Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Suzanne Finnamore, author of Split, speaks up!

I love, love, love this book.

I've already given a rave review in my book column in Dame Magazine to Split, Suzanne Finnamore's (photo by Jerry Bauer, by the way) wonderful new memoir, but I also got the chance to pepper her with questions. Suzanne's book is amazing. Fiercely honest, vulnerable and smart, it should be required reading, plus this book makes you really want to read everything else she might write--grocery list, notes, and further classics.

I heard you read from Otherwise Engaged a long time ago in New York. You (and the voice in that book) seemed so sure of yourself and you were even a little bit cocky in the reading (which is fine, albeit a little intimidating), and though I liked that book a lot, I felt that your voice in Split is very, very different in a really great way. Your voice in Split is a whole lot more vulnerable, more willing to dig deeper (even if it wounds you) and so blazingly honest and brave that I fell in love with the book and was rooting for you by the second sentence. Can you talk about this vulnerability? Was it always there and just not coming through your early work or was it hard-won? What do you think the pros and cons of self-revelation on the page really are?

Well, it brings you to your knees, divorce. (Or I should say, that was my experience.) There is a very real sense of the person you were - the wife and the mother who chooses tomatoes and hangs baby mobiles and thinks about whether she needs bangs-actually dying. It's quite dramatic, but there it is. And so...that woman is gone. The abandonment and the end of what I thought of as my family and my life actually leveled the writer and woman I used to be. And then I went through a kind of initiation, a soul fire - and then a new woman had to emerge. The person who emerged is the woman who wrote Split. Is me.After and during my divorce, the transformation was fierce and painful but it definitely fueled my work and informed my heart. Within two weeks after the split I couldn't eat or read, but I could write. It was the penultimate blessing and curse, but I was sort of husked. And I suppose that in a way, the divorce made me as a writer. A more true, more honest and forthcoming writer. Hopefully a better one. Heaven knows there's room for all sorts of improvement

Is it odd to find yourself considered an expert on divorce? Any new advice or reflections that came after the book was turned in?

Yes, it's very odd being The Divorce Woman but it's also very kind, considering the fact that divorce is my subject matter. You sort of fall into these things when you write a book. This is my third book. Two novels. Then I wrote a memoir on my own marital dissolution and so now, if some readers perceive me as an expert in that dubious field, that's far out. Actually I'd like to serve as a human life preserver pressed between the pages of a book, someone who wafted out and gave other bereft spouses some interesting and amusing news of the other side of divorce.I have some new information, yes: It continues to get better and sweeter, life. And love is available as well. I didn't know it would be possible, love. I thought I was too old, thought I had sworn off it. But it comes and of course you say yes. You must.

You mentioned that you weren't quite at true happiness at the end ofthe book. What about now? Do you even think such a think exists? What are your views on lasting love and marriage now?

I now believe that a solid, lengthy marriage is the greatest accomplishment in any century. True happiness is something one gets on one's own - but it can be heightened by the existence of a mate. So yes, I would get married again, provided I was in my right mind. I would remarry; I might also sky dive at some point, or go to Thailand.Marriage is a country I've been to, and I was captivated and seduced and fully immersed; we had a beautiful wedding full of meaning and love, an ambrosial courtship, an amazing gift of a son planned in love and all the life trimmings. I have tarried in that country; it's a great place. That said (and done), marriage is not a driving impulse any longer. It seems a bit like a flaming desert that one might either enjoy or regret. Slightly more dangerous is how I view marriage, now. More difficult a feat, I guess you'd say. I would be dishonest if I didn't admit this.And it's complex, as a single mother. My son is nine years old and so happy and so deep into his own life and our structure...and although he doesn't mind a male visitor...well, he has actually informed me that he like things just the way they are. Right now my son feels that he would like very much to have me all to himself. He feels another man in the house would complicate his fiefdom; I can't say I blame him. But there is hope just over the horizon. In a few years he won't want to see me at all unless I'm serving a large quantity of pie, handing him cash or preparing grilled cheese sandwiches with my back to him, silent as a scullery maid.

For me, part of the pleasure of this book was the expansiveness of it. You start with no-one-ever-leaving the-house-again kind of grief which evolves into a cosmic reflection--walking up a hill to notice a comet that appears once ever 78 years, a rare and brief event that nonetheless is worth every nanosecond. Are you still in that philosophical place now or has that morphed?

Oh I'm extremely philosophical. Each year I become more light, more myself. You relax into your new life, you enjoy the scenery. Love returns to your heart and you find it in the world and in your revised family. But - and this is awfully nice -- I don't feel as though my survival depends on what my next move is. My mother, Bunny, says that about my divorce: You survived. This seems to be all that's required, that my son and I are whole and well. I regained my natural balance, I have large pleasure at being alive and a mother and a woman who writes.Yes. You survive, you keep the house if you can, you hang on to what matters. I bought my ex husband out of our house and hung onto it by the slimmest of margins. It was a miracle. In the end one tries not to be bitter or sad because that is wasted lifeblood. I can't afford to look back that way, it's like what Bette Davis said: "When you look back, you relax your vigil."

What are you working on now, fiction or non-fiction and why?

I'm about five hundred page into a very long and meandering text about what happens after you realize you're single again and you come back into your own as a woman, as a social and sexual being. I went on the Internet and did that whole Internet dating scene, and I basically got a lifetime supply of these really great men. And so my next project is about how to do that, and what wonderful adventures appear on the road after divorce. Magnificent surprises, actually, very sweet stuff. The working title of the manuscript..."Back Out There." I don't have to tell you what I mean by that! Anyone who has ever been married knows what being Back Out There signifies. And I wish everyone well and thank you so much for reading my book.


Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

wonderful, honest interview. Some tough subjects which I think were handled with grace.

Can't wait to read the book!

Clea Simon said...

It's about time we had an honest and sensitive book on divorce - thanks for letting me know about it!