When mysterious monoliths began appearing and disappearing around the world in November, it seemed a puzzle straight out of ”The X-Files.”
And lucky for fans of the hit sci-fi show, David Duchovny knows exactly how Fox Mulder would have handled the curious case.
“He would have figured out that it was the government, and it was real, it had special powers, and Scully would have had to get a piece of it and see that it was made from fibers that weren’t from this Earth, and all this stuff,” said the actor, who is gearing up to release his fourth novel, “Truly Like Lightning,” on Tuesday. “We could have had fun with it.”
Of course, Duchovny has his own thoughts.
“My feeling was, I wonder what practical joker put them out there,” he said.
Though there are no aliens in Duchovny’s latest novel, the actor said he got the idea for “Truly Like Lightning” when he was writing an “X-Files” script 20 years ago. He was inspired by the real-life crime case of Mark Hofmann, who was convicted of forging documents and claiming they were from Mormonism founder Joseph Smith.
“He said that, when he forged in the hand of Joseph Smith, he didn’t feel they were forgeries because he actually became Joseph Smith,” Duchovny said. ”As an actor, I thought, ‘Well, that’s very interesting’ because you hear actors talk like that. Like, ‘I became this guy’ or ‘I became that guy.’”
The case stuck with the Golden Globe winner long after his ”X-Files” days and planted the seed that would grow into ”Truly Like Lightning.”
The book follows Bronson Powers, a former Hollywood stuntman and converted Mormon living with his three wives and several children in the California desert. When a young developer stumbles on his property, Powers is manipulated into sending three of his adolescent kids – all of whom have been raised in isolation – to public school for a year.
Though polygamy has been renounced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Duchovny said he used the taboo practice as a driver of his story.
“On the one hand, it’s almost like a biblical kind of a Greek tragedy,” Duchovny said. “But on the other hand, it’s also like a fish-out-of-water comedy in the middle of it, where you have these three children. They have a great education, a book education, out there in the desert, but they have no cultural education.”
As the kids encounter the outside world for the first time, Powers sees the devout life he’s built for his family begin to crumble. Despite living in modern times, his strict adherence to religious law ultimately puts him in a heartbreaking dilemma.
“Bronson Powers is a theocrat,” Duchovny said. “Bronson doesn’t believe in that kind of cultural change of the law. He believes the law is the law. It’s laid down a long time ago, and he’s gonna live it.”
It’s a conflict Duchovny said resonates in a world where people can’t seem to agree on right and wrong.
“In this country, you have a lot of that going on right now,” he said. “You have people that, on the one hand, are trying to will a cultural change, and there are people on the other side who are trying to maintain a kind of stasis of culture. And rather than arguing about culture, they are arguing about the law, and they are arguing about who really has access to God’s will and God’s mind and God’s law. And I don’t think either side does. That’s not the point. That’s the tragedy of it for me.”
While “Truly Like Lightning” speaks to big themes in a polarized world, it is also personal for Duchovny, who admits he has similar paternal worries as his complicated protagonist. Duchovny shares a 21-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son with his ex-wife, actress Téa Leoni.
“Every parent has that sense of, ‘Did I do too much? Did I do enough? What did I do wrong? Did I protect them like they needed to be protected? Did I protect them too much?’” Duchovny said. “That’s the hidden kind of dialogue that I was having with myself.”
Another theme of the book is the desire to leave society — something Duchovny said he and many others know all too well while living through the coronavirus pandemic.
“The desire and the move that Bronson makes to take his family away... is something that so many people have felt in the last year,” he said. ”Like, how do I get away from this contagious world? How do I protect my children? How do I protect myself? How do I not become infected by not only the virus, but in Bronson’s case, the ideas, the way of thinking that has kind of led us to this place?”
Though these concerns feel especially pertinent now, Duchovny said they’ve rung true for all time.
“I think it’s actually about timeless truths,” he said. “That’s really what the book is concerned with. It’s not concerned with political parties or impeachment or things that are happening today or even yesterday. It’s concerned with truths that remain the same throughout time and people.”
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