Street Talk

Michael Kardos

Michael Kardos is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Three-Day Affair and the award-winning story collection One Last Good Time. His short stories have appeared in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Pleiades, PRISM international, and many other magazines and anthologies, and were cited as Notable Stories in the 2009, 2010, and 2012 editions of Best American Short Stories. Kardos grew up at the Jersey Shore, received a degree in music from Princeton University, and played the drums professionally for a number of years. He has an M.F.A. in fiction from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. He lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where he co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

Mystery in the Making: An interview with Michael Kardos, author of The Three-Day Affair


BAB: The Three-Day Affair is something of a stylistic departure from your story collection, One Last Good Time.  Was this a conscious decision on your part?

MK: It really wasn’t. The stories in One Last Good Time are linked by place (the Jersey Shore) and recurring characters, but stylistically and tonally they vary a lot from story to story. The title story is far more hard-boiled than the novel. The novel’s style was ultimately a function of finding my narrator’s voice and storytelling approach. Will Walker is educated and reflective, but not hyper literary, and the novel is a confession of sorts, so I spent a while working with those ideas until I found a voice that worked. But I don’t think the voice is particularly thriller-y. Or maybe it is, though I didn’t set out to write a thriller or even a crime novel—just a novel. Maybe another way of saying it is that genre classifications came after the book was done.

BAB: Do I remember you saying that this book is a “novelization” of a story?  If I’m remembering this right, can you talk about the process of re-envisioning characters for such a different form?

MK: The novel expands upon a premise that I used in the story “One Last Good Time.” The story and the novel don’t have characters or plot in common, but they do both involve guys who are driving vehicles when bad things happen, setting off a chain of events. Because they’re driving, they don’t have the time to think through the various courses of action. They know they should stop the vehicle, but it’s easier to ignore that knowledge and keep driving—and every second they don’t stop, they’re that much farther down a road they shouldn’t be on, both literally and metaphorically. We all face moments of indecision and paralysis. When you’re at the wheel of a car with a hostage in the backseat, however, inaction becomes a significant action.

BAB: Sara, who never appears in the present time of The Three-Day Affair, turns out to be a kind of “Helen” figure.  Did you understand her role in the book from the beginning, or was it something that developed as you wrote?

MK: She’s like Vera, Norm’s wife, in Cheers—always offstage. Did I just reveal my age? Anyway, her presence being confined to flashback is ultimately a function of the very small cast of characters appearing in the narrative present, all locked in a room together. Her role in the novel grew as the story itself developed.

BAB: In so many ways, this book is a story about friendship and its limitations. This is especially true when viewed against the ideas of privilege and entitlement that seem to be woven into American culture. It seems like a rich subject to explore.

MK: This book asks: how loyal would you be to a friend? How much trust would place in another person? Will, the narrator, considers himself a good friend. That’s part of his self-definition. I hadn’t exactly connected that to ideas of privilege and entitlement before, but I think you’re right. Their ability to help one another (or hurt one another, for that matter) and their sense of being able to control their own destiny stem to some degree from their privileged status.

BAB: I was also fascinated by the passages that delved into ideas of culpability and personal responsibility. Why was this such an important element of the novel?

MK: A lot of that came later. First, I was just interested in telling the story of some friends who try to undo a rashly committed crime, and how their decisions lead them deeper into trouble rather than out of it—not because they’re stupid, but because they’re smart. And smart people are masters at rationalizing their own ill-advised decisions. As the novel got written, the themes became more important…how our decisions (including the decision to defer making decisions) have repercussions, or at least potentially have repercussions, no matter how much we might tell ourselves otherwise.­Kardos/dp/0802120261/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1350066937&sr=1­1&keywords=the+three+day+affair