The Reading Lives of My Characters

The author's witty imagining of the books her latest characters love.

by Lynn Schnurnberger

I’m one of those people who think you can tell a lot about people by what they read. And the characters in my new novel—The Best Laid Plans—are no different. I admit I keep them busy—it’s not easy to open a cougar-call girl agency catering to thirty-year-old clients. But if I’d only give them a chapter off, I know they’d hunker down with their favorite books.

After hatching the plan to start the escort service, stay-at-home mom Tru Newman would pull out her copy of Fanny Hill: Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure. The book’s series of letters from Fanny to an unknown woman, offer up plenty of ammunition to justify Tru’s choice. And Tru, who is starting the illegal agency to help her family hang onto their home, feels a kinship with author John Leland: After all, he wrote this steamy, oft-banned 18th century erotic novel to get out of debtor’s prison.

Tru’s BFF Sienna Post may be a glamorous news anchor, but she guards her heart as if it were Fort Knox. “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way,” Sienna likes to say, quoting Anna Karenina. Unlike Leo Tolstoy’s tragic heroine whose life was, er, derailed, Sienna’s not interested in a loveless marriage or putting everything on the line for a no-good count. When Sienna meets her match in boyish lawyer Bill Murphy, the two commitment-phobes stumble their way into happily-ever-after.

Reading The Bonfire of the Vanities—Tom Wolfe’s satiric send-up of the rarefied world of Park Avenue investment bankers— is what inspired Tru’s husband Peter Newman to sign up for business school. Alas, Peter only saw the dollar—not the warning—signs in Wolfe’s prophetic story of greed and lust gone awry.

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Ex-beauty queen Naomi Finklestein, (Tru’s mom), says it was reading Marjorie Morningstar that ignited her career aspirations (Although Naomi only saw the Natalie Wood movie, she didn’t actually read the book.) No matter. Herman Wouk’s coming-of-age-story about a young girl breaking away from her conservative Jewish family to live in Greenwich Village, caused more than one young girl to reach for her star.

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is the favorite of Tru’s studious teenage daughter, Paige, who got an A+ on her book report exploring the novel’s themes of racism, social justice, courage and compassion. “It is a great loss to society that Harper Lee never wrote another book,” Paige wrote passionately in her conclusion.

Paige’s twin sister, Molly, doesn’t read anything longer than a text message. But she is putting uber-effort into winning the battle with her sib over a Clearasil-wearing Casanova named Brandon. Brandon himself swore off of Kindle after just one purchase. “It’s an Irish play about a boy who killed his father?” Brandon complained, when the text to the John Milliston Synge classic arrived. “How could Playboy of the Western World be about anything but Hugh Hefner?”

First Published January 28, 2011

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