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Other segments from the episode on August 6, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 6, 2010: Interview with Rafael Yglesias; Review of the film "The Other Guys."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
'A Happy Marriage': Thirty Years Of Love & Loss


This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

Raphael Yglesias is the author of "A Happy Marriage," an autobiographical novel
that comes out next week in paperback. It's a portrait of the beginning and end
of a marriage. It alternates between the time the main character falls in love
with his wife and years later, when, in his early 50s, he watches her slowly
die from cancer.

Reviewing it in the New York Times, Dinitia Smith wrote, quote: "Raphael
Yglesias has transformed the story of his life, and that of his wife, who died
in 2004, into a profound deliberation on the nature of love, marriage and the
process of dying," unquote.

Yglesias is the son of writers Jose and Helen Yglesias. Raphael dropped out of
high school to finish his first novel, which was published when he was 17. He's
made his living writing screenplays, including "Dark Water," "Les Miserables,"
"Death and the Maiden" and "Fearless," which was adapted from his novel of the
same name. "A Happy Marriage" is his first novel in 13 years. Terry interviewed
Raphael Yglesias last year, when the book was published.


Raphael Yglesias, welcome to FRESH AIR. I'd like you to start by just setting
up the reading that we've chosen to begin with.

Mr. RAPHAEL YGLESIAS (Author, "A Happy Marriage"): At this point in the novel,
Margaret has gone through two years and nine months of treatment for bladder
cancer. For the last six months of those treatments she's been considered
terminal - actually, for longer than that, nine months she's been considered

And she can no longer eat or drink on her own, and so she's being fed
intravenously, both for nutrition and hydration, by her husband, Enrique, using
a method called TPN.

Her mouth dries out frequently. So one of the things he does to relieve her
discomfort is get her popsicles, which she can suck on. Her general despair at
having nothing left to her life but lying in bed without any energy and being
fed all day long and not being able to participate at all in life is the point
she's reached, and this is what happens when she speaks to Enrique about her

He was silenced by the sight of her despair. Though her tears continued to
flow, her voice rang with conviction. I can't do this. I can't live like this.
I can't go on being tethered to a bag for half the day. I can't stand not
eating with you and the boys and our friends. I know it sounds so stupid, so
trivial, so small, but I can't live like this.

He felt the box begin to drip on his jeans. He wanted to put the bars in the
freezer because if they melted, he didn't know if he could summon the energy to
walk to the supermarket again, but he couldn't run away from this statement.

He had known for over a year, when her cancer returned in March, that she was
almost certain to die. Last September, on hearing the news of her second
recurrence and that there were no therapies with a promise of success, Margaret
had decided to stop seeking experimental treatments, to try to enjoy whatever
time she had left.

He had agreed with her decision and felt a guilty relief that at least some of
the horrors of the hospital could be skipped. There would be time, perhaps a
few months, to commune with their sons, to sleep once more in their summer
house on the Maine coast, to visit with friends somewhere other than waiting

They tried to plan what final things to do, and then on the sixth day she
changed her mind. She couldn't give up. To live without hope wasn't life. I
don't want to do a farewell tour, she said.

Enrique agreed instantly to this reversal, this time relieved they wouldn't be
passing up a chance for a miracle. In truth, he could find no comfortable place
to sit in the company of her illness. He would feel guilt and shame no matter
how he behaved. She was going to die, and he was not. In the undeclared war of
marriage, it was an appalling victory.

GROSS: And that's Raphael Yglesias, reading from his new novel, "A Happy
Marriage." The novel is based on your experiences during your wife's illness
and death. Why did you want to write about that, and why write a novel and not
a memoir?

Mr. YGLESIAS: I wanted to - first of all, I should say that I didn't write it
as a novel to provide any cover for myself. There are a lot of things in the
course of the book that Enrique, who is really just a straightforward stand-in
for me, a lot of things that he does that are silly, that are cruel, that are
weak, and that are foolish. Those are all things I actually did.

I chose to write it as a novel because I wanted to tell the story of a
marriage. And in doing that, I wanted to go back and forth between the first
three weeks of when Enrique and Margaret meet, which is when he's 21 and she's
24, and the last three weeks of her life, which are very, very defined because
since she can no longer eat or drink on her own, by simply stopping taking the
intravenous hydration and nutrition, she knows she will die within two weeks'

And she takes some steroids to get some extra energy so that she can say these
farewells very deliberately to each member of her family, and finally to

I wanted to alternate back forth between this confused young man and this 50-
year-old man, one of whom is trying to figure out what this young woman means
to him, and the 50-year-old man who is trying to figure out how to say goodbye,
how to think about his marriage.

