The collection reflects the fears, anxieties and issues of America in the 1960s, especially in regard to the fear of a nuclear holocaust. "One of the astonishing things about looking back at old stories are their references to then-current political and social events", he said in the forums on his personal website. "We write in a given period, and that period seems to vanish rather quickly, so that all stories become historical the moment they're finished."  In another interview he stated that he never starts writing with a particular theme in mind—that an author’s obsessions at the time emerge naturally to form unity within a short story or a collection of stories. When he spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle, he revealed the reason behind his focus on the anxieties of American society at large. "I worry about everything in the world," Boyle says, "and it's just too much for anybody to think about, so I have my art as my consolation."  In the same interview he stated that it’s the stable things in his life—his wife, children, same teaching post for the thirty years, the same agent—that enable him to focus on his art. The title story of this collection was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song "Spirit in the Night". Boyle himself is a musician and once aspired to play rock music. For a short while he played saxophone in a band called The Ventilators, although they never recorded. Greasy Lake is also reminiscent of Boyle’s years as a "rebellious punk". The often flamboyant outcomes of his stories are a result of his personal theory about writing—that like music, it is ultimately a form of entertainment. He believes that reading has declined in American because stories have become a high art that is incomprehensible to the average person. To him, a story has failed when it requires a critic to mediate between the reader and author. Rather, a story should be approached as something done for leisure or pleasure—not as a school chore. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Boyle states, "My ambition is to make great art that is appealing to anyone who knows how to read."
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