A reviewer once commented that I love an underdog, and I suppose that's true. I'm interested in what seems to me the harrowing ordinariness of an ordinary life, and maybe the underdog is the archetypal ordinary man. Many Russian writers—Gogol, Tolstoy, Chekhov—see the "ordinary man" in that light: pervasively oppressed, suffering in a way that feels hauntingly familiar. I am a great admirer of Iris Murdoch, who took her philosophical training at Oxford and then went on to write some thirty or so novels, a remarkable achievement. I like her work because I like her characters' preoccupation with the state of their souls and the nature of goodness—their own, other people's, the world's. I'm interested in goodness the way some writers are interested in evil, perhaps, although maybe they're just two sides of the same coin. I'm interested in how we grapple with the ethical, moral questions in our lives. I see the challenges of our lives, the conflicts, in those terms, as questions of right and wrong, good and bad. I'm interested in the emotional and psychological dimension of the struggle to be good, to live an ethically responsible life. I'm interested in how shockingly difficult it is to be good. And I'm interested in our failures in that regard—exactly how we fail and why, how we console ourselves and others, how we forgive ourselves and others, how we fail to forgive.
This all sounds very abstract, perhaps, but it feels very, well, ordinary, to me. These issues feel present to me in the most ordinary life, under the most ordinary circumstances. The challenge is to render those lives, those ordinary lives, as dramatically as I feel they are lived, so that the characters' engagement with questions of moral goodness—their heroism, as it were—can be felt by the reader, and can be as gripping and unforgettable and important as a life lived on much more conventionally dramatic terms. William Trevor is an absolute master at this, I think. So is Alice Munro, Flannery O'Connor