I wanted you to be very present in both of those marriages, to feel what they
feel, to be in their shoes. And in order to do that, I needed to make it a
novel and not simply a recollection of events. I needed to compress
conversations, in some cases.

I needed to create real drama in the passages that are 30 years old, and you
know, I don't remember exactly what was said 30 years ago. So I needed to make
it into - for lack of a better word – art, and not simply reportage.

GROSS: You gave the main character's name Margaret, the same name that your
wife had. So on some level you really wanted it to be about her.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes. I - when writing the novel, I called her Margaret, and I
intended to change it later. But I used her real name because I really wanted
to summon her completely.

One of the reasons that I wrote this novel is that before Margaret ever got
ill, I had always wanted to write a novel about a long marriage, especially
when I realized in middle age that I had fallen very deeply back in love with
my wife in a way that was quite different than the sort of early days of

And I realized I couldn't write a novel about that because it was a terrible
invasion of her privacy and also because it's very difficult to write about
something that's still ongoing, a relationship.

After she died, it occurred to me that I could go back to this subject because
I would no longer be invading her privacy. And also I could sit down and look
at the marriage, which is really what grief was making me do anyway.

I therefore kept her as her real name because I really wanted to summon her,
exactly her. And then when the book was done, it just felt sort of silly,
actually, to change her name.

GROSS: You know, as you said, the book is a comparison between what the young
Enrique feels toward the woman who becomes his wife and what he feels when he's
in his 50s and she's dying.

And early on he feels such great physical attraction to her. And at the end of
her life, her life is taken over by her body's failures. All her body fluids
leak. He has to clean them up. He has to give her IV fluids. I mean, her body,
her body has failed. It's deteriorated. What's left of her is her spirit, her
soul, whatever you want to call it.

And I'm wondering how, in writing this book and flipping back and forth between
your thoughts about your wife when you were young and you were meeting, and
your thoughts about her as she was dying, what the meaning of her body meant to
you and how it changed over the years.

I don't mean that in any graphic kind of way but just, you know, like the body
is something we fall in love with when we fall in love. We feel physical
attraction. And at the end of her life, you had to look outside of her body to
know what it was that you cared about.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes. One of the things I really wanted to capture is that in any
long relationship there is this movement to spend - any long relationship that
begins as romance - there is this movement, if it succeeds, from the, you know,
the purely physical lust in the beginnings into a kind of deeper love.

She actually remains quite beautiful to him, as my wife was to me, even while
she is dying. Similarly, there are a couple of chapters that interrupt the back
and forth from beginning and end in the novel, a chapter when he's fallen
completely out of love with her in his mid-20s and another chapter, a couple of
chapters later, in middle age, which are also very physical chapters.

He is a physical being. And also, I think human beings tend to express or not
express their love physically. So yes, her physical deterioration and the fact
that he loves her just as much when her body is no longer a sexual object to
him is, I think, a profound lesson for him. And the loss of her as a companion
and as a guide and as a comfort and all of that is much greater in the end than
the simple loss of youth.

While writing the book, strangely, I sometimes found writing Enrique and
Margaret as a young couple even more painful than the passages about dying and

GROSS: Why is that?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Well, because I had to really - I was trying to write it in as
present a way as possible, as though you were actually there. So I made a great
effort to really recall what it was like to be that young man and to recall her
as a young woman. And so I realized all the opportunities that were lost, in
some ways, and just the memory of how much time had passed, of so much lost

At least when she was ill, we were always very close and communicated very
completely. So I guess in a certain way there was more regret about the youth
than - than old age.

GROSS: In the novel there are plenty of times when the character has to clean
up the mess that her broken body has made, and he has to deal with this mess
without being physically disgusted by her presence, by her body, to still love

And everybody has to do that at some point, with a baby or a parent or a spouse
or a friend, but I'm wondering if that's something that you found difficult, or
if it was not difficult to overcome the physical repulsion and still feel what
you felt.

Mr. YGLESIAS: You know, one of the funny things about writing the novel is that
I was embarrassed by some of the foolish things I had to recount about myself.
But in a way I was sometimes embarrassed about this aspect of it as well.

I didn't want to come off as seeming noble. As you say, it's not that different
than raising children or changing their diapers and so on. The physical taking
care of the fluids and all the rest of it is repulsive, of course. There's
nothing pleasant about it.

