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Authors: Nelson DeMille

The Gold Coast

BOOK: The Gold Coast
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Books by Nelson DeMille
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THE GOLD COAST. Copyright © 1990 by Nelson DeMille. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

For information address Warner Books, Hachette Book Group, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

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ISBN: 978-0-7595-2262-6

A trade paperback edition of this book was published in 1997 by Warner Books.

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First eBook Edition: April 2001

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To my three budding authors:
Ryan, Lauren, and Alex.
I wish to thank Daniel and Ellen Barbiero for sharing with me their invaluable insights into Gold Coast life, and also Audrey Randall Whiting for sharing with me her knowledge of Gold Coast history.
I would also like to acknowledge my gratitude to Harry Mariani for his generous hospitality and support.
I also want to thank Pam Carletta for her tireless and professional work on the manuscript for this book.
And once again, my deepest gratitude to Ginny DeMille, editor, publicist, and good friend.
A man lives not only his personal life as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries.

The Magic Mountain
I was born in New York City, and when I was four years old, my family moved to nearby Long Island. My father was one of the many post-World War II builders to come out to Long Island from the city to help create a new suburban frontier. New York City’s teeming population of eight million was ready to spill out of the five boroughs and pour into the farms and villages of old Long Island. In 1946, Arthur Levit began building 15,000 homes on what had once been potato fields and meadows, the largest single subdivision ever created. By the late 1950s, over a million people had transformed much of Long Island from rural to suburban.
As a kid, I’d ride around the unpaved roads of the new housing tracts with my father in one of his army surplus jeeps, and even at that young age, I think I understood that one way of life was passing away and another was beginning. Long Island’s Dutch and English history goes back to the early 1600s, and there was much that should have been saved and preserved. But in the rush to provide housing to returning veterans and their baby boomer families, questions of land use and landmark preservation were rarely addressed.
First, the farms fell to the builders, then the forests, and gradually the grand estates of Long Island’s North Shore—the Gold Coast—began to be divided by the surveyors, and the great houses began falling to the wrecker’s ball. Much of the visible evidence of the golden age on Long Island, spanning from the end of the Civil War to the stock market crash of 1929, was disappearing as housing tracts covered fields and woodlands where ladies and gentlemen once rode to hounds and hundred-room mansions were either deserted, razed, or used to house institutions.
By the 1970s, the acceleration of the destruction had slowed, and efforts were being made to preserve the estates as parks, museums, or nature conservancies.
This was the Long Island I knew growing up, but I was only dimly aware of the history of the Gold Coast—that is, until 1962, when in college I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s
The Great Gatsby.
is not only an entertaining story, but also a fascinating piece of social history, a peek into the loves, lives, and tragedies of the people who lived in that special time and place, the Gold Coast of Long Island during the Jazz Age.
As I read
in 1962, I was struck by the fact that the story took place only a few miles from where I was going to college and from where I grew up. Also, the time distance between the stock market crash of October 1929 and my freshman year of college was thirty-three years—eons for me, but not for my parents or some of my teachers, who had lived through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Yet it seemed to me that most people spoke very little about the 1920s, and only a bit more about the depression. The defining years of their lives seemed to have been World War II. In retrospect, the years between World War I and the end of World War II were so crammed with momentous and earth-shattering events that, as one of my history teachers put it, “These thirty years produced more history than the average person could consume.”
So, although the 1920s were in many ways a turning point in American history, there were other turning points, so that the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, the Age of Prohibition, while not forgotten, were to some extent eclipsed by subsequent events.
Early in my writing career, I decided I wanted to write a Gatsbyesque novel. I began searching for similar novels written during the period or afterward, and I was surprised at how few I was able to turn up, other than “gangster books.”
On reflection, I decided that a novel set entirely in the 1920s might not be well received by the reading public, so I decided to write a
novel, which began on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, and continued to the present. My book was going to center on Long Island as the “cradle of aviation,” and the cast of characters in this huge book would include cameo appearances by Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Glenn Curtiss, Leroy Grumman, and a host of other aviation greats. The project was breathtaking in its scope and entirely too ambitious for a lazy writer.
But the 1920s still fascinated me, and one day someone said, “Examine the pieces of the Crash. Examine the Crash site.” In other words, write a contemporary novel set on the old Gold Coast amid the remaining mansions and estates and the crumbling ruins. This seemed to be the best and most workable idea.
But what kind of story did I want to tell? Obviously, I needed old WASP families, some down on their luck, some doing well. I needed to examine the old morals, manners, and mores that still hung on, and compare and contrast them to the new ways, the new suburban America that lay just beyond the hedgerows of the once-grand estates.
I knew the ingredients, the formula, but when I put it together, it still had no heat, no light, no spark. There was something missing and, finally, a chance piece in a local newspaper provided the missing element: the Mafia.
The more successful of the organized crime families had for years been taking up residence on the Gold Coast, and now the entire theme of my proposed novel took form:
The Godfather
The Great Gatsby
on the Gold Coast. My wife, my agent, and I were sitting in my living room, and we were there to finalize the concept, plot, characters of
The Gold Coast
book—this is called a story conference, and it’s either a lot of fun or it’s pretty grim. I began the conversation with those ten words: “
The Godfather
The Great Gatsby
on the Gold Coast.” Everyone stayed silent for a few seconds, then my agent, Nick Ellison, said, “That’s it. You got it.” My wife Ginny, a former English teacher, said, “I love it.” We all got up and went out for a drink. The next day, Nick called the publisher and gave her the same ten words. She said, “That’s it. Go for it.”
