“I admit that I feel half like a mother, and half like a grandmother, this time around. More like a grandmother when I’m muttering about what kind of advanced degree you need to fold this new kind of stroller. But I feel unalloyed pleasure watching my 15-year-old—now the size of a man—carry his tiny brother around.”
- The Wall Street Journal
Read the full Article here
When I started writing about the Sisterhood ten years ago, I wanted to create characters
with big, open-ended lives-girls who wouldn't fit into a single novel. At the same
time, I wanted to tell a proper story with a beginning, middle, and end. So I planned
a four-book sequence to tell that story. And as I got to the end, I realized I was
ready for the end of that story, but not remotely ready for the end of the characters.
They were only nineteen, after all. They had so much life ahead of them! I didn't
want to miss it. Would their friendship survive adulthood? Who, if anyone, would
they marry? What about having babies? What career would Carmen choose? Would "someday"
ever come for Lena and Kostos?
I promised myself that after taking a break from them and trying out some other
things I would come back and find them later in their lives. So that's what I've
done in Sisterhood Everlasting. I've rediscovered Carmen, Lena, Bridget, and Tibby
on the cusp of their thirtieth birthdays. Though it felt right to be away-all of
us off doing our different things-it felt wonderful to come back together. I don't
think I would have appreciated the characters as much without the hiatus, and I
hope the characters feel the same. I discovered I have certain ways of thinking
and writing that are unique to those girls, and I had really missed them while I
If you are familiar with the girls of the Sisterhood, I hope you will enjoy the
reunion as much as I have. If you are coming to them for the first time, I hope
you will find pleasure in the introduction.
So welcome (back) to the Sisterhood. We've missed you.
Fire Island is a barrier island–a skinny stretch of sand between the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s just sitting out there in the water, 32 miles long and 1/4 of a mile wide at its widest. Because it’s essentially a sandbar, it’s vulnerable.
In the famous and terrible hurricane of 1938, the eye passed right over Saltaire, the town where we live. According to town lore, the ocean met the bay that day, and the entire island lay under water. Three-quarters of the houses were destroyed and even those that weren’t were washed off their pilings and floated around like boats until the water finally receded.
There used to be a promenade–a wide boardwalk–along the ocean and there were houses on both sides of it. Ocean Prom, as they called it, was long ago destroyed and so were all the houses on either side. It’s a bit haunting to me, the ghosts of those old houses and walks, now deep under the sea. They say when a big storm is coming, the ocean pulls far back and you can see the stone hearths from those houses long since washed away.
You feel like you’re in the hand of nature there, subject to her moods. In New York City, were we live for most of the year, nature seems more like our guest. In a place like Fire Island, we are hers. It’s a dumb place to build a house when you think of it, but also thrilling and beautiful. As with many things, the curse and the blessing of it are pretty much the same.
The fragility makes it a good setting for a novel, I think. The sea-light brings on nostalgia much quicker. It conjures a state almost like deja-vu, when you feel like you are living an experience and remembering it at the same time. As a writer, I love that spot where land and sea and sky meet. I love that blurry place where life’s transitions are made without you even knowing it.
There’s a woman I used to see at on Fire Island sometimes. I don’t think she goes there anymore. I never met her, but I was struck by her, aware for some reason we are similar in age, but that she’d been coming to this beach since she was born, while I had found a place here only as an adult.
I remember one evening around sunset a bunch of us newcomers were sitting on the deck at a friend’s house. We were drinking gin-and-tonics and talking about our jobs and sounding like our parents as our various children ran around on the sand. I remember seeing this woman ride by on her bike. She made a romantic silhouette turning the corner at the bay–almost childlike–and I was struck by her native look of freedom. She wore surfer shorts over her old lifeguard bathingsuit and I could tell she’d spent a long day on the beach. Like all true Fire Island kids, she rode her bike as though it were part of her body. I looked at her for a second and she looked back at me. I wasn’t sure what I felt, whether it was pathos or envy. She didn’t have many of the things I held sacred: children and marriage and all-day accountability. She was holding on to the house that belonged to her parents, while I was raising children in my own. But she had freedom. She had a kind of lightness I didn’t have. She had solitude and the beach to herself and her own choices all day. She finished her thoughts and her sentences, I imagined. Or maybe she felt no need to start them. When she looked at me I wasn’t sure what she felt, whether it was with envy or pathos. It was almost like we glimpsed each other through the veil between possible worlds. I could have been you, I thought. You could have been me. Do I wish that? Do you?
I can’t say that she became my character Riley, exactly. I don’t know her at all. But my idea of her, accurate or not, provided an inspiration.
It strikes me that Fire Island is a great place to be a kid. It’s a good place to be a grown up and to raise your kids. But it’s almost an impossible place to make the trip between the two.
It’s funny that it’s the place I’ve chosen–not personally, but as a writer–to attempt that very trip.
My name is not memory, in fact. But that is the name of my new book, which I just finished this week. I am excited about it. It will be published by Riverhead Books in early June.