And it was depressing. Mostly, it was depressing because of the amount of
discomfort that she was going through at different times. But I have to say
that being able to do something that made her feel better, for Enrique and also
for me, was a great relief in lots of ways.

So there's - along with the messiness and the exhaustion of doing it and some
of the revulsion, there's also a kind of peace to it, a kind of sense of

BIANCULLI: Author and screenwriter Raphael Yglesias, speaking to Terry Gross
last year. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview with screenwriter and
novelist Raphael Yglesias. His novel "A Happy Marriage" comes out in paperback
next week. It's based on his own life and alternates between the beginning and
the end of his marriage. His wife died in 2004 of bladder cancer. He gave the
wife in the novel his own wife's name: Margaret.

GROSS: During one of the periods in the novel where, you know, Margaret is - I
think at this point she's basically in a stupor and she's being sedated by
Ativan, and your character, Enrique, says he expected when she woke up that
they would start talking in a way they never had, in a way they now must, about
their marriage.

You're a writer. Your life is words. Did you want to talk about death when your
wife, Margaret, was dying, about what she meant to you, all those things? I
mean, did you want her life to end like a novel, with things tied up like at
the end of a story?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes, I think I did. I think I wanted to be able to, you know, as
I realized - during - while a cancer patient is ill, and you're helping them
fight the illness, you don't really talk about death.

One of the things that was very brave about Margaret's decision to die within a
certain set period of time, and say goodbye to each person, is that unless you
do that, unless you say to somebody this is it, this is the last conversation
we're going to have, people are really reluctant to say a real goodbye.

Enrique, as - and I was in the same situation - is the gatekeeper for those
farewells. But he knows that he's the last in line and that he will then get to
say his farewell, and it's hard to just say, oh, I miss you, I love you, I'm

You want to say something that expresses more, the real gratitude you feel
about what the person has done for you over the course of a lifetime. And
what's difficult about that goodbye for Enrique is that a lot of what he's
grateful for is how tolerant she was of his faults and of some of the lowest
periods in their marriage.

So it's a difficult goodbye to construct in a way that's simple and
straightforward, and ultimately he can't do it. It's not really possible to
summarize a life together. It's part of the reason I wanted to write the novel.
I really wanted to bring the reader into the experience of feeling this full
passage of two people's lives together.

GROSS: At what point did your wife decide she wanted to die?

Mr. YGLESIAS: She decided that she wanted to die once she had deteriorated to
the point where even the 12 hours of intravenous nutrition was not really
sustaining her.

She was losing weight daily and she was getting multiple infections. And it was
clear that very soon, within a month or two, perhaps three or four at the
outside, something would kill her finally, a final infection, a final collapse
of an organ.

And she knew, as I did, from the deaths of other people we'd watched, that if
you waited for death that way, you were likely to experience it in a complete
morphine coma or in some completely unconscious state. She couldn't, as is said
in the novel, she couldn't control the disease, so in the end she wanted to
control her farewell. She wanted to be able to have some sense of what the last
hours of her life were going to be like. She wanted to have a sense of what her
funeral was going to be like. She wanted to really say goodbye to her children
and to her family and to her friends.

So she decided at that point to simply stop the artificial hydration and
nutrition she was receiving, which meant that within two weeks, really, at the
outside, she would die. And she was supplemented with some steroids so she'd
really have energy for all these big farewells.

GROSS: So did you and she work on a plan for that remaining time?

Mr. YGLESIAS: We - yes, we worked on who were the people she absolutely wanted
to see face to face, and we worked on me getting her a plot in a graveyard she
admired very much, Greenwood in Brooklyn, and in arranging who would be at the
- you know, where the funeral would be held.

She wanted to hold it at a 19th century synagogue in the Lower East Side in New
York. And we pretty much figured out everything that we could, the final dinner
she would have with friends, the last meetings with her family, and pretty much

GROSS: She was going to have a dinner, even though her body couldn't hold food

Mr. YGLESIAS: Well, at that point, as had been true for a number of months, she
had a tube emptying her stomach so that she could eat things. She wouldn't be
able to get any nutritional value out of them. They would simply pass directly
from her stomach into a bag that then I would empty.

GROSS: Now, you...

Mr. YGLESIAS: So she could have the taste. I mean, it was the one saving grace
of the terrible way she was dying. She could taste things and enjoy the taste.
It just didn't do her any good.

