1. How did you come up with the title?
After 9/11, I began to think more about the nature of our existence: What is it that controls our destiny, and so often results in our destruction? You would think that since man is the most advanced species, who enjoys the gifts of intelligence and reason, that he could create a perfect world — a world of Paradise. But this has never been the case, because of what is often referred to as “the human condition,” where our lives are filled with disappointment, suffering, and often chaos. The postulate therefore becomes: If we can determine what causes the human condition, perhaps we can cure it.
This is what I set out to discover in writing the novel, and I also wanted to share with the reader some theories on this ageless question. For example, are life’s problems essentially caused by mankind’s flawed, animalistic, and sometimes evil nature (which, of course, provides the justification for religion, both ancient and modern)? Or, is it God himself, who simply wants no heroes? Is it luck, where every morning we are forced to take a spin at the “Wheel of Good Fortune” to see what the day will bring? Or, is it just plain Fate, something over which we have no control? These are the questions that haunt the main hero, Gideon Fruitman, and form the central theme of the book.
The title evolved from these theories — in particular, as Gideon is trying to understand why his young bride left him for a doctor she met by chance while Gideon’s “kishkes were being sliced and diced in the OR,” he wonders if our existence is like a wild ride on the bumper cars, where our lives are constantly tossed around in different directions, “like a soul in the wind.”
I also felt that it was important to subtitle the novel Excerpts from the Book of Life, because the story involves a pilgrimage over five decades, recorded in sections – much like signposts marking phases in a life cycle, like “Growing Up,” “ College,” “The Graduate Years,” “Marriage,” “Work,” and “Family.”
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There are numerous messages that are weaved into the novel. Just like Moby Dick was not merely a story about a whale, I explore a wide range of issues and ideas — from the basic desire to experience free will and have some control over our lives, to religious hatred and the loss of our idealism — in order to create a thought-provoking novel.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
I think many books incorporate some of the author’s experiences, observations and, of course, imagination. Because the novel is a fifty-year journey, covering the culture, politics, philosophies, events and music of the so-called “Baby Boomer Generation,” I tried to make as much of it as historically accurate as possible. While to some readers Gideon’s life could be considered unrealistically difficult, to others unfortunately it might be viewed as an often blessed existence.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in the book?
I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, so I guess the answer would probably be “yes” — but honestly I am very pleased with how it turned out.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I believe that anyone can write a novel, but an author should always strive to write a great novel. Consequently, I attempted to craft each paragraph with a purpose, make every section significant, and show how the various phases in our lives all interrelate to define the person that we become. Naturally, that took a great deal of time and commitment — particularly for someone like myself who is not a full-time writer.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that life is very baffling, and that it will always be a mystery as to why we are often so self-destructive. In researching some of the Great Thinkers mentioned in the book, beginning with the Greek philosophers and continuing through modern times, one thing seems clear — the nature of man is extremely complex, and his intelligence alone cannot solve the so-called human condition.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I was in junior high, our teacher told us to find something in the newspaper and write about it. I saw an article involving someone who had vanished several years earlier while hiking on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. It made me wonder what would have happened to this person if he had made it down the mountain, and so I wrote a story adding a few more chapters to his life. Apparently I did a pretty good job, because several years later when I didn’t have time to complete an English assignment, I turned in the same story, received an “A,” and realized that here is something that I not only love to do, but maybe I’m fairly good at it, too.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t have a favorite author, but I do have a favorite writer, and that is Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman, in my opinion, is one of the most important pieces of work of the twentieth century, and Willie Loman is certainly one of the most memorable characters. (Marrying Marilyn Monroe also didn’t hurt in coming up with my selection.)
9. Tell us your latest news?
I have several book signings scheduled, and then plan to take two weeks off this summer to travel to Europe, and begin the outline for my next novel.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I truly thank you for reading my novel. I hope you enjoyed the humor, but more importantly if there is one belief I would want to convey, it’s that perhaps the best way to deal with the human condition is to recognize that “life is what it is,” and that we should try to focus on our positive experiences, rather than dwell on all of our disappointments.
About the Book
Nearing death, Gideon Fruitman desperately tries to figure out what has gone wrong with his life. He recalls the slap on his rear that heralded his entrance into the world but realizes that had he known then what he knows now, he would have “turned around and never emerged.” His five-decade pilgrimage concludes with the arrival of an ambulance and paramedics trying to encourage Guideon to “take one more shot” as his mind darkens slowly to the strains of the Bee Gees singing “I Started a Joke.”
“Til I finally died, which started the whole world living.
Oh, if I'd only seen that the joke was on me.”
Although Gideon Fruitman is certainly not “Everyman,” his hapless journey in the second half of the twentieth century covers the culture, politics, philosophies, events, and music that comprise this evolving American epoch known as “The Baby Boomer Generation.” In searching for the meaning of existence, Gideon is the “Anti-Hero.” The classic hero faces what is known as “Achilles’ Dilemma” or choosing to live the short and glorious life rather than the long and inglorious life. Unfortunately for Gideon, he is given no choice.
Employing a brilliantly satirical style, Finegold explores the question of whether God just doesn’t like heroes. Does every day simply begin with a spin of the “Wheel of Fortune”? He records Gideon’s journey, a long days journey into night, with sections—much like signposts marking phases in a life cycle: “Breaking Free,” “College,” “The Graduate Years,” “Work,” “Marriage,” “Family,” and finally, “Tomorrow.” Marriage to the very lovely Chloe Lewis appears to mark a new and brighter horizon for Gideon. But forget “happily ever after”: severe illness follows, and after suffering many months of gastroenterological horrors, the lovely Chloe asks for a divorce from the weak—but finally recovering patient—before she runs off with one of the doctors on Gideon’s surgical team. Life is not happy, or in Chloe’s words, “life is what it is.”
Does Gideon ever find love and happiness before he dies? Does he ever become “someone special”? The artistry behind A Soul in the Wind lies in Finegold’s exceptional ability to present an imperfect world filled with disappointment, suffering, and chaos and make us laugh. He punctuates his reflections on the human condition with lyrics of songs from the ’60s and early ’70s: “Try to Remember” from The Fantastics plays like a fugue in the background:
“Try to remember the kind of September,
When you were a tender and callow fellow …
Deep in December, it’s nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart is hollow … ”
About the Author
Richard Finegold is a product of the post-World War II generation, grew up in Massachusetts, started writing in high school, and continued into college taking creative writing classes at Cornell University during the turbulent ’60s. He graduated in 1967 with a degree in Political Science with a minor in English. In 1971 he received a law degree from Boston University and began practicing law in the San Diego area. He and his wife, Gail, have three children: Erin, Todd, and Jared. Richard now works only part time writing legal briefs and continues to ply his writing skills in fiction.