In Conversation: on Self-Destructive Acts & Prodigals

Christopher Beha‘s The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is a sharp family portrait, a masterful evocation of New York City and its institutions, and an exploration of how each generation’s failure […]


In Conversation: on Self-Destructive Acts & Prodigals

Authors:Christopher Beha, Greg Jackson


Christopher Beha‘s The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is a sharp family portrait, a masterful evocation of New York City and its institutions, and an exploration of how each generation’s failure helped land us where we are today. He’s speaking with Greg Jackson, whose debut fiction work Prodigals is populated by strivers, misfits, and children of privilege, all hewing to passion and perversity in their quest for a sense of meaning and even just a sliver of authenticity.

Christopher Beha

Christopher Beha is the editor of Harper’s Magazine. He is the author of two previous novels, What Happened to Sophie Wilder and Arts & Entertainments, and a memoir, The Whole Five Feet. His writing has appeared in the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books. On the day data journalist and recent media celebrity Sam Waxworth arrives in New York to write for the Interviewer, a street-corner preacher declares that the world is coming to an end. Whether or not the world is ending, Beha’s characters in The Index of Self-Destructive Acts (Tin House Books) are all headed to apocalypses of their own making. Sam’s first assignment is a profile of disgraced political columnist Frank Doyle, known to Sam for his sentimental works of baseball lore. But when Sam meets Frank at Citi Field for the Mets’ home opener, he finds himself entangled into Doyle’s crumbling family empire.  There’s a matriarch who lost her investment bank to the financial crisis; a son who hasn’t been the same since his second combat tour in Iraq; the son’s best friend and successful hedge funder, showing cracks in his spotless public image. And then there’s Frank’s daughter, with whom Sam becomes involved—just as his wife arrives from Wisconsin. None of them know how close they are to losing everything, including each other. The Financial Times called it “A big, sympathetic book about the follies and failings of elite New Yorkers […] Beha creates a supple context in which to explore a series of intersecting efforts to find or regain footing and meaning in life.”

Greg Jackson

Greg Jackson‘s work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and Granta. Prodigals (Picador) is his first book. During a violent storm, a filmmaker escapes New York, accompanied by a woman who may be his therapist. A lawyer in the throes of divorce seeks refuge at her seaside cottage only to find a vagrant girl living in it. A dilettantish banker sees his ambitions laid bare when he comes under the influence of two strange sisters. A group of friends gathers in the California desert for one last bacchanal, and a journalist finds his visit to the French country home of a former tennis star take a deeply unnerving turn. Strivers, misfits, and children of privilege, the restless, sympathetic characters in Jackson’s short story collection, Prodigals, hew to passion and perversity through life’s tempests. Theirs is a quest for meaning and authenticity in lives spoiled by self-knowledge and haunted by spiritual longing. Lyrical and unflinching, cerebral and surreal, this collection maps the degradations of contemporary life with insight and grace. Antonio Ruiz-Camacho in The New York Times Book Review praised it as “[A] fervent debut […] with a language both hallucinatory and philosophical. [Prodigals] is a profound allegory of our addiction to success.”

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