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Scott Turow

The novelist, 69, on the thrill of a bestseller, the strain from a hard-to-please dad, and the upside of divorce

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
Illustration: Kathryn Rathke

Being an author is lonely, self-absorbed work. Being a lawyer puts me in a social realm. You can’t practice the law alone. It’s intensely social. So it meets that part of my personality and provides grist to the mill.

I have a congenital anemia called spherocytosis. At times of high stress, my body would start hemolyzing my red blood cells. In other words, the body would attack itself. I would literally turn yellow. It was very disconcerting for a jury in the final days of a trial.

My publisher, Roger Straus III, flew to Chicago to meet me not long after he bought Presumed Innocent. We were in a taxi on his way back to Midway, and he said, “Promise me one thing: Don’t quit your day job yet.” That was a great piece of advice.

It’s otherworldly to see a book you wrote at No. 1 on the bestseller list. You sit down and figure: If everyone who bought a copy of Presumed Innocent were in one place, that’s as big as Cincinnati. And eventually it became the Chicago metropolitan area. It’s very hard to accept that you’ve had any impact on so many lives.

I still don’t think writing is work. I tease my wife, Adriane, and say, “I’m going to go upstairs now to play with my imaginary friends.”

Ideally, the reader will feel as excited reading a sex scene as I do writing it. I think we can leave it at that.

I am a liberal Democrat who is angrier than hell. And I don’t fail to grasp the fact that there are millions and millions of Americans who don’t think the way I do, and I am concerned about that. I want to understand what they think, or how I can make what I think less offensive to them.

Human beings are neither all good nor all bad, and I am very disappointed in the way in which Americans seem unwilling to host nuanced views about politicians: They have to be heroes or villains.

I always adored my mom. She grew up in a working-class family, married a doctor, and continued to have the perspectives of a working-class person.

We moved to Winnetka when I was in high school, and all of a sudden, things shifted a little bit, and I realized there are two kinds of socialists: those who believe things should be distributed more equally within society and those who are just jealous of the rich.

My dad was a hard father, and he let me know that I was never going to have his respect. So you hear the voice that says you’ll never be good enough, and at the same time you’re determined to prove you will be. I knew it was forbidden to hate my father because he was my father, but man, I did not like him.

I didn’t want to be like my father — the brooding, remote presence. Given how hard I was working when my kids were young, I gave them a great deal of attention. I knew who my kids were and where they were emotionally, and as a result, I know who they are now.

My ex-wife and I are on really good terms. For me, it was just time for a change. It was renewing. I had gotten married when I was 21, so to suddenly be an adult and in charge of myself was an extraordinary experience. It has made me a much happier human being to go back to square one and work through things on my own.

One of the great blessings of my later life has been my relative freedom from anxiety. In the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve found there’s a voice inside me that says, “It’ll be OK. Things always work out.

I don’t think there are many people who are able to look up and say, “My dreams came true.” Mine did. To a great extent, the things that seemed like ardent fantasies happened to me. What a deal.

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