But before I go on, I have to apologize. I think I am the worst multi-tasker in the world. No, that is too grand. I am a bad multi-tasker. I have a lot of trouble focusing on writing a book while also keeping my website up to date (not to mention taking care of my children, making dinner, calling my mom back, keeping the pets alive and so on.) To those of you who have continued to check in, thank you. I am so grateful to you for being interested in my books and for letting me know your thoughts. I’m sorry I haven’t been writing in and updating the site more frequently. I hope to do better.
This new book is kind of a departure for me. Not a total departure–it’s mainly about love. But it takes place on a broad canvas of time. I’m going to include a part of a scene below to give you an idea of it. This scene is told from the point of view of Daniel, a young man blessed (or cursed, it often seems) with a long history and a very unusual memory.
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon. “Well. It’s a strange thing,” I explained. “With
each birth your body starts out fresh and mostly blank, but then you print yourself
on it over time. You hold onto
old experiences: injuries, injustices, and great love affairs, too.” I glanced up at Sophia. “And you hold them in your joints and
your organs and wear them on your skin.”
“You do.” She was giving me that same look of indulgence, but it was less
“We all do.” “Because we live again and again?” “Most of us.” “Not all of us?” Her indulgence showed more signs of genuinely wanting to know.
“Some live only once. Some a very few times. And some just go on and on and on.” “Why?” I put my head back on my pillow. “That is hard to explain. I’m not sure I really know.” “And you?” “I’ve lived many times.” “And you remember them?” “Yes. That’s where I’m different than most people.” “I’ll say. And what about me?” She looked like she wasn’t going to believe the answer, but slightly feared it anyway. “You’ve also lived many times. But your memory is just average.” “Clearly.” She laughed. “Have you known me for all of them?” “I’ve tried. But no, not all.” “And why can’t I remember?” “You can more than you think. Those memories are in there somewhere. You act on them in ways you don’t realized. They determine how you respond to people, the things you love and the things you fear. A lot of our irrational behavior would look more rational if you could see it in the context of your whole long life.” It was amazing the things I was will to tell her if she was willing to listen, and she was. I touched the hem of her sleeve. “I know enough about you to know you love horses and you probably dream about them. You probably dream of the desert sometimes and maybe taking a bath outdoors. Your nightmares are usually about fire. You have problems with your voice and your throat sometimes–that was always your weak spot …” Her face was rapt. “Why?” “You were strangled a long time ago.” Her alarm was a mix of real and pretend. “By whom?” “Your husband.” “Awful. Why did I marry him?” “You didn’t have a choice.” “And you knew this man?” “He was my brother.” “Long dead, I hope.” “Yes, but bearing a grudge through history, I fear.” I could see by her face, she was trying to figure out where to put all of this. “Are you a psychic?” she asked. I smiled and shook my head. “Although most psychics, if they are any good, do have some memory of old lives. And so do most of the people we consider insane. An asylum is about the densest concentration of people with partial memory you will ever find. They get flashes and visions, but usually not in the right order.” She looked at me sympathetically, wondering if that’s where I belonged. “Is that what you do?” “No. I remember everything.”
A little over a year ago I started taking piano lessons. I last took them when I was ten, so it’s been awhile. I am terrible at it, and my brain and fingers are maddeningly slow, but I really love it. The piece I’ve been working on is a Mozart sonata (#16 in C) and it is beautiful. Well, it’s not beautiful when I play it, but you know what I mean.
Another thing I love is the movie Groundhog Day. It is a profound movie in many ways. I watched it again recently, because I am writing a new book that is partly inspired by it. And then I watched it another time, really slowly. I was trying to figure out where the turning point of the story occurs–the moment when Phil (Bill Murray) begins his transformation from a selfish, hedonistic, misanthrope into a person capable of loving and being loved. I kept starting and stopping the movie, trying to figure it out. And then I did. Or at least I think I did. I think it’s the moment when he’s sitting in the diner and is struck by a certain beautiful piece of piano music playing on the radio. And guess what that piece is? Mozart’s Sonata #16 in C. The very piece I’ve been playing over and over for weeks. I thought that was a nice confluence of things I happen to love.
There has been some confusion in switching over from my old website to my new one. I think it’s all figured out, finally. Thanks for your patience. We’re still trying to bring the comments section over from the old site. They should get here soon.
I set up a new mailbox (firstname.lastname@example.org or just click on “write to Ann”), and the thing is, it actually works! I am getting emails from readers and writing back. It didn’t work on my old site, so I’m very excited that it works on this one. Thanks to those of you who have written to me. In other news, I was sick the week before last and I had to cancel my bookstore visits in Connecticut, Atlanta and Miami. If you were planning to come to one of those, I am sorry. I’ve never been sick enough to cancel an appearance before, and I felt terrible for it (in addition to feeling generally terrible because of being sick). I’m feeling much better now and thankful for modern medicine and antibiotics. I’m rescheduling those visits, and I will post them on this site as soon as they are definite. And last of all, I found out that 3 Willows is going to be #1 on the New York TImes bestseller list of Children’s hardcovers next week. I was pretty surprised and excited about that. The only problem is that I made a deal with my kids that if 3 Willows made it to the top spot on the list, I would take them somewhere warm this winter. I was sort of kidding around when I made the deