Your previous work was your critically acclaimed memoir. What inspired you to turn to fiction, and where did the idea for WIFE 22 originate?
I was sitting in a bar with a friend. We were well into our second glass of wine, when, in researcher mode, I started asking her questions about her marriage. After she invoked a zone of confidentiality I was amazed at how forthright she was willing to be about everything: love, sex, aging, security, happiness and parenting. That’s when I knew I was on to something. What if an ordinary wife and mother had the opportunity (and most importantly, the anonymity) to admit what she really thought, felt, wished for and dreamed, regretted and longed for in her life and marriage? Thus Wife 22 was born.
Who do you think will connect with this novel, and why? Who is Wife 22?
I believe there’s a little bit of Wife 22 in all of us, no matter what age, no matter what stage of a relationship you’re in: married, single or, it’s complicated! It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine and so hard to get yourself out of it. I think we all yearn to be woken up.
Do you see any similarities between yourself and your heroine, Alice Buckle? Any differences?
Well, like Alice, I am about to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary with my husband. Unlike Alice, however, I did not receive an email soliciting me to participate in an anonymous online survey on marital satisfaction. And if I did, I would immediately dump it into my trash folder, because I know, after writing this book, how seductive and dangerous the act of confession can be. There are little bits of me in Alice, sure, but Alice is definitely her own person. Also she’s nicer than me. And much more fluent with social media.
You pay homage to Joseph Heller and Catch 22 with the title and with a few circumstances Alice faces during the course of your novel. Can you shed a little light on how that came to be and what it signifies?
I think marriage is a sort of Catch 22. It’s strange how some of the little quirks and eccentricities of your mate that you found so charming in the beginning, that may have even contributed to you falling in love with them, twenty years later are the things that drive you absolutely crazy.
Many of the novel’s characters, especially Alice, engage in social media like Facebook and Twitter. How do you think these methods of communication have changed our lives and the relationships we have with others? How have they changed yours?
I resisted Facebook and Twitter for a long time, and I confess I still find it challenging to post, Tweet or blog. I get incredible stage fright trying to think of something clever to say. People will see it—or worse—ignore it. What if nobody “likes” it? What if nobody comments? It’s like middle school every day! Part of what I wanted to explore in Wife 22 was if social media brought us closer together or pushed us farther apart. I think it does both. I long for the old days when my husband and son and I would watch a TV show together. I mean really watch it, without our attention constantly flickering to the device on our laps. Watching TV in my household is not a passive act. We’re always talking back to the TV, commenting, laughing: that’s ridiculous, who told her she could sing? On the other hand I learn things about my husband every day through Facebook. New things. What he’s thinking, what he’s reading, what he’s doing. Facebook allows us to be strangers to one another, to be voyeurs, but in a safe way. There’s something about that distance that’s titillating.
You’ve said that “Confession is a powerful aphrodisiac.” Can you elaborate?
Anonymous confession? The chance to tell the absolute truth to a stranger? A stranger who doesn’t judge, who listens intently, who asks all the right questions? That’s very sexy.
In your memoir, you explored your own long-term relationship (“Marriage changes passion. Suddenly you’re in bed with a relative”), and in WIFE 22, your protagonist is also grappling with an essentially good—but sparkless—marriage. Do you think this is a common conundrum? How does one keep the fires of romance alive?
Well, having polled all my friends, most of whom have been in long relationships, I do think this is a very common conundrum. And having been married almost twenty years, (actually we’ll have been together 22 years this May!) what I can say is this. Cultivate separate lives as well as a life together. My husband and I are very different. He skis, I snowshoe (careening down a mountain at 30 mph on a pair of sticks holds little appeal for me). He surfs, I walk on the beach (shark phobia). But those differences have served us well in the long run. He encourages me to go out and do the things I want to do, and I do the same for him. And when we’re apart from each other, in the space, away from the dirty sinks and the never-ending to-do lists, and the piles of laundry, that’s where I remember how much I love, appreciate, and desire him. I will say we are alike in our values. At the core we are very similar. That’s what makes it work. And “liking” his Facebook posts. Not every one, of course, that would be too much. But maybe every fifth one. Just so he knows I’m there.
Researcher 101 writes, “Waiting is a dying art. The world moves at a split-second speed now and I happen to think that’s a great shame, as we seem to have lost the deeper pleasures of leaving and returning.” Do you agree that our access to people and information comes at the expense of developing meaningful connections over time, through patience and dedication? Is it possible to cultivate this kind of slow-budding relationship in a digital age, or are we too hardwired for instant gratification?
It’s possible, but it’s harder: there’s so much to distract us. You have to make a concerted effort. Go for a walk with your best friend instead of sending a quick text. Have a phone conversation instead of Facebook chatting. Put down the devices (actually shut them off!) when you’re watching American Idol. But thank God for DVR’s. There’s a technology I can get behind.
Alice is a “motherless mother.” Do you think that affected her close parenting style of her children Zoe and Peter, or are all parents destined to live vicariously through their kids and “helicopter parent” at various points in their lives?
Alice losing her mother when she was fifteen has a great deal to do with the kind of parent she becomes. I have so much empathy for her, particularly around her relationship with her daughter, Zoe, who is the same age she was when her mother died. But, no, I don’t think most parents are living through their children. Who has the time? I’ve certainly done my share of helicopter parenting, but generally I’m more of a benevolent dictator.
Please answer #88 from Alice’s marriage survey.
88. Yes. I am counting my blessings these days.