What are you most proud of with regard to the book?
QM: Wow. That’s another hard question. Well, I’m proud to have created a novel with the potential to be socially useful and serve as a wake-up call regarding the future we’ll face if we don’t get serious and do something major to change the direction in which things are headed.I’m equally proud of the book simply as a piece of literature. I think that the writing is very good.
Amanda: What would you like other people to take away from the story?
QM: I’d like readers to wake up and take the environmental catastrophe that’s brewing seriously , I’d like them to appreciate the value and imagine the possibility of human intimacy, and I’d like them to simply
experience the literary thrill of reading a good story artfully told.
Learn more about In Memory of Central Park by Queenelle Minet by going to the official website.