September 15, 2022

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Stacey D’Erasmo novel explores crime, punishment, and complicity

David Wilson for the Boston Globe

In Stacey D’Erasmo’s “The Complicities” (Algonquin), a woman starts over after a painful divorce and the imprisonment of her ex-husband for the financial crimes that had provided them a comfortable life in a fancy Boston suburb.

D’Erasmo said she’s long been fascinated by the people surrounding criminals like Bernie Madoff and their degrees of complicity in the crimes. “The people right next to that person really, really interest me,” she said. “There’s a whole spectrum of what people know and what they don’t know and what they don’t want to know about what is benefiting them. There’s a way in which all of us have a hard time reckoning with damage that we have caused, or that we have been a party to, or that has benefited us. It’s a really queasy area.”


Nearly all the characters in “The Complicities” face questions of guilt and innocence, of the (sometimes unintended) harms and benefits that spring from our misdeeds. “In many ways, that’s what the book is about,” D’Erasmo said. “It’s about that reckoning. It’s about the fact that those bills really do come due. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m saying this is the human condition.”

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Along with these big ideas, D’Erasmo said, the novel was also inspired by a vision. “I had this very clear image in my mind of a woman at a whale stranding. I had no idea why,” she said. “That often happens with novels, in my experience. It’s almost like a dream image that comes to your mind and that’s in the core of [the story] somewhere.”

There is a whale stranding in the book, in the less-fancy Cape Cod town her protagonist moves to; D’Erasmo tried for ages to witness one in real life. And then, “completely out of the blue,” she found herself helping a crew as they attempted to float a whale out to sea. “It was actually a phenomenal and life-changing experience,” she said. “It was much bigger than I understood. It’s this majestic, awesome, astonishing being. It just blew my mind.”


Stacey D’Erasmo will read at 7 p.m. Wednesday in person at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at