And thus, a novel was conceived, but it was still a long way from being born.
I won’t go into detail about the writing process or the research, but suffice it to say, I knew a good number of the people in my novel. And those I didn’t know personally or intimately, I knew
. This was, after all, if not
backyard, it was my
backyard. I did not grow up
the North Shore of Long Island, the Gold Coast, but I grew up
it, and had come to know it by osmosis and by brief contact. Thus, by my forty-fifth year when I began writing
The Gold Coast
, this lost world that had seemed to me in 1962 so distant in time and place had become strangely closer, reminding me of the famous last line of
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The reaction to the book when it was published in 1990 was interesting. It wasn’t a “DeMille” book; that is, it wasn’t an action adventure tale. It was, in fact, a serious novel, but some people had trouble making the mental transition. In fact, my own publishing company, in press releases and ads, called it a “thriller.” This would be like calling the
The Great Gatsby
The Godfather
a thriller. Some reviewers were confused, some didn’t get it at all, and some ignored the book. The publishers had second thoughts about DeMille doing a non-DeMille book, and they put out a relatively modest number of hardcovers. Some astute reviewers, however, compared
The Gold Coast
favorably to Tom Wolfe’s then-recent bestseller,
The Bonfire of the Vanities
. Other reviewers said it was far better than
One major review even suggested that it was better than its granddaddy,
The Great Gatsby.
But with the ads and press releases sending out mixed signals, confused reviews written by people who read the press releases and not the novel, and the modest printing, the book was not a hardcover phenomenon, despite the Book-of-the-Month Club
featuring it as a Main Selection, and despite a significant movie deal. Eventually,
The Gold Coast
was translated into all major foreign languages, although the title was changed because the Gold Coast in much of Europe and the world refers to the African Gold Coast.
So, with mixed reviews and modest sales, I started to write my next novel,
The General’s Daughter
, a murder mystery, and, I hoped, a book that would not confuse anyone.
But then strange and wonderful things started to happen—I began to hear from the actual reading public. Fan letters from bookstore owners, college professors, students, men, and more significantly, women, who had not been my primary readers, letters from people of all age groups and all social strata and from all parts of the country. (Some marketing and sales people had predicted that
The Gold Coast
wouldn’t “play west of the Hudson.”) I had never gotten so many letters in twenty years of writing. More important than quantity was the quality of the letters—passionate, intellectual, funny, and interestingly, sad. Many people said they cried at the end. What more can an author ask for?
But much of the positive reaction to
The Gold Coast
came too late to influence the course of the hardcover. I took some comfort in recalling that
The Great Gatsby
also had mixed reviews and poor sales when it was first published in 1925.
But, like
Gatsby, The Gold Coast
was not fated to die or be buried. It was to be published in paperback in March of 1991, and the groundswell of readers who’d made the hardcover almost an underground classic now burst out into bookstores and airports, and wherever paperback racks exist. Within weeks, sales of
The Gold Coast
were close to a million, and now, some six years later, the book is still in print, and has gone on to sell millions more.
In addition to retail sales,
The Gold Coast
has experienced some interesting institutional sales. When the Republican National Committee met on Long Island prior to the 1996 presidential campaign, their local hosts included in all welcome packets a copy of
The Gold Coast.
College and university sales have shown a steady rise over the years as instructors assign
The Gold Coast
as required and suggested reading. Some instructors have written saying they assign it as companion reading to
Other instructors in creative writing courses have told me they assign it by itself, or with Tom Wolfe’s
as one of the few modern and noteworthy examples of social satire, manners, and mores.
And finally, in the
Fodor’s Guide to Long Island,
under the topic of suggested further reading, is
The Gold Coast.
An author looks at sales not simply as money in the bank, but as approval—why do we write except to be read? The more an author sells, the more people there are who are reading the author, obviously. And so, while the somewhat delayed commercial success of
The Gold Coast
was nice, it was really the vindication of the book that made me feel good as a writer. It was, ultimately, not the hype-masters, the sales or ad people, or the reviewers who made the book successful, it was the word of mouth of bookstore owners and clerks, and the buying and reading public who put
The Gold Coast
on the paperback bestseller list, and who have kept it on the shelves for all these years, and hopefully for years to come.
But what is it about this novel, this story, that has so captured the imagination and tickled the fancies of so many readers, not only in America, but worldwide? This is hard to answer, except to say that the story is a universal one: it is first a love story, but also a story
America, how we were, where we are, and maybe where we’re going. It’s a story, too, that combines those delicious ingredients of lust, sex, and coveting your neighbor’s wife—all in a spicy dish. It is a novel that touches on some primal fears and needs, such as the territorial imperative, the threat and use of violence, the battle between good and evil, of right and wrong.
These various themes are examined and seen through the eyes of the narrator, John Sutter, whose self-deprecating and rueful sense of humor lightens the story at critical junctures.
I believe also that there is a great affinity, duality, if you will, between the demise of the “old” Mafia and the old-money WASP world portrayed in
The Great Gatsby.
Both groups are on the far side of their Belle Epoch, or clinging to the remnants of their Belle Epoch. Some say a new America is emerging that has not room for, nor tolerance of, organized crime on the one hand, and inherited money and privelege on the other. That’s not true. What is true is that other groups are getting more of the apple pie. In America, more than just about anywhere else on this planet, “the more things change, the more they remain the same”; I truly believe
The Gold Coast
can be read seventy years from now, and it will be as understandable then as the seventy-year-old
is today.
So that’s my intro, which hopefully answers many of the questions that my readers have asked over the years. If you’re a new reader of
The Gold Coast,
I hope you enjoy the story. If you’re re-reading this book—like the eighty-year-old gentleman who told me he’s read it ten times and still finds something new in it—I hope you, too, find something new and thought-provoking this time around.
Nelson DeMille
Long Island, New York
BOOK: The Gold Coast
3.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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