Discover more from learning to interrupt.
behind the veil.
on ex-wives, womanhood, and living on one's own terms.
A few writing updates:
My short story “Stations” was published in Isonomia Quarterly—this was my first time being solicited for a story, so that was quite exciting! If you're into a lapsed Catholic writing about demons and childhood – read it here.
Foundations got a lovely review by Catherine Hayes in MER Journal – read it here.
And I had the chance to interview fellow Berkeley resident Yael Goldstein-Love about her new novel, Possibilities, for The Racket – read it here.
I am getting married in three weeks—I had to double check the little countdown clock on our wedding website to verify, but it still says ‘21 days.’ At first, I was not enamored of the idea of a wedding in the more traditional sense, after all, this is not my first go around and I was somewhat embarrassed, as though I were throwing myself two birthday parties for turning the same age (which I suppose some people do). But Brad was insistent and, as we began planning, I grew thankful he felt so strongly about it because this wedding feels very ‘us’ in a way I couldn’t have possibly conceived of prior—my friends even threw me a bachelorette pool party at The Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco—and, rather than the embarrassment I feared, I feel so joyful and loved and excited that I get to enter the next chapter of my life on my own terms.
I’ve been drawn, as ever, to women in literature doing the same—living on their own terms. Recently, I read Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott, and became absolutely obsessed. The writing is diaristic and brimming with personality and wit as Parrott tells the story of a marriage that’s really the story of women’s independence in the Jazz Age.
The novel begins: “My husband left me four years ago. Why—I don't precisely understand, and never did. … He grew tired of me, hunted about for reasons to justify his weariness; and found them. They seemed valid to him.” After the failure of an attempted open relationship, Patricia is suspended in the purgatory between marriage and divorce, fielding the rages from her husband who has now found solace in a corrective lover who is quick to point out Patricia’s lascivious failings and makes her own attempt at reforming the estranged husband.
Patricia finds an apartment, a roommate, a series of lovers, drinks in speakeasy bars, and solace in her jazz records. Though delightfully described, these things are merely an escape, a distraction—the sex is joyless, the drinking prescriptive, and the records play on repeat. The realization of her abandonment washes over her like waves, again and again, knocking her down when she least expects it. Her roommate, Lucia, is an ex-wife herself and exists as Patricia’s buoy when she gets lost in the sea of her emotions and dispenses ex-wife wisdom like a tonic: “Ex-wives are popular, Pat. Most popular class in New York.”
The novel vacillates between Patricia’s tragedies, heartaches, and the burning up of any remaining youthful naïveté, while maintaining Parrott’s irreverence and humor, and, ultimately, ending in Patricia’s own private triumph. I loved every moment of Ex-Wife and wish I could forget it so that I could read it all again. It’s certainly on my list for favorite book of the year! And, at any rate, it feels less dire to be a divorcee when Patricia is one among you.
Next, I read The Group by Mary McCarthy—I found the Virago edition at a used bookstore without any prior knowledge and, imagine my surprise, when I found this book was considered just as salacious and scandalous during it’s time as Parrott’s Ex-Wife was.
“The group” is comprised of an eclectic collection of women from different backgrounds that were more or less collected by their star, Lakey, to live together in a tower dorm at Vassar. The self-titled “Vassar girls” gather at the beginning of the novel to watch one of their own, Kay, marry Harald, a playwright they all think is either a genius or a dud—one can’t be sure. The wedding itself is full of awkwardness and, for most of them, it’s the first wedding of a friend they’ve attended. Afterward, each graduate goes out to seek her own path.
Despite The Group being written in the 1960’s about the 30’s, it feels instructive and modern. Topics like abortion, diaphragms, wanting and not wanting kids or a career or marriage, communism, losing one’s virginity, miscarriages, sexual assault, and affairs with married men all come up and are dissected almost clinically. McCarthy is scathing in her observations and provides quite a lot of food for thought intended for the modern woman. “You mustn’t force sex to do the work of love or love to do the work of sex—that’s quite a thought, isn’t it?”
The novel itself is mostly plotless and falls more within the composite novel or interconnected short story format, each chapter is a check-in with a member of the group after some interval of time has passed. You find yourself catching up on their lives as though you’re eavesdropping on the gossip. However, as the women get married or have children, the negative effect of men on this group of women becomes more pervasive and insidious. The struggles many of the Vassar girls face are familiar, even now.
A review of The Group on Goodreads said: “A whole bunch of ladies graduate from Vassar in 1933. And then the men in their lives make them miserable. The end.” And she’s not wrong! But there is much happiness and joy and sisterhood entwined in these pages as well. Certainly worth a read if Sex in the City meets The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe sounds appealing to you.
Currently, I’m reading Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane and already planning the stack of books I am taking on our honeymoon. I am daydreaming of beaches and no cell phone service.