GROSS: You mentioned that she wanted to choose where she would be buried, and
this is a source of real tension in the book because her parents in the book,
Margaret's parents, want her to be buried in the family plot. And they want the
funeral to be held in a place that they know, with their rabbi.

And Margaret wants to be buried in a different cemetery and with a rabbi who
she likes. And it kind of reflects a lifelong sensibility difference between
Margaret and her family.

But this is like the final moments of her life, and it's such a - it's such a
kind of thorny kind of disagreement to have at the end of life with your
parents, about - I mean, they'd have - they could be really insulted. Or she -
she doesn't want to be buried with us? She doesn't want to be buried in our
plot? Can you talk a little bit about negotiating that in real life?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes. I mean, there was a tension between Margaret and her family,
and especially her mother, always, about control of all sorts of things and all
sorts of events. And that persisted even in the end.

One of the things that you learn when someone dies very consciously is that
it's not as though everyone behaves very, very differently than they have their
whole lives. The same issues that remain between people always remain.

It's one of the things that I wanted to emphasize in the novel and why I
alternate the time periods the way I do. I wanted to show that what's easy
between people always remains easy, and what's difficult always remains
difficult, even if they create compromises in ways of managing those
differences. They never really go away.

So at the end, Margaret's differences with her mother about how every family
event should be controlled pop up again, because of course her parents
naturally assume that they will do it with their rabbi and in their temple and
that she'll be buried in the family plot.

But Margaret really wanted to control those things, even though she wasn't
going to be there. She wanted her death and her funeral to reflect her tastes
and her not very different values, but slightly different values. And she also
simply wanted, on just the most human level, to control it herself and not have
it be controlled by others.

The difficulty for Enrique is that he is sort of the secretary of state of this
negotiation and has to be a real intermediary, because Margaret doesn't feel up
to having an argument about it.

And I go into it in such detail partly because this is really something that is
my strongest feeling about writing about the course of a long relationship, is
that these sorts of issues between people, which are often comic and seem
silly, really are what make relationships change and grow over time, how
they're managed.

That Margaret, at the end of her life, got her parents to accept that she
wanted things done her way was in a way a kind of peace and reconciliation for
both of them in the end.

And similar things happen throughout the novel between her and her husband, her
and her children, in which the very brave way that she faces the end of her
life allows people to bring to a certain kind of emotional close issues that
existed for them during their entire relationship.

BIANCULLI: Raphael Yglesias, speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. We'll have more
of their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross, back
with more of Terry's 2009 interview with novelist and screenwriter Rafael
Yglesias. His novel, "A Happy Marriage," comes out in paperback next week. It's
based on the beginning and end of his own marriage. His wife died of bladder
cancer in 2004.

GROSS: Was it important for you to be with her at her final moments? And I ask
that, in a way, because when you have someone you love who is dying and you
want to be with them in their final moments, you don't really know when those
final moments are going to be. And so, like, you're afraid to leave the
bedside. If they're at a hospital, you're afraid to go home. And I was just
wondering how you handled that?

Mr. YGLESIAS: In real life, after - once Margaret lost consciousness and was
comatose, I simply stayed beside her all the time. And I was very frightened
when I needed to go take a shower or - in fact, at the end of the novel, he
decides to take a shower because he thinks she's in a coma and almost misses an
important moment between them.

It's a very difficult thing to handle and you need, really, family and hospice
support to make it possible to really be there as much as possible. I felt
there was a tremendous anxiety in my case, about being there with my wife all
the way until the end, and I give the same feeling to Enrique - partly because
I was not there for all of the final moments of my father, who died from
prostate cancer in 1995. And I left it up to the hospital, the hospice, to take
care of him for long stretches of time, and so I wasn't actually there at the
moment of his death. And I always lived to regret it.

Even if it's just an abstract form of comfort, the notion that I was actually
there at the moment that her life ended made me feel that it was a less sad
death. That's probably just an illusion, but it's a very strong one, I guess,
that we all feel.

GROSS: How did you make the decision, when your father was dying, to not be

Mr. YGLESIAS: My wife, Margaret, actually didn't think I should be there the
whole time, that it was too difficult a thing to just maintain a vigil like
that. And I think it was one of the lessons of her illness, that she realized
she and I and lots of people had taken an attitude toward illness that was not
really helpful.

The single most comforting thing to her during her treatments and her illness
was my presence. She just liked me to be there, even if I couldn't be
particularly helpful. And I think we both learned from that, that strange as it
may seem, it is important to be there as much as you can.

It's important not just to the person who's dying, but it's important to you
later. It's important to feel that, you know, you've completed the
relationship, that you did everything you could.

GROSS: And you felt even when she was in a coma that she could sense your

Mr. YGLESIAS: I did and I didn't. I went back and forth about it. Sometimes I
was sure of it and sometimes I felt no, it's just an empty shell of a person.
It's not her. I was never really sure, and I don't like to make assertions
about it. It's more, I think, important to me that I be there because I feel
that way, there's no possibility there.

GROSS: Right. Your character describes himself as a godless man.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And my guess is that you would describe yourself that way, too.


GROSS: And your character says that there were lots of friends and extended
family that he didn't really feel he could turn to for comfort. And so I was
just kind of wondering like, without a sense of God and without having friends
who you felt you could really turn to for comfort at that time, was there
something that you could turn to?

Mr. YGLESIAS: I turned to the people whom I really love. My sons were a comfort
to me, but they were in such pain that, you know, I couldn't really use them
for comfort and didn't think that was appropriate. There were friends - and my
sister was of enormous comfort to me. Margaret's closest friend was a great
comfort to me as well.

I didn't feel that I could be comforted, though, for what was actually
happening, which is that a person I loved very much was dying and I couldn't
really stop it, or manage it in a way that made it not be what it was. I, you
know, I did, with Margaret, go to temple once a week while she was ill. At the
moment she died, I said the Hebrew prayer that you're supposed to say when a
Jew dies and to tell God that she's coming.

I didn't find any of that comforting, though. I did it in order to honor her
religion, which was of comfort to her. What was comforting to me in the end was
that I took care of her as well as I could. That was the most comforting thing
to me.

GROSS: There's a moment where Enrique, your main character, thinks death: the
destroyer of chit-chat.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Did you feel that way about this book? That there was really no room for
inessential stuff here, or for the trivial?

Mr. YGLESIAS: No. I think the book actually is loaded with a certain amount of
trivialities. Even in the midst of the...

GROSS: But the trivialities are there for a reason.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: They're there for a reason. Yeah. You know that's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: ...that's true. Yeah. No, they are. They are. I think that, you
know, death is the engine of the narrative because it forces Enrique and the
reader to look at every aspect of what's going on between the couple. Even when
they're young and death is not in the room with them, to look at it in the
framework of the notion that what we do with each other has a time limit and
that it doesn't recur.

That's part of what I meant about it being painful or writing them when young.
That youth is gone, even though they can be happy and there can be a mature
later. The pleasures of that youth disappear and is in itself a kind of dying.
That's partly why I went back and forth in it two times. I wanted to sort of
contrast, you know, these two mysteries, falling in love and falling in death,
which are both mysterious to us.

But I guess I felt that what makes illness and death interesting is that it
strips away from people all the things that we tend to think are more important
than they really are. It's one of the reasons why I went back to the conflict
over how she was going to be buried and all of that. You, you know, you have to
decide now, since this is the end, what is really, finally important to you.
And that's what makes it clear to you what a triviality is and what isn't.

GROSS: One more question about the novel. Were there things you felt that you
would only be able to understand about your wife, your relationship and her
death, if you wrote about it?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes. I really wanted to examine what made our marriage work
because in some ways it was a mystery to me. And that's why I framed the book
the way I did. It's a mystery to Enrique as she's dying exactly what it is that
he's losing. And so writing the book was a way of my examining, some several
years after my wife's death, what the marriage really was, and what it meant to
me and what it consisted of, in its worst moments and in its best moments. I
really wanted to understand why these relationships are important to us,
whether they work wonderfully or whether they work smoothly or not. And so
writing it became, for me, a real bringing back to life of the heart of the
marriage and in that way, I think I was finally able to say goodbye to it.

GROSS: You wouldn't have felt comfortable, you've said, writing about your wife
and your marriage when she was alive. Did you still feel protective of her when
she was dead? Are there things that you still were uncomfortable writing about
or did you think it no longer mattered?

Mr. YGLESIAS: No, I wrote about everything, including things that I'm sure
would've enraged her. I didn't feel that there was any point in doing the book
unless I was going to be as honest as I could possibly be about both of us.

GROSS: And how come that didn't bother you...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...knowing that some of the things you said would enrage her? And I'll
preface it by saying you come from a family of writers, so.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Right. I mean, it is true that if you come from a family of
writers, you understand that there is always an assassin in the family.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: I don't really know any other way of doing the writing. So I
didn't feel I had any choice. And there were times when I considered just not
publishing the book or not showing it to anyone. But I also knew that I felt
that so acutely, that it was so dangerous, was also a sign that I was writing
it correctly.

GROSS: Had your parents, in their novels, written characters that you knew were
based on you that you found troubling?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Actually, even when someone writes you in a novel flatteringly,
the truth is it's always troubling because it's odd to be a minor character in
someone else's life since we're always the major character in our own lives.

GROSS: Oh that's so interesting, the way you put it.

Mr. YGLESIAS: It's always disturbing.

GROSS: So was that upsetting to see that in your parents' work you were a minor

Mr. YGLESIAS: It was very strange, always disturbing. And I believe, although
people will say otherwise, that it's always disturbing to people to appear in
someone's book. It's just - it offends the natural narcissism of every

BIANCULLI: Author and screenwriter Raphael Yglesias speaking to Terry Gross
last year. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview with screenwriter and
novelist Rafael Yglesias. His novel, "A Happy Marriage," comes out in paperback
next week. It's based on his own life and alternates between the beginning and
the end of his marriage. His wife died in 2004 of bladder cancer.

GROSS: Like Enrique, the main character in your book, you published your first
– well, you wrote your first novel when you were 16. Was that one published?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes. I wrote it when I was 16. When it came out, I was 17 years

GROSS: Now that's amazing. How do you get...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How do you get a novel published when you're that young? Who did you
know? Who did you go to?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Well, my parents were - who were both born to very poor, working-
class families - had struggled most of their lives to become writers. My father
finally got his first novel published when he was 43. And my mother published

GROSS: This is Jose Yglesias and Helen Yglesias?

Mr. YGLESIAS: That right, Jose and Helen Yglesias. And Helen, my mom, published
her first novel, actually, when she was 56, a few months after I published my
first novel. So what happened while I was a child was that I watched these two
people - my father for a long time worked at a pharmaceutical company and
mother was a housewife, as far as I knew until I was eight or nine, suddenly,
both changed quite dramatically.

My mother became the back-of-the-book editor of the Nation magazine when I was
10 or 11. My father quit his job and started publishing books and writing for
the Sunday Times magazine and publishing short stories in the New Yorker. So
while I was nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, I watched them become writers, and it seemed
to me that anyone could become a writer...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: ...since they were just an ordinary couple. So when I got upset
about life and so on, I just wrote a novel. When I finished it, I got into some
very big fights with my parents over what to do about it. I wanted to quit high
school and just be a novelist. They naturally thought I should finish my

But when they read the novel, they both thought it was quite extraordinary. So
they gave it to their agent, who had some quibbles about it, and they gave it
to another friend who was an editor, and she gave it to an editor at Doubleday,
who bought it right away.

It may sound like that was all influenced but it really, it really wasn't. It
was, after all - whatever the merits or lack of merits of the novel, it was an
interesting novel for a publisher to publish since there weren't that many
books by 16-year-olds.

GROSS: Give us, like, the three-sentence version of what the book was about.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Like this novel, it was an incredibly straightforward,
autobiographical novel about my last year at a private school in Manhattan - I
went to Horace Mann - and about a kid who was exactly like me, who in a very
turbulent time, 1968, who begins to cut school believing that, you know,
bourgeois America is valueless, and it's all going to come crashing down.

And he cut school and cut school, and it's really about what it's like to be an
unhappy adolescent. It's a very, you know, honest and straightforward account
of it, and that's what people found interesting. It was written almost without
any perspective on being an adolescent. It's because it's being written by an
adolescent. And so it had a quality, I guess an urgency, and an immediacy that
people found very powerful.

GROSS: Did it sell any copies?

Mr. YGLESIAS: I - it sold, I think, about three editions or so and...

GROSS: Oh, that's good.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yeah. And actually, I made about $11,000 off it and my apartment
in those days...


Mr. YGLESIAS: Yeah, my apartment in those days only cost 68 bucks a month, so I
lived off of it for three years.

GROSS: That's amazing.

(Soundbite of laughter)


GROSS: Now, you not only published a novel when you were 17, you basically
dropped out of high school and left your family when you were 16.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And...

Mr. YGLESIAS: I moved in with an older woman. She was 25.

GROSS: A girlfriend?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Wow. Okay, so very...

Mr. YGLESIAS: I lived with her for three years.

GROSS: This is a very rebellious thing to do. Your parents obviously did not
want you to do any of this. But your parents were rebellious people, too. Your
father had been the film critic for The Daily Worker, the communist
publication. Who even knew they had a film critic?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes, they did.

