Full disclosure is that I do not actually turn 40 until July 17, 2009, which means that the majority of my new novel The Castaways was written not when I was forty, but when I was 38 and 39. However, there is a marked different between the way I write about sex and love in my previous books and the way I write about it in The Castaways; there is a whole different take on relationships, and it is something that I’ve been thinking about as the big birthday closes in.
The Castaways is a novel about four couples who live year-round on Nantucket. I have jokingly referred to this novel as “the book I wrote about my friends.” It is not, of course, about my friends, but there are overarching themes in the book that resonate in my real life. Whereas my novel Barefoot was a novel about how becoming a mother challenges your personhood and makes you vulnerable to all things, including death, in The Castaways I move on to the next stage – what happens once the kids are older, when they don’t need you to watch them every second, what happens when you return to yourself? Are the same things still important? Is your marriage as magical and fulfilling as you’d once thought it was? What I have written about in The Castaways is the way marriage morphs from a heady, idealistic infatuation into something more realistic, more fallible, more substantial.
In the beginning of The Castaways, my characters, Tess and Greg MacAvoy, are killed in a boating accident. As it turns out, both Tess and Greg were unfaithful. Tess was having an affair with Greg’s best friend Addison; Greg was having an emotional affair with Tess’s friend Delilah as well as, quite possibly, a sexual affair with one of his music students. If these characters had been in their twenties or thirties, the marriages would have ended, as well as the friendships. What interested me so enormously in this book was dealing with characters who were slightly older, who had experienced life, who were emotionally evolved enough to realize that everybody messes up, and the most important thing is to forgive and move on. This is what makes The Castaways so compelling – the characters behave badly, but for good reasons, and because they are in the hands of a “maturing” author, you know they’re going to be okay.