Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
A Very Innocent Man, fiction (novel), Flexible Press, June 6, 2023.
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
A Very Innocent Man covers a tumultuous year or so in the life of a New York City physician named Robert Rosen. As the novel begins, Dr. Rosen, who already has a successful practice, appears to be on the cusp of realizing his dreams of becoming a TV star. Appearing on a morning show in Chicago—his first gig in a major television market—he accuses his fellow practitioners of turning their patients into opioid addicts. Away from the cameras, however, the not-so-good doctor practices what he preaches against, selling opioid prescriptions for cash to his own patients and to a couple of Russian mobsters who run a bogus pain clinic. One of those patients informs on him, leading to his arrest by the FBI and the loss of his livelihood. When Dr. Rosen reinvents himself as a life coach and motivational speaker, his fortunes appear to be on the rise again, but he finds, to his dismay, that he cannot escape his criminal past. The Russians have not finished with him yet.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
It’s classified as literary fiction/satire.
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
“A compelling and highly entertaining novel, A Very Innocent Man delves into the seedy worlds of illegal opioid sales, multilevel marketing schemes, and motivational life coach fakery. . . Very well written and employing razor-sharp humor that leans toward the satirical, Edward Belfar’s twisted redemption story perfectly mirrors the well-earned cynicism of our times. Highly recommended.” —Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
A Very Innocent Man is something of an homage to Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins, which was published in 1971 but set in an imagined dystopic near-future in which vines sprout through the rotting roofs of abandoned cars and medical and psychiatric disorders correlate with patients’ political beliefs. In contrast, the events in my novel take place mainly in New York, rather than Louisiana, and in a slightly altered recent past. What the two novels have in common is their sometimes grim but more often farcical depiction of an America riven by factionalism and decay. If my version is half as entertaining as Percy’s, I will be pleased.
- Why this book? Why now?
For me, Dr. Rosen embodies the shamelessness that so pervades public life in America today. In the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith stars as Lonesome Rhodes, a one-time drifter who rises to become a television star and political kingmaker. While eerily prescient in its caustic depiction of politics, mass entertainment, and the intersection of the two, when viewed in 2023, the film still strikes one as overly optimistic, even a touch naïve. The manipulative Rhodes receives his comeuppance at the end of the movie when, speaking into a hot mic, he inadvertently reveals his contempt for his viewers, who immediately turn on him. In 2023, by way of contrast, I have yet to see any convincing evidence to suggest that Donald Trump was wrong when he boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing any support. Today, you can’t keep a bad man down. In relating the story of Dr. Rosen, I attempted to explore why that is.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
Though I spent much of my professional life employed as a writer and editor, I also worked for two years as a full-time writing instructor at Penn State University and for nearly a decade as a teaching assistant and adjunct instructor at various colleges and universities. Teaching was the only job I have ever had that did not feel like work. It felt more like an ongoing conversation—one that I would like to think enriched all participants.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
Mostly, I would like readers to enjoy the story, have a few laughs, and come away feeling adequately compensated for the investment of their time. Though some may find A Very Innocent Man to be fairly dark, I hope that the novel will leave most readers believing that kindness still matters and that the triumphs of those who lack that quality are transitory in nature.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
The menu would heavily feature the New York deli fare favored by the Manhattan-dwelling Dr. Rosen: pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, hot dogs, knishes, etc.
A playlist for the novel would of necessity lean heavily on songs related to Dr. Rosen’s illicit side business. Were A Very Innocent Man ever to be adapted into a film (one can dream), the Beatles’ “Dr. Robert” would get a lot of play. Other entries might include the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper.” For the Russian mobsters, I would include “Rasputin” by Boney M. The playlist would feature some Sinatra, too—“You Make Me Feel so Young,” and “Summer Wind,” to name a couple—because Dr. Rosen’s mother is a fan. Also, the Donizetti aria “Una Furtiva Lagrima” is mentioned in one scene that features the doctor’s brother.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I’m currently reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
Learn more about Ed on his website.