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'Defending Jacob' author William Landay's new novel explores what happens when a mother vanishes

William Landay's "All That Is Mine I Carry With Me" is available March 7. (Courtesy John Earle and Penguin Random House)
William Landay's "All That Is Mine I Carry With Me" is available March 7. (Courtesy John Earle and Penguin Random House)

Here & Now‘s Tiziana Dearing speaks with author William Landay about his new book, “All That is Mine I Carry With Me.” The novel centers around the disappearance of a Massachusetts mother and its effect on her three children as well as her husband, who is suspected of her murder.

Book excerpt: ‘All That is Mine I Carry With Me’

By William Landay

After I finished writing my last novel, I fell into a long silence. You might call it writer’s block, but most writers don’t use that term or even understand it. When a writer goes quiet, nothing is blocking and nothing is being blocked. He is just empty. I don’t know why this silence settled over me. Now that it’s over, I don’t like to think about it. I only know that for months, then a year, then two years, I could not write. It did no good to struggle; the more I struggled, the tighter the noose became. I could not write, then I could not sleep, then I could not bear my own presence and I began to think dark thoughts. I won’t dwell on the details; in my profession, there is a saying that a writer’s troubles are of interest only to other writers. I mention my silent period here only because it is the reason I wrote this book, for it was during this time, when I would have grabbed at any plausible idea for a story, that I got an email from an old friend named Jeff Larkin.

I have known Jeff since we were twelve years old. We met in September 1975 when we entered the seventh grade together at a very august and (to me) terrifying private school for boys, and we became pals almost immediately.

Let me say, I am uneasy about starting a book this way, with friends and confessions about my childhood. I am not nostalgic for that time in my life. I’m not even sure an honest account is possible. I do not trust my own memories. I tell myself so many stories about my past, as we all do. Worse—much worse—I don’t think a writer ought to insert himself into his stories this way. It generally distracts more than it deepens. A writer’s place is off- stage. But what choice do I have? If I am going to tell this story, there is no way around a little autobiography. So:

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher called my parents, out of the blue, to suggest I was bored at school, which was certainly true. Had they considered sending me to a private school? Some- place rigorous and rules-y, where I would not continue to be (I will paraphrase here) a daydreamer and a smart-ass. My folks had never thought of it. They had both gone to public schools, and they presumed that fancy private schools were for Yankees. But Mom and Dad grasped the teacher’s essential meaning: what I needed was a swift kick in the pants.

So the next fall I found myself at a school that probably had not looked much different twenty or even fifty years earlier. There were no girls. There was a school necktie. Spanish was not taught, but ancient Latin was required. The gym was called a “palestra”; the cafeteria, the “refectory.” Portraits of mustachioed old “mas- ters” hung in the hallways. There was a half-length painting of King Charles I gazing down at us with his needle nose and Van- dyke beard, which alone might have cured me of daydreaming and smart-assery. Even my parents were dazzled and intimidated by the place. My mother warned me, “They smile at you, these WASPs, but I promise you, behind closed doors they call us kikes.” Jeff Larkin felt no such anxiety when he arrived at school. He was a prince. His older brother, Alex, was a senior and a three- sport star, with the heroic aura that surrounds high school ath- letes. Jeff’s dad was well known too. He was a criminal defense lawyer, the kind that showed up in the newspaper or on TV stand- ing beside a gangster, swaggering on about the incompetence of the police and the innocence of his wrongly accused client. There was a dark glamour to Mr. Larkin’s work, at least before the ca- tastrophe, when his association with violent crime stopped being

a thing to admire. But that came later.

Forbidding as the school was, at least I had a new friend. Jeff and I hit it off right away. We were inseparable. It was one of those childhood friendships that was so natural and uncomplicated, we seemed to discover it more than we created it. I have no adult friendships like the one I had with Jeff. I am sure I never will. Once we slip on the armor of adulthood, we lose the ability to form that kind of naive, unqualified connection.

But forty years later, when I got Jeff’s email in 2015, we had been out of touch for a very long time. He reached me by sending a fan email from my author website, just as any stranger would do. “Hey,” his email read in its entirety. “Loved the book. Mr.

K would be proud.” (Mr. K was a beloved English teacher.) “You up for a beer sometime?”

“I’m up for three,” I emailed back. “Or forty-three. Just name the place.”

Excerpted from “All That Is Mine I Carry With Me” by William Landay. Copyright © 2023 by William Landay. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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