My father had his own stories. “She never liked men. Never,” he said one night on the phone. I didn’t want his version of the truth in my head, but there it was, and it fueled my imagination: Had she told him about herself? Had she even known enough to tell him?
Then came Trump.
After the 2016 election, I wanted to write a big, sweeping book, one equal to what the times demanded. And yet the story of my mother still called to me.
It’s just a story about women, I thought, when I would consider a book about two sisters, one based on my mom. Then I remembered what the novelist Grace Paley said when people asked why her books weren’t more political. “I have to explain to them that writing the lives of women is politics,” she said.
If the personal is political, then the stories of women’s lives — how they live, who they love, the children they have, or don’t; the sex they have, or don’t — all of that is consequential. All of it signifies.
But the prospect of writing about my mother, in all of her dimensions, was terrifying. I finished entire drafts with pages left blank where I’d put the naughty bits in later. To stall, I immersed myself in the details of Detroit, and Connecticut from the 1960s to the present, the Motown music and the shag carpet and the shoulder pads. I imagined a character who was smart and ambitious, who always had to keep part of herself hidden. I thought about how it would feel when she discovered who she was by way of who she loved, and I squeezed my eyes shut tight, put her in bed with her first girlfriend, and I went there.
Almost 20 years after “Good in Bed,” there I was again, in a different house, on another couch, listening to my mother turn the pages of my new book and praying that she hit the road before she hit the first sex scene.
Twenty years ago, all I could see was how my mother’s choices had hurt me. Now I can see all the ways the world hurt her — the chances she didn’t have, the doors she couldn’t open. And as the current administration continues its assault on transgender people, gay people and women, I can see that her story is big, and that it is political.
Fiction helps us imagine other lives, naughty bits and all. These days, that empathy feels more necessary than ever. I hope that some of the readers who chuckled at Ann and Tanya in “Good in Bed,” who laughed at their matching L.L. Bean hooded sweatshirts and their softball team, Nine Women Out, will read “Mrs. Everything” as a companion piece and a critique of the times, a consideration of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.
Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) is a contributing opinion writer and an author. Her new book, “Mrs. Everything,” comes out Tuesday.
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