Smells Like Teen Spirit

At 36, Never Mind Nirvana’s Protagonist is Stuck Between Adolescence and Adulthood

by Francine Almash for

Make no mistake, Mark Lindquist is not Pete Tyler, though occasionally reviewers seem to forget that.

Lindquist, the real-life author of the novel Never Mind Nirvana in which Pete Tyler is a fictional character, says that interviewers usually begin with a separation of the two of them, “but at some point [me and my character] just merge.” He is not bothered by the confusion, however. “The book sort of invites the comparison because there are some obvious similarities,” he explains. “I don’t mind.”

That there are similarities is true. Both are in their late 30’s; both are prosecuting attorneys; both were born and raised in Seattle. Both became lawyers after pursuing a flashier career—Lindquist was a screenwriter in Hollywood, Pete Tyler was in a moderately successful grunge band.

Writer by Day Lawyer by Night

Once Lindquist arrives for his interview, however, it’s clear that the comparison ends there. While Pete is confused and insecure—grown up lawyer by day, arrested adolescent by night, Lindquist comes across as confident and easygoing as he talks about the frustration he experienced writing screenplays and his decision to leave that all behind in order to go to law school.

“I had meant to go to law school right out of college, Lindquist says, over lemonade at Time Café. “Instead [I] decided to postpone it for a couple of years. I took a job as a copywriter for a movie studio just as a lark.” That job led him to write his first novel Sad Movies (published in 1987). At the same time he got some screenwriting offers. “Suddenly I was making all this money as a writer,” he says. “So I kept putting off law school.”

Moving Beyond the Brat Pack

For a time in the late 80’s Lindquist occupied a space among a group of writers known as the “brat pack” (a label he says he’s happy to leave behind), which included Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, etc. But after writing a second novel, Carnival Desires, and over a dozen screenplays, none of which were produced, Lindquist says he hit a wall. “ I wanted to take a break from writing,” he says. “I had two choices [one was] to go bum around Europe—I seriously considered that—and the other was to go to law school finally.” In the end, law school won. “Since I knew I wasn’t going to be writing,” Lindquist explains, “I thought I should at least do something semi-constructive. Besides, I’m a workaholic.”

Given his past, it is perhaps no surprise that choice is at the heart of Lindquist’s latest novel. Or in Pete’s case, the inability to choose: between youth and adulthood, between a steady relationship and casual sex, between past and present. When a local band member is accused of date rape, and the case lands on Pete’s desk, he must finally commit. When he does, he finds himself on the opposite of many of his friends. “[The book] is about a guy having to leave one world and move on to the next,” Lindquist says. “One of the fundamental story lines is about making a choice. One of the motifs that reoccurs about a billion times is bridges; everywhere you look there’s a freaking bridge.”

Making Transitions in Life

The character of Beth—the mysterious ex-girlfriend Pete tries to track down, best represents this transition from one life to the next. Once she is introduced, we’re waiting for them to meet—for Pete to either realize that love transcends time, age, and law school, or for him to learn that he can’t go back, he must finally accept that he is a grown-up living in a grown-up world.

But Lindquist (thankfully) avoids both of these clichés. Beth never appears, and Pete decides that looking for her is pointless anyway. “In searching for something he’s not going to find, and that cannot be found, he’s missing some other possibilities,” Lindquist says. “I think recognizing that is a step in the right direction…And even though it should seem obvious to all of us that chasing down your old flame is not going to solve anything, Beth’s representative of other things that we chase that aren’t going to solve anything.”

Along with Beth two other women in the book represent different paths on Pete’s journey—Winter, the stripper-friend he occasionally sleeps with, and Esmé, a down-to-earth record executive. “Esmé is the grown-up, Winter is the old life,” Lindquist explains. “I hate to think of characters as representing things, but then I look at my own life and there are people who are real people, but who are representative of different aspects of my personality.”

A Counterpart to The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing

Pete Tyler is not the first 30-something character in contemporary fiction to look for meaning (early publicity touted Nirvana as the male response to The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing.) But there is one fundamental difference (Warning: stop here if you don’t want the ending revealed): though he decides early in the book that getting married will bring him the security he seeks (though he has no idea to whom), Pete doesn’t ride off into the sunset with Ms. Right.

Lindquist intended to show that this too is OK. “I meant for it to be positive,” Lindquist says. “[Pete] is on the classic journey, and that’s what’s important…Before he does find that girl he’s going to marry there are some things he needed to get straight… I think he now might actually meet somebody that he could end up with long term or marry,” he continues. “Whereas I don’t think he was emotionally or mentally, at any point in the course of the book, there. Esmé, I think, might have been the right woman for him, but he wasn’t there.”

Though Lindquist has avoided the standard love-conquers-all ending he is by no means a cynic when it comes to matters of the heart. “Love may not conquer all,” he says “But I think the search for love is a good thing.” Yet another reminder of just how different Lindquist is from the angst-ridden character he’s created.