GROSS: You know, you...

Mr. YGLESIAS: In '48, in 19, yes in 1948 to 1950 actually, it was - because it
was not quite so underground, he was kind of well-known as their film critic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: He and your mother...

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes. Both my parents were members of the Communist Party in the
'30s, '40s and '50s. They told me before they died that when the Stalin doctor
trials came out, they wanted to leave the party. But it was the McCarthy period
then, and they thought it would be cowardly if they did. So they stayed in the
party until about '60 - '59, '60, when they thought it was safe to leave.

But by then, my father had fallen in love with the Cuban revolution. He was a
Cuban-American who grew up in a cigar-making community in Tampa, Florida, Ybor
City. And it, unlike the community in Miami that left after Castro's
revolution, were very pro-Fidel. So my father had his sort of idealism of his
youth reawakened by Castro's revolution, and for a good five or six years he
was a big supporter of it.

So yes, I was raised by odd parents. My father once said to me in perfect
seriousness - so this was the sort of guy he was - that there were only two
great things to be in life - only two worthwhile things to be in life: a
revolutionary or an artist. And so, I was very rebellious, and I gave my
parents a lot of grief. But I was really following the principles of what they
were saying about the world.

GROSS: Yeah. I was wondering, like how do you rebel against parents who were so

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: Well, it turned...

GROSS: And how do they act when their son rebels against them?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: It turns out to be incredibly easy. Parents, even when they think
they want revolutionaries, really don't. And they certainly don't want high
school dropouts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: They were very angry at me, actually.

GROSS: So what did they try to do to bring you back in the fold?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yelled and, you know, threw fits and temper tantrums, and pleaded
with me, and all sorts of things. My parents were odd in this respect, though.
Once I showed them the manuscript of my novel, all the fighting ended. They
thought it was the work of a real writer, and they understood then that if
that's what I wanted to do, it was fine. They just wanted me to go to college
or in some way create something to fall back on.

But the fighting and the arguments stopped once they no longer worried that I
was cutting school to take drugs and just hang out. As long as they understood
that I was doing something they respected, then they calmed down about that
aspect of it. They were still very, very worried as to how I would make a
living. And they were correct to worry about that.

GROSS: Did you ever go back to school?

Mr. YGLESIAS: No, I didn't, and I regret it quite a bit. There were a couple of
colleges, once my novel came out and was highly praised, that of course, were
willing to admit me without a high school diploma. And I should've gone. I
missed out on a lot.

I missed out on really having a peer group, and I missed out, also, on having
four years in which I wasn't under enormous pressure. As a published writer, I
had to get another contract, publish another book, be reviewed, and those were
pressures that are pretty tough to handle even for someone in their 20s. But
for someone who was 17, it was overwhelming.

GROSS: Yeah, you mentioning pressures, I read that for one of your novels, and
I don't know which one this was, that your publisher was getting restless, they
wanted a manuscript, and you gave back the advance.


GROSS: You had to be feeling a lot of anxiety to give back the advance.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes, that actually led to my first film being made. Because
partly to resolve that conflict, I wrote an adaptation on-spec of it and then
it got made as a film, and the book was published the way I wanted.

GROSS: This was "Fearless"?

Mr. YGLESIAS: "Fearless," yeah, back in 1993.

GROSS: Was that Jeff Bridges in that?

Mr. YGLESIAS: Yes, Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez, and Peter Weir directed it
beautifully. But yes, I had a very tumultuous several decades as a writer,
partly as a consequence - to tell you the truth - of my parents' politics and
their sort of combative attitude toward the world. It's something that I had to
sort of shed slowly and painfully over the years. And, in a way, it's something
I admire about my parents and their generation, the notion that you could
change the world with your writing, and that what you're doing with your
writing is terribly important and of great value to the world. But it's also
kind of crippling if what you're just trying to do is get better at it, and to
sort of fully express the world as you see it.

GROSS: Raphael Yglesias, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. YGLESIAS: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Screenwriter and author Raphael Yglesias speaking to Terry Gross in
2009. His latest novel, "A Happy Marriage," comes out next week in paperback.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new Will Ferrell comedy "The
Other Guys." This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Will Ferrell Shines In Laugh-Filled 'Other Guys'

(Soundbite of music)


Will Ferrell stars in "The Other Guys," a new comedy directed and co-written by
his long-time collaborator Adam McKay. It's a spoof of the buddy action cop
movie and co-stars Mark Wahlberg as his mismatch partner.

Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: At capturing the poetry of male obliviousness, Will Ferrell
has no peer.

Consider his preening Ron Burgundy in "Anchorman," his swaggering yet befuddled
racer Ricky Bobby in "Talladega Nights," his golden-locked skater Chazz Michael
Michaels in "Blades of Glory" — child-men who put on macho airs and look more
and more like great big babies.

In his one-man show, "You're Welcome, America," Ferrell portrays George W. Bush
as an over-entitled rich boy posing haplessly as a Texas cowboy. Best of all is
his infantile 39-year-old Brennan Huff in "Step Brothers," which is, for my
money, the great American slapstick comedy of the last decade. Along with his
director and co-writer Adam McKay, Ferrell created an environment on set in
which a lot of gifted, un-self-censoring actors and actresses had license to
say and do anything, take after take. The upshot was gorgeously controlled

The latest Ferrell-McKay collaboration is "The Other Guys," a buddy-cop comedy,
and the bad news is that it isn't in the league of their last few. The good
news is that even a second-tier Ferrell-McKay comedy is better than almost
anything at the movies.

Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play New York detectives Allen Gamble and Terry
Hoitz, both in the shadow of hot-dog cops played by Samuel L. Jackson and
Dwayne Johnson. The movie opens with Jackson and Johnson on a high-speed chase,
jumping in and out of cars and trucks while blowing stuff up and trading one-
liners. The problem is there's no visual wit, just expensive mayhem. It looks
too much like the action films it's parodying. "The Other Guys" gets better
when Jackson and Johnson leave the picture — on a high — and Gamble and Hoitz
try to fill their shoes.

Ferrell's Gamble has tight curly hair and wire-rim specs and is a study in
wonkish repression. He's an accountant by training. He never wants to leave his
desk. On the other hand, Wahlberg's Hoitz has been confined to his desk after
shooting a major sports figure under circumstances I won't spoil. Hoitz wears
black leather sports jackets and impugns Gamble's masculinity, finally
resorting to animal metaphors.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Other Guys")

Mr. MARK WAHLBERG (Actor): (as Terry Hoitz) I don't like you. I think you're a
fake cop. If we were in the wild I would attack you. If I were a lion and you
were tuna, I would swim out in the middle of the ocean and eat you.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Allen Gamble) Okay. First off, a lion swimming in
the ocean? Lions don't like water. If you placed it near a river or some sort
of fresh water source that makes sense, but you find yourself in the ocean, 20-
foot wave, I'm assuming it's off the coast of South Africa, coming up against a
full grown 800 pound tuna, with his 20 or 30 friends, you lose that battle. You
lose that battle nine times out of 10. Did that go the way you thought it was
going to go?


(Soundbite of screaming)

EDELSTEIN: That's coffee being dumped all over Ferrell's shirt.

The case the pair stumbles into has something to do with Steve Coogan as a
high-risk money man who's billions in the red, and Anne Heche — who's seriously
underused — as the head of a multinational conglomerate at risk of collapse.
The plotting is loose, but the Wall Street setting isn't arbitrary. Over the
closing credits are graphs and captions: The ratio of CEO salaries to workers'
salaries over the last few decades, the amount of bonus money given to
executives at companies taking bailouts. I wish instead of another buddy cop
movie they'd made a comedy about a money manager or broker.

What saves "The Other Guys" is that Ferrell and McKay let no scene go until
they've turned its apparent premise inside-out. The sheer accumulation of
absurdities is dizzying. Ferrell's Gamble turns out to have a complicated back-
story: He's married to a smoking-hot doctor played by Eva Mendes. He's trying
to be a wonk to keep the violent pimp inside him at bay. Opposite Ferrell, Mark
Wahlberg doesn't so much send up his own peculiar combination of thuggishness
and sweetness as play it absolutely straight, no winking — and he's hilarious.

I look back over my notes on the movie and find myself choking with laughter.
The Prius. Dirty Mike and his homeless orgies. Good cop-bad cop. Jersey Boys.
Sarcastic ballet. Christinth. You don't know what I'm talking about but if you
see "The Other Guys," those words will have you doubled over too.

What makes Will Ferrell such a treasure is that for all the lowbrow gags, he
doesn't satirize stupidity. He satirizes fear — the lengths to which men will
go to keep from looking vulnerable. I'm excited by what might come down the
road. A great business comedy? A great black comedy of war, like "Duck Soup?"
Aim high, Will — and get low.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. And you
can download podcasts of our show at

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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