(That’s one of my best friends, Anne Tramer, stealing a quiet moment to finish the book.)
My novel, Wishful Thinking, is about a divorced mother of two who gets a time travel app on her phone that lets her be in two places at the same time. I knew I was onto something the moment I hit upon this premise, because every time I shared it, whether at pickup, soccer practice, a board meeting, a lunch meeting, or in any of the other places middle-aged, overworked, overscheduled parents gathered, I was met with an expression of instant, avaricious desire. I need that app, I heard again and again. It was like telling one of the workers tasked with hoisting a 5,000 pound block of stone into place on top of an Egyptian pyramid about an invention called a crane. Frankly I felt that way about it too. As a divorced mother of two boys myself, I often joked with friends that I needed the app in order to write the book about the app. What did not occur to me was that by writing the perfect novel for women who can’t remember the last time they had time to read a novel, I might be constructing my very own Catch-22.
My first clue should have come when my friend Amy, who is my most trusted reader, editor, and one of my best friends, could not get around to reading the manuscript until five months after I had finished it. She had just had a baby, her husband was looking for a new job, she was trying to write a new play in her spare time while meeting the demands of her job as a university professor, and, well, you see what I mean. I had just about given up by the time she finally read it, but thank god I didn’t—after her edit, I cut 25,000 words. (Given my target audience, shorter is unquestionably better.) And then there was my sister, whose career my main character’s is loosely based on, who was pregnant with her first baby at the time I asked her to read. She’d just taken on a new job as the head of an important nonprofit in San Francisco, and I was reluctant to even bother her about it, but when I finally did ask if she had read “the book,” she said, “Yes!” and began gushing about the baby development book I’d sent her a few months earlier. (One of my favorite books of all time, From Conception To Birth, it’s mind-boggling and beautiful.) “I meant my book,” I said gently after hearing her out. “Oh,” she said. “No. But I will!”, and eventually she did, providing invaluable feedback on Jennifer’s fictional workplace. Asking women who were not my best friends or relatives to read “advanced reader copies” to help me build pre-publication buzz for the book, however, was similarly challenging.
In response to my, “Have you had a chance to read it yet?” emails, I heard it all, and it’s all the business of life as usual: there were work crises, sick kids, travel schedules, deadlines, holiday parties, birthdays, the holidays themselves; there were ailing parents, illnesses, operations, cross-country moves—not to mention the day-to-day that sometimes seems impossible, making breakfast, making it to drop-off, making it to work, putting food on the table every night. I understand. I wrote it because I understand. I wrote it because, when I was reading the Harry Potter series with my oldest son, I thought, If a mom could have any power in the world, what would it be? And the answer was obvious: more time. But the app isn’t real. Life and its limitations are, and spending hours reading fiction, no matter how deliciously apt or cathartically transporting, doesn’t always fit in.
I have reason to hope, of course. A dear friend took months to read an advance copy of the novel but told me it was her secret pleasure at the end of every day—she could only stay awake long enough to read three or four pages at a time, but she cherished them, relating completely to my main character’s attempts to carve out a few minutes of “me” time at the end of her day, glass of wine in hand, Scandal cued up on the DVR. The book spoke to her, made her feel less alone, and captured moments—from trying to get reluctant, bickering children out the door to school in the morning to the frisson of happiness parents often feel when arriving to work, inevitably replaced by a longing for home by the end of the day (or even by lunch time)—that she loved seeing reflected in a fictional world she could escape to. Another friend read it in a matter of days, tucking it into her bag on a work trip and binging on it on the plane. I’d like to think that if I can get someone to start, they will eventually finish, but the truth is that for women and men in the stage of life my book describes, things happen when they can, and some things, even with the best of intentions, don’t happen at all.
If the app were real, would this all change? If we could live each day multiple times, multiplying ourselves and our attention and, one would hope, multiplying our pleasures, too, would our pulses slow, would our hearts be light, would we feel satisfied with the fullness of our lives in a way that eludes so many of us now?
Answering that question was the most difficult challenge of writing Wishful Thinking. And if you want to know what I think, you’ll have to read it to find out.
If you can find the time.