Insightful Maryland novelist – and mother of three boys – Sarah Pekkanen creates breathtaking fiction in her witty, weepy take on contemporary marriage, Skipping a Beat. Having made the O “Pick it up Now” list, and been described as “original, soulful and engaging” by no less than Something Borowed author Emily Giffin, this novel should not to be skipped.
Thelma: How old were you when you came out of the closet as a writer?
Sarah: I began to write books and send them off to publishers in elementary school. I still have a few of those old books, written on three-ring-binder paper and tied up with red yarn. I think my masterwork is The Lost Gold, which is pretty much a rip-off of the Nancy Drew mysteries. I was in awe of Nancy and her speedy little roadster.
T: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
S: Probably a teacher. I’ve always been drawn to kids, because they say the most outrageous things, and they have a completely fresh way of looking at the world.
T: OK, every one always wants to know: How long did it take to write this novel?
S: Skipping a Beat took about a year, and I popped out a baby (my third son) mid-way through the writing. He slept on my chest while I wrote many a chapter. [Read more…]
Tonight, while I was watching my darling daughter Lizzi in a dual role as Mrs. Darling and Tiger Lily, so sweetly maternal in one and so commanding in the other, I remembered a passage about gender roles from Playdate. I think I might have coined the phrase the Wendy Darlings, a very different female syndrome from the Peter Pan complex. My fictional entrepreneurial mother Darlene worried the idea while driving to work after a frustrating encounter with her husband, Lance. In the play, Wendy promises Peter Pan she’ll return to Neverland every year to do his spring cleaning. Not something that would occur to Darlene – or me.
The Wendy Darlings (from Playdate)
“When had it become so hard just to sit still and play [Darlene thought]? Men had Peter Pan complexes, but women had the Wendy Darlings. The Wendys wanted to fly a little and be dazzled by pixie dust, but they were consumed with relationships and caretaking and what the neighbors thought. Wendy’s lost boys were content to fly; Wendy had to civilize. She couldn’t abandon herself to wild dancing by firelight with the Indian braves; she had to funnel them all back into London middle-class respectability. Wendy was in such haste to grow up and become the mother, that central domestic figure; to children, their mother’s skirts were the world.
As skeptical as Darlene was of Wendy, it saddened her that she wasn’t that safe maternal haven for [her 10-year-old] Belle. Lance, not Darlene, had become the Ramsays’ emotional center of gravity, the figure waiting at the window with the lit candle whenever Belle ventured outside. When Belle cried, she cried for her father. Darlene admired Lance’s gift for parenting: he had a better understanding of Belle’s needs just by listening, by waiting out her defenses with quiet talk and infinite patience. But Darlene was also a little jealous of it. She was somewhat confounded by her own emotional limits, like a person who thought she’d rented a spacious apartment and found, once she’d unloaded her furniture, there was hardly room to turn around in.
I hate some kids. I’m no Mother Teresa, although possibly it’s easier to love children of wretched poverty in a distant land than those of prosperity in a nearby horse-and-hunt village. Wendy Jane is the kind of sulky, chubby only child that would have inspired Berkeley students (I’m class of ’81) to shout, “Eat the Rich” – with fava beans and a cheap Chianti.
I can sense the carbuncle of hatred and envy Wendy feels for me in return, and for my ten-year-old daughter, Gemma. Sullenly staring up at me, Wendy lacks her parents’ talent for sheathing anger in false bonhomie and backstabbing. In social settings, she is a focal point of negativity. Her gloom creates a sucking black hole as she actively seeks to share the despair she feels when guiltily stuffing her cheeks with cake. She arouses in me a mix of disgust and contempt that is unacceptable for an adult to feel for a minor, and so I do what every sensible grown-up would do given therapy and gas money: I avoid direct contact. [Read more…]