By John Darrin
Kevin Guilfoile told me, “Expectations never work in your favor unless they are low, and nobody wants low expectations.”
Expectations for The Thousand, his second novel, releasing this month, were hardly low. Not after his debut novel, Cast of Shadows, earned Kevin critical acclaim from every point on the literary compass.
• The New York Times: “Mr. Guilfoile, in his first outing as a novelist, does all this with a lot more panache than Mr. Crichton has demonstrated in many years.”
• The Chicago Tribune: “One of the best books of 2005.”
• UK: “One of the best novels I have read this year.”
• Australia: “Slick, well-paced and carefully crafted.”
• Canada: “Five stars.”
• Netherlands: “The best book of 2006.”
• Switzerland: “A masterful thriller.”
• France: “Un bon thriller.” “Elegant writing and perfectly drawn characters.”
• Argentina: “The ideal book to satisfy their expectations.”
So, high expectations it is. Guilfoile has the means to deal with them.
“Expectations are the nemesis of the writer and he should treat them like any hero should treat his nemesis, which is to ignore him until he threatens the city with his moon-based death ray and then reluctantly fight him atop some national landmark until the metaphor runs out of steam completely.”
Interesting that he sees writers as heroes, but I won’t argue that point.
It doesn’t appear that he will be kung fu-ing atop the Lincoln Memorial anytime soon trying to subdue unmet expectations. Sara Paretsky, NY Times best-selling author, says, “The Thousandtakes the reader on a spine-tingling ride from Las Vegas to Chicago, from ancient Greece to modern America.”
Sticking with best-selling authors, Stephen White says that The Thousand is, “Part thought-provoking mystery, part flat-out thriller, The Thousand is superb.” and James Rollins calls Guilfoile, “A writer of stunning talent.”
Talent he has also invested in humor (My First Presidentiary: A Scrapbook by George W. Bush), short fiction (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), commentary (The Morning News), advertising (Coudal Partners), and baseball (t-ball coach).
Guilfoile comes from New Jersey, but he’s a Mid-Westerner by choice, living in Chicago with his wife and two sons and loving it. He grew up immersed in baseball – his father worked for major league teams and the Hall of Fame for 40 years and Guilfoile worked for the Astros and Pirates before turning to advertising and writing. With his home-team White Sox precariously in first place in the AL Central, he’s actively optimistic and looking forward to his sons, ages 6 and 4, growing up to spend late nights with him watching closers trying to do just that. Hopefully they won’t be Cubs fans.
The Thousand took five years to complete and find it’s way through Knopf to your local bookstore. Here’s how Kevin describes the book: “In The Thousand, the ancient secret society/religious cult stuff happens almost entirely in the background, behind a curtain. The book is really about four individuals, each with their own personal struggles, whose lives are rocked and battered and turned upside-down by forces they don’t understand, and probably never will.”
Forces originating with, of all people, Pythagoras. Yes, of theorem fame. For all you MFA graduates: “In any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs.” But don’t worry – there won’t be a quiz.
Why Pythagoras? “(He) was one of the most influential individuals in history – his teachings were the foundation of modern science, music, math, astronomy, and religion – but most people know nothing about him beyond the Pythagorean Theorem, which he didn’t have anything to do with. Plus he was an insane and reclusive cult leader on top of it, who thought his friends were reincarnated as dogs and that it was a sin to eat beans. I couldn’t not write about him.”
And we’re glad he did. Most of us anyway.
“One guy on Amazon reviewed three products on the same day: my book, Dove Body Wash, and a pair of scissors. And I don’t think he liked any of them.”
From what I’ve read and seen, you’ll like The Thousand. I can’t comment on the Dove Body Wash.