A seersucker-clad wedding in Nantucket takes a close look at social statuses when family members, long-time rivals and freshly broken-hearted bridesmaids collide.
What was your inspiration for the book?
I kind of started with someone who I knew in college. He got hit by a golf cart on Nantucket and had his leg cut open but the person driving the golf cart wouldn't apologize. So if you read the book, you'll recognize that.
The names in the book—Winn, Biddy, Piper, Triden, Oatsy—where'd you come up with those?
I got a lot of the names actually off this plaque in this weird WASP-y Rhode Island resort where they had a list of people who had been their lawn boy champions since the 1950s. I wrote these outrageous New England names probably a year before I started writing the book.
Your cover is very gender neutral, which reminded me of Meg Wolitzer's article in The New York Times about women writers being on the "second shelf."
I love the cover! First because I think it's beautiful and friendly, and second because it's perfect for the book, which has a lot of beach-read elements but is told mostly from the perspective of a 59-year-old man. We went through a few covers. It started gender-neutral with a beautiful twilight sky and a whale weathervane, then we had a slew of watercolor covers and then there were a few of women in bikinis from the back or girls on the beach. So I wrote a very long email to my editor explaining that these covers weren't appropriate for my book. Ultimately they agreed, but it was sort of tense for a while. I thought people would pick up that book expecting a story very different from what they'd get.
So the backdrop of this wedding, is it based on one you've been to?
Well, no, but I've been to a fairly observant Jewish wedding in the middle of winter and I've been to a very WASP-y wedding on a farm in Princeton under a tent in a thunderstorm. But I don't think I would have written a book about a wedding if I'd have known then what I know about publishing now because it's hard to describe what this book is about without sounding completely disposable and silly, which it's not. A lot of smart women's fiction has that problem.
Seating Arrangements was published June 12.
Hope, a divorced mother who runs a bakery on Cape Cod, reconnects with her grandmother, whose onset of Alzheimer's spurs the revelation of a family secret about the Holocaust.
Baking seems like a main theme in this book.
I love that the main character's family history is tied into things she's been baking but she doesn't know about it. I did a few trips to Paris for research, which were fabulous trips because I was basically buying and tasting pastries.
How did you tap into the emotions of life after divorce?
I am a child from a divorced family so I've spent many years thinking about it. But when I sat down to write about a character who was divorced, I think I drew from conversations I had with divorced people.
Where did the Holocaust come into play for the story?
I didn't find out until I was 20 that my dad was half Jewish. And years ago, I was writing a story for People about Give Kids the World, an organization for sick children led by a Holocaust survivor who was in a concentration camp from ages 13 to 18. He felt like his childhood was being stolen from him so he wanted to give sick children their childhoods back.
You say this is a book you've always wanted to write.
Yes, I started writing chick lit when chick lit was at its height and I was only 24 but, you know, now I'm 33 so this sort of mainstream, commercial women’s fiction is where my heart lies. It's hard to break out once you've had four books published in one genre.
The Sweetness of Forgetting will be published August 7.