It’s a story as old as time itself. In the novel Hooked, John Franc (a pseudonym) delves into a sordid world of a group of well-to-do men as they frequent their sophisticated city’s brothels. The men remain nameless throughout, only identified by a few physical traits or affectations, their true identities not that crucial to the overall story. What is important here are the very comfortable, somewhat sterile, lives they’re leading, complete with wives, families, nice homes and all.
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Conflict arises after one of the men panics about what his dalliances will do to his relationship if found out, and the others begin to worry that he’ll bring their house of lies crashing down around them all. Hooked is not an easy book to digest, but it doesn’t sugarcoat the desires and trappings that come along with middle age in this modern world—especially among men of means. It’s an intriguing read about what drives us, our passions, our need for escape and for stability.
Here, the author answered a few questions about anonymity, deception and why the relationships between men and women are more tenuous than we think:
Where did the idea for the book come from? Was it rooted in real life, stories you'd heard, a mix?
It was a little bit of everything. Obviously there is exaggeration and drama added, but the stuff that I heard that inspired this book was so distinct and new to me that I had to pursue it, and in pursuing it there was more out there that was real than I'd ever imagined. It's a large and dangerous intersection—the crossroads of marital infidelity and professional sex—and I was curious about it in ways that were contradictory. I was appalled but I wanted to know; I was attracted to it but found it repellent.
What was behind your decision to keep the characters nameless, almost interchangeable, in their conquests and lives?
I am a veiled author being true to veiled characters, in part because some of the people who participated in inspiring this story asked that they be unidentifiable, so from that spun the decision to organize a “we” voice that eventually would evolve to something else. There are many shared qualities among these characters, and that made the “we” even more attractive to me. Finally, they had a pact; the pact required that they literally be in some sense interchangeable.
You've also decided to stay anonymous—can you give us more info as to why?
Some of the people who inspired this story thought that was the only way to keep themselves unidentifiable, by having me remain unidentifiable. So from early on it was determined that if I was going to write about this it would be behind a pseudonym.
I recently read that more people are not getting divorced...they're choosing to cheat more. What was it about the cheating aspect that appealed to you storywise? What does it say about modern-day marriage?
I have read, actually, that in some states divorce rates are up, but there is also a kind of dynamic out there, long articulated, that cheating allows people to stay in their marriages. This says to me that people don't just stay married for sexual reasons or divorce for sexual reasons; apparently there is much more to marriage than sex and that, in some ways, sex is not the only element that determines a successful marriage and it is not even the overriding element.
Modern-day marriage, as it has been for ages, is different across different cultures, so that it is clear what these men are doing in Hooked is acceptable in some cultures, but obviously not in some of theirs. Modern marriage in a time of the constant search for gratification is going to be a great challenge for anyone. At the same time, that search for constant gratification is going to make some of the hallmarks of marriage—loyalty, familiarity, serenity—even more attractive.
There's a lot of middle-age malaise, desperation and sadness to the cheating in this story. Can you share what it was like painting this picture, developing and showing these characters as such?
It was a little depressing, but it felt in parts true to me. There's a desperation in acts of exile, and infidelity is definitely an act of exile. But there is also exhilaration, if only temporary. The emotion in these characters always seemed to be pulsing, and was rarely static, and that made writing them a fairly energizing experience, even while they fought their various depressions. This novel seems to me about loud desperation, rather than quiet desperation.
Did you learn anything that surprised you by developing these characters about life, love, etc.?
Humor not only contributes to resilience, but in itself it can be very resilient. Even if it is not itself terribly appropriate for the situation.
Throughout, and at the end especially, it's pretty clear that the wives call the shots and are in control. Did you worry about falling into any stereotypes about the nagging wife/loutish husband? How did you try to sidestep this?
Well, the husbands are men of industry and humor on many fronts, so I never saw them as loutish, so much as contemptible and desperate. And while the wives might appear in control, they obviously are not in control of everything, and the fragility of each gender then becomes to me at least undeniable.
I was very interested in seeing ways in which the paradigm got contradicted, inverted or just plain messy. There aren't absolutes; there are only shades, and every character is made up of every possible shade. We all have elements of each other, is what I'm trying to say. Which is not to say there is common ground, but there is common emotion.
You go deep into the male psyche and what drives their choices. What's one thing that all women should know about men in general, perhaps that we don't know already?
I don't know. It seems to me that men and women are equally feminine, equally masculine, but just in different ways. So whichever feminine trait you wouldn't possible ascribe to a man, I'd say go ahead and ascribe it.