Linden MacIntyre’s latest work explores the mindset — and lies — of middle-aged men
Linden MacIntyre says he was “the most surprised person in the room” when his novel, “The Bishop’s Man,” was awarded the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
The annual award, currently worth $50,000 recognizes English Canadian novels or short story collections.
MacIntyre’s latest novel, “Why Men Lie,” has recently been published. The work concludes his “Cape Breton Trilogy.” Preceded by “The Long Stretch” — published in 1999 — and “The Bishop’s Man,” the new novel focuses on, and is written from the perspective of, Effie MacAskill, a female character who appears in the two earlier novels.
Photo by: Karry TaylorAlthough winning the Giller brought MacIntyre considerable attention as a novelist, he is also well known for his work as a broadcast journalist for which he has won multiple Gemini Awards and an International Emmy Award. Joining the CBC in 1976, he has been the co-host of the network’s weekly investigative journalism program “The Fifth Estate” since 1990.
MacIntyre recently discussed his new book with The Calgary Journal’s Karry Taylor.
Editor’s note: answers have been edited for length.
How did you decide where to take this final book of your trilogy?
The big theme of this book was exploring what men do in their middle years to recover a sense of their self worth when they are watching all the attributes of masculinity — the physical aspects, the power, the authority, the ability to affect other people — starting to diminish. Strong men become worried that their strength isn’t going to be reliable anymore. They become afraid of other men, of younger men. It’s a major insecurity.
No man is going to be honest about that, so he will find ways to seek reassurance, mostly from women, and it always involves a certain amount of deception. You don’t go to a woman, especially if you are very insecure as men become, and say “I need you to help me.” You figure out ways of manipulating her into doing what you want her to do.
I realized the best observer of all of this would be a woman because she is the one who sees it coming, and has to filter through what happens to a man in middle age. So I picked a woman’s voice. The first book was a crisis of personal relationships, the second book was a crisis of personal versus institutional morality, and this third book is a crisis of needs at middle age. Women have their needs too, but men’s needs seem to be much deeper and darker and more threatening.
What is the significance of the title “Why Men Lie?”
The book deals with male, middle-aged concerns about impotence in the biggest sense of the word. Everybody in the book is full of deceptions, but it is essentially about men trying to get some favour or assurance from a woman and they tell a lot of lies along the way.
I started to think about why men lie so much. You lie to your mother, and you lie to your girlfriend. You lie when you want something. You lie when you don’t want something. A lie is a form of deception. Not all deception is a bad thing. Some deception is necessary. So I kept asking myself: why do men lie?
Was it difficult to get inside the sensibility of a middle-aged female character?
It was challenging. The most important thing was to get the confidence to do it, and to try not to be too speculative. I have been surrounded and fascinated by strong, assertive women all my life. So I came to this with a sense of the kind of woman that a man would turn to when facing a deep crisis of identity. I knew who she was. But to get into her head and incorporate this, along with her own insecurities and needs, was a little harder.
Although much of the book is set in Toronto, the main characters all have deep connections to Cape Breton. What is your personal connection to Cape Breton, and how does it fit into your fiction?
It’s a character. I think that the place has a huge influence on people. It’s a presence in your life. My roots go back there six generations. When I write about Cape Breton, which has such an important and bonding influence on the people in the book, I am always going back there. I love being able to describe a place from a personal intimacy.
It took me a long time to become comfortable enough to write Toronto as a character. This novel is really the first time I have done that, and I have lived there for 30 years. I am only now getting comfortable with expressing it as some sort of character.
How did winning the Scotiabank Giller Prize change things for you?
The Giller puts the spotlight on an author and a book. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing. Winning the Giller requires the author to engage with readers, which sometimes you don’t have to. You write a book, it’s published and you go back to work. But with the Giller, you start engaging with people who are suddenly very curious about you and your book. So in that respect, it dragged me out and put me in places I didn’t expect to be. It shone a really harsh light on the book, and happily the book actually grew in the light.
My theory is that you can’t think about that stuff while you are writing. You have to accept that the most that any writer can do, if he or she works really hard at it, is write a good book. A successful book is a totally different thing. A successful book requires a convergence of factors over which you have no control.
How did you make the leap from journalism to writing novels?
It isn’t really a leap. They are both about storytelling. It’s just a different kind of storytelling. I use journalistic tools and point of view to help develop my characters — I research and pay attention to details. Working in TV, your ear is always attuned to what people are saying. You learn a lot about dialogue and character in TV. Journalism also teaches you to take complex ideas and information and condense them down into interesting, digestible bites. Good fiction does the same thing.
People asked me after I won the Giller Prize if I was going to give up journalism and just focus on writing. As long as I can continue to do journalism, where it brings me out and keeps my ear attuned to what people say, then it’s useful to continue being a journalist.