Another week, another book! Four Wives was released yesterday in paperback, with a new cover and a reader’s guide. I am very excited about this because I have been to a dozen book groups to speak about the novel and the discussions are always interesting and lively! Here is the number one question women ask me about the book:
Who are the characters based on?
My answer is always the same. An emphatic NO ONE! The truth about Love, Janie, Marie and Gayle is that they are completely fictitious. Every author has her own method for constructing a novel. Some start with a character and build the plot around her. Others begin with a plot and construct the characters to give life to the action. And others, including myself, have issues they want to explore in the novel and then we develop characters and plot to explore those issues. Each of my four characters began with an issue that I saw around me every day as a veteran stay-at-home mom in the suburbs of Connecticut. I thought about how I could examine those every day issues through my characters and the plot that evolves throughout the book.
Love was the first to emerge. I was thirty-six when I started writing Four Wives. I had three small children and had been at home with them for six years. Like Love the first time we meet her, I was nursing my youngest child at three in the morning. I was going through a period with no baby sitter help and spent my days driving and juggling, and my nights in small segments of broken sleep. More than anything else, I longed for naps and coffee, and on that particular night I was thinking about how strange this life was. I had been a lawyer and a banker. I was approaching middle age. My life was a cocktail of physical exhaustion and mental starvation and I was not satisfied. But at the same time, I loved my children more than I had ever imagined I could love anything, and I wanted to be with them, seeing every precious moment of their development. And I was not alone. This issue was so prevalent among my peers it seemed that sometimes it was all we talked about, when we had time to talk at all. That night I turned my thoughts to a character in this same stage of life, and I gave her a plot that takes the reader through her struggle with this very common conflict for stay-home moms.
Marie was next. It was clear to me early on in my life as a suburban wife and mother that the dynamics of marriage are altered when there is a complete division of labor within the family. Marie and her husband used to share a life as high powered lawyers, and suddenly they find themselves living separate lives – Marie as a part-time lawyer and full-time homemaker, and her husband working ridiculous hours in New York City. Everything has changed for them, and just to make things more interesting, I threw in the perfect temptation for Marie – an attractive, young intern who looks at her the way her husband used to.
Gayle evolved in my mind over several weeks. One of the main constructs of suburban life is the pressure to be married and stay married. I wondered what it would be like for a woman who was in a marriage that was verbally abusive and destructive. The fault lines are hidden. The damage slow-burning and cumulative, making it difficult to gather the conviction to leave. Gayle took on this issue. She is generous and kind-hearted, and understands that it is her family’s incredible wealth that drives her husband into his fits of rage. But there is so much talk among her peers about the ups and downs of marriage that Gayle has a tough time realizing how bad her marriage really is – until she sees things through the eyes of a trusted employee and friend.
Finally, we have Janie. I could not write a book about marriage in the suburbs without touching on the issue of malaise. No matter how strong a marriage, after twenty years or so, the relationship is simply not the same as it was. Sometimes the bond grows stronger. And sometimes, as it is with Janie, the bond disappears leaving nothing but the bare-boned structure of the life built together. Janie loves this life, her kids, her daily routine. She just doesn’t love her husband, nor does she feel any love from him. And, like many people, she mistakenly believes that an affair will somehow fill this gap within her so she can keep everything she has.
Four Wives. Four issues. When people tell me that they think they know who Janie really is, or who Marie is based on, I always set them straight, but at the same time feel a bit gratified. If readers think they know my characters, then I have done my job in making them relatable. Let me know what you think!