When he was a kid, recalls John Fried, he “read a lot of coming-of-age books.” Even then, he preferred the ones that reflected his own experience as a less-than-ideal child.
“The books that I was reading that I really liked are ones where they take the coming of age novel and make it a little more complicated,” he said. “And sometimes the characters aren't always nice don’t always do nice things that they feel to me more like real people.” Reflecting on his younger self, he adds, “Sometimes I was bad, but you know, that’s what kids do, they make mistakes and they learn from them.”
Fried’s debut novel is out this week. “The Martin Chronicles” (Grand Central Publishing) follows protagonist Martin Kelso from age 11 to 17 as he grows up in the 1980s in New York City. It’s the kind of story Fried would have liked as a kid.
“The one thing I can say about Marty is he doesn't always make good decisions, and that was something that I enjoyed writing about him, because he felt very real to me,” said Fried.
Early in the book, for instance, the 11-year-old Marty finds the lost retainer of a girl in his school whom he “hates”; rather than returning it, he secretly fetishizes it and ends up destroying it.
Other episodes find Marty and his friends dealing with classmates getting mugged on the way to school, and navigating the odd world of 13th-birthday parties.
Though Fried himself grew up in Manhattan during that same era, “Martin Chronicles” is not autobiographical, he says – “Marty is not me” -- but rather a pastiche of his experiences and those of people he knows. He calls the episodic novel “a set of stories put together to create a novel arc through that, and follow him through a series of firsts. You know, first love, first kiss, first bad things that happened to boys in their life.”
Fried is a tenured professor at Duquesne University, where he teaches creative writing and film. He’s been at Duquesne since 2004; previously, he worked as a magazine writer and editor in New York, with publication credits in the "New York Times Magazine," “Rolling Stone” and more.
He has a master of fine arts degree from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers, and has published short fiction in “Gettysburg Review,” “North American Review,” “Columbia Journal” and elsewhere.
“Martin Chronicles” got a positive review in “Booklist," and author events are planned in Providence, R.I., and at Book Culture, in Manhattan.
The book will be launched Tuesday, with a reading and question-and-answer session at Carnegie Lecture Hall, in Oakland. The event is at 7 p.m. Attendance is free with registration and is part of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Made Local Series.