The starred Publishers Weekly review for Kim Wright’s debut novel, Love in Mid Air, may have aroused my interest, but I really wanted to read the book and host Wright on her blog tour because the lead character’s name is Elyse. In all the books I’ve read in my entire life—and that’s a WHOLE lot—I’ve never encountered a protagonist who shared my first name (have you?). Thankfully, the similarity ends there.
Elyse is unhappy in her marriage with a husband who, while not an outright jerk, is frustratingly uncommunicative. She meets an attractive man on a plane and wonders if she should jump into a possibly destructive situation or remain in a comfortable suburban life that “most women would be happy with” but Elyse feels is suffocating. It’s the equivalent of choosing to skydive or stay seated with your seat belt fastened and tray in the upright position.
Because Kim based the story on her own experience (though Elyse is NOT her), I asked if writing the book gave her a satisfying do-over or helped her find closure on any unresolved issues. I give her the floor as she responds.
In a way, writing a novel is one big “do over,” a chance to revisit old conflicts and wounds but this time you’re infinitely more clever because you’ve had years to come up with the perfect response. Natalie Goldberg says in her memoir, Old Friend From Far Away, “Writing gives you a second chance.”
So yeah, I guess you can use a novel to re-imagine events in your personal history, only now you have the authorial power to punish the guilty and reward the innocent and say all the things you wish you’d said the first time.
But I didn’t use Elyse’s story that way. I wrote Love in Mid Air in first person present tense—we see what’s happening to her as it’s happening— so she’s not always thinking clearly. Divorce makes you crazy. You do and say things you never would have believed you’d possibly do or say. To make Elyse all balanced and perfect and aware of what was happening around her would have been a bit of a cheat. I wanted to show what it’s like for a woman in the moment that her whole world is coming apart in her hands. Show a smart woman doing stupid things.
But on a different level, writing a novel does give you closure. Not in the sense you get to go back and fix things, but in the sense that it requires you to imagine how a situation looked from all sides—what Elyse’s friends were thinking, as well as her daughter, her husband, and her lover. I had to give them reactions and dialogue, too, so there were points in the book where I stepped back from Elyse and tried to create the bigger picture. Seeing a situation from someone else’s point of view may be the ultimate closure.
Thanks so much, Kim, for taking time to answer my question and being so open and unflinching with Elyse. Best of luck with the book and rest of the tour!