Laura Dave always wanted to write a heist movie like "Oceans 11."
She read across many genres "from John Grisham to Jane Austen." She enjoyed Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway. She read a raft of science books and a lot of biographies. All of that helped her zero in on a recent social trend as described in newspapers and magazines the divorce party.
Dave thinks of it as "family domestic literature."
In "The Divorce Party," Gwyn, 58, and Thomas Huntington, 63, of Montauk, Long Island, have decided to end their marriage with a party a celebration attended by friends and family, held on the eve of their 35th wedding anniversary.
They raised their two children, Nate, 33, and Georgia, 25, in Huntington Hall, one of the few homes on the east end of Long Island that survived the Great Hurricane of 1938. They want to separate, but they want no part of a nasty divorce. They want to stay involved in each other's lives and that of their children.
On the surface, it seems progressive.
As Thomas tells it, he wants out because of his recent conversion to Buddhism; he wants to pursue a different kind of life characterized by spirituality. Gwyn is filled with skepticism, but she's going along with her husband's wish, sort of in a fog.
Two things make the celebration risky their daughter Georgia is eight months pregnant and her musician boyfriend is missing; and their son, Nate, is bringing his fiancee, Maggie Mackenzie, to meet his parents for the first time. In a strange way, the whole thing brings together two women, one who is giving up her relationship with a man, and another who is just starting out.
When Maggie discovers what is happening to Nate's parents, she wants to run away. But after a struggle, she figures out a way to stay and help Nate deal with his childhood problems.
During an interview with Dave from her home in New York City, she said she interviewed 45 people who were nearing the end of long relationships and she noticed a "common thread." It was that they thought it was just easier to begin again than endure to the end.
"They didn't want to be 65 or 70 when the marriage ended. They wanted to run into another life, before they were old, and prove that anything is possible."
When Dave considered writing a novel about it, she "really wanted to figure it out. I didn't want to shake the characters into figuring it out." She recalled that model Christie Brinkley's husband was sleeping with a 19-year-old girl, suggesting that her characters were keeping some things hidden.
"Thomas was trying to leave the family unscathed, make the divorce appear faultless," she said. "The spiritual path he had found was making him a stranger to Gwyn. It soon becomes clear that Thomas is carrying out a grand deception. It's not Buddhism at all. He's just running away with a younger woman."
That makes it, in Dave's opinion, "a double deception." Thomas was "becoming an old fool, a cliche. He was deceiving her, their friends and family all at once. When she figures it out, she thinks revenge first, then tries to feel OK. But I wanted Thomas to realize what he'd done," said Dave.
She wanted to make it as much like real life as she could, so she went to Montauk and a friend told her the story of the Hurricane of 1938. "Montauk is beautiful in summer but desolate in winter," said Dave.
She researched the story and talked to the people who knew the hurricane. "It became personal for me, trying to look at this amazing town that pulled itself back from catastrophe, and I compared it to a marriage."
In the book she is writing now, she is building a father-daughter story set in Big Sur, Calif. "I'm looking at how dreams change. The father had the daughter when he was 20, so they are close in age. I find it interesting to look at pictures of my parents before I was born. I look at them in a new way. I'm excited about the new book."
Dave hopes that each new book she writes will challenge her in a different way. "I hope to get wiser, explore new territories, and acknowledge the fact that we all tend to run away from things that make us the most human."
Dave's major emphasis in "The Divorce Party" is forgiveness."Marriage requires two voices, suggesting the mirroring of each other or showing each other's point of view," she said. "I let them look at the same question and see how the reader would forgive them."
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