You know I’m not a professional book reviewer, but I do love reading fiction. So I jumped at the chance to read an advanced copy of Emily Listfield’s latest novel, Best Intentions .
I read the book while vacationing in Arizona, and J. commented to me more than once that I seemed to be really into it. I was. Like last year’s Waiting to Surface , I found Best Intentions to be an intelligent and compassionate story of domestic drama, with complex relationships (this time involving not just romantic and family relationships, but those of longtime friends) and even a bit of murder!
What more could you want for a good summer — or in my case, springtime — read?
I thought one of the most interesting aspects of the book is how each of the main characters pushes (and pushes) the boundaries of trust with the others, all in the name of, you guessed it, having the best of intentions — or what they rationalize as good intentions — with ultimately disastrous results. Methinks this might be why Emily has been called a “master of domestic suspense.” Good call!
In Waiting to Surface you delved into the “secret life” of the main character’s husband, who had disappeared and was presumed dead. In Best Intentions the protagonist, Lisa, discovers secrets about her husband, Sam, her daughters and close circle of friends. You seem drawn to the idea of discovery and that we may not really understand or know those closest to us. Why?
Emily: You’re right, I have always been fascinated by the question: How well do you really know the people you love? I think it’s a universal dilemma that can play out in small ways as well as larger ones. For instance, the Craigslist Killer in the news lately: His girlfriend swears he is a ‘beautiful person inside and out’ - but clearly she sees a different side of him than the rest of the world.
We’d all like to think we’d know better, but if you look at his picture you see a kind of preppy ordinary guy. This is an extreme example of course, but one of the mysteries of human relationships is how unpredictable they are. The unanswered questions can draw us closer or tear us apart , deepen love or destroy it - but either way, they are the drama in all of our lives.
“Keeping up with the Jones’s” and job worries are other themes of the book - and the cause of worry and tension between Lisa and Sam, although they don’t talk openly about their fears. Did you include the financial pressures to bring in an element of the economic here and now, or for other reasons?
Emily: I started writing Best Intentions two years ago, before the economic crisis really hit. I have always been interested in social stratification and I suppose I have been particularly aware of it as a downtown single mom/writer with a daughter in a very uptown chi-chi school in Manhattan. I believe, too, that financial pressures are a huge source of stress in relationships and I wanted to explore that in an honest way. By the time I finished writing the novel, the recession had arrived in full force. As I revised the galleys I was able to make the book even more relevant as the characters begin to worry about losing their jobs, deal with money envy, and in the end learn to appreciate what is truly important.
By the end of the story Lisa has learned a lot about her family and friends, some things she never would have imagined. What do you think she learned about herself?
Emily: I think Lisa has learned the real danger of assuming that you know what the person you love is thinking. Without true communication, it is easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. You may act with the best intentions to make someone happy, but without asking the right questions, it can have dreadful results.
This question is always on my mind (and a lot of my single parent - heck, married parent — readers): how in the world do you juggle a successful career as a novelist (and book promoter!), freelance writer and being a mom?
Speaking of being a mom, now that your daughter is older, does she read your books? What does she think - particularly when you write about a character’s daughters?!
Emily: It’s a constant juggling act. All I can say is, give up on the idea of perfection! It is certainly easier now that my daughter is 15 and more independent. You have to be flexible, though. Some days I have to give up on the idea of writing fiction because of a school meeting/deadline/meeting in the office. Some days I can write all day, some for twenty minutes. I have admit, I often have the feeling that no matter what I’m doing I should be doing something else. I’d like to conquer that. And no, my daughter has not read any of my books. I think she’s scared to!
What’s next for you?
Emily: I’m working on a new book about the collision of politics and family secrets - the right to privacy versus the public’s right to know - with some good juicy scandals thrown in!