Books

Michael LaPointe's The Creep is a thriller novel about lies, truth and medical science gone awry

The Toronto author spoke to CBC Books about writing his debut novel.
The Creep is a novel by Michael Lapointe. (Alex Warrender, Random House Canada)

Michael LaPointe is a writer and critic from Toronto. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times and the Times Literary Supplement.

His debut novel is The Creep, a thriller about a journalist named Whitney Chase who grapples with a mysterious compulsion to enhance her coverage with intriguing untruths and undetectable white lies. She calls it "the creep" — an overpowering need to improve the story in the telling. And Whitney has a particular genius for getting away with it.

LaPointe spoke with CBC Books about how he wrote The Creep.

Intricately plotted

"This is a very heavily plotted book. When you're working in that mode, you are very much thinking about reader response and learning how to manipulate the reader's attention with misdirection. It is about creating peaks and valleys of a satisfying storyline.

The decline of print journalism and the rise of a post-truth media environment mirror the plot with the blood substitute and the more horrific elements of the story.

"Theme is something that revealed itself over time: the dual storyline of the conspiracy around the blood substitute and Whitney's own secret about her fabricating her journalistic work. Once I had these storylines in place, suddenly themes became attracted to them and mirroring each other.

"The decline of print journalism and the rise of a post-truth media environment mirror the plot with the blood substitute and the more horrific elements of the story. By the time I had completed the rough draft, those things became quite clear."

Blood simple

"There is a wealth of scientific historical writing on the quest for the holy grail of medical science, which is the development of an artificial blood substitute. I was fortunate to be able to build on the history of this research science — reading articles about it — and looking into the history of these abortive prototypes and their grisly side effects. 

"My sister is also a biomedical engineer. She has often spoken of this sort of thing with me. I was reading scholarly research and then I put it into the mouths of these fictional characters. 

There is a wealth of scientific historical writing on the quest for the holy grail of medical science, which is the development of an artificial blood substitute.

"At a certain point, this is a sci-fi type of story. The blood substitute that I invent meets the characteristics of what scientists currently theorize as a blood substitute that works.

"No one has actually developed this. But if they did, they might have these qualities." 

The world of Whitney Chase

"I wanted Whitney to be a noir detective character. In that sense, I didn't initially think of her as three dimensional. For example, did you think about what type of person Sam Spade is? How did he get this way?

"There's a certain spontaneity of their personality — it's about observing their actions to learn anything about them. The seed of her identity was in that realm. She's not based on any sort of journalist that I have known. But she derives in large part to my own personal experiences. I've often thought about Whitney as being a sort of a novelist trapped in a journalist's life and career. 

Being someone who mainly writes fiction , but also kind of dabbles in journalism and non-fiction, I'm well aware of the temptation to 'finesse' the edges of the story.

"Being someone who mainly writes fiction, but also kind of dabbles in journalism and nonfiction, I'm well aware of the temptation to 'finesse' the edges of the story. It's not like a powerful compulsion by any means, but it is something that as a fiction writer, you can't help but observe.

 "If I didn't have that compulsion in my journalistic work, to tell the truth, and let some of those fictional impulses run rampant, what kind of character would that create? What kind of conflicts do they cause?

"For a novelist, this is a normal artistic process — but for a journalist like Whitney, this is an existential crisis."

A present day metaphor

"The Creep is an elaborate metaphor for the present day, even though it's a historical story. I see it as a metaphor of the kind of impersonal, homogenizing, erasing forces that shaped contemporary life.

"Whether that be the convergence of media into ever more homogenous conglomerations or whether it be the erasure of communities through forces of development and gentrification — all of these forces find the metaphor in the plastic blood and in the transfusion of the artificial into the real.

The Creep is an elaborate metaphor for the present day, even though it's a historical story.

"I hope that the reader takes away some sense that the story has spoken the truth about today, even though it's a very far-fetched, outlandish story.

"I do hope that the novel's nightmarish quality somehow resonates with readers — and resonates with their experience of this increasingly difficult 21st century."

Michael LaPointe's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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