In a few earlier posts, I discussed what it felt like to finish my most recent novel, Blind Love, about the turbulent relationship between Martin, a middle-aged academic, and Sophie, a beautiful young woman from Lithuania. The book goes back and forth between them at different points in their lives. I like to think of the narrative as kind of a post-modern puzzle.
Over the last few days, though, I’ve been mulling over exactly where the story came from.
I read Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World right before I started writing my own book. I loved the way she takes a fairly standard love triangle of the kind you might find in Anne Tyler or Sue Miller and puts a spin on it by running two parallel narratives that examine opposite outcomes for the characters involved. In effect, she asks, “What if her heroine chooses one guy over the other, or vise versa?” And she never answers the question. Beauty!
Martin is an academic, and back in the day, I roared with laughter over Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim and David Hodge’s Small World, satires of university life. I taught at Iowa State University for a while when Jane Smiley was there and had great fun trying to figure out who was who, when Moo, her send-up of life in Ames, came out in the mid-nineties.
- I knew tangentially people whose May-December marriage blew up in a very public and embarrassing way. At first, I thought of writing their story as a financial intrigue (a modest amount of ill-gotten money was involved). When that idea didn’t work, I considered a murder mystery (I’m reasonably sure both parties harbored intense homicidal impulses toward one another as their ordeal played out). After that approach fizzled, I gave up, until I awoke one morning with the first sentence of the book I eventually wrote inside my head. How did this happen? Don’t have a clue.
- Sophie comes from Eastern Europe. So did my family, early in the twentieth century. That's what my first book, Glass Hearts, was about. In the 1990s, I taught English as a Second Language to people from various parts of the former Soviet Union and became very close to one family from Lithuania. Hence, Sophie’s parents.
- I taught college for ten years, so I know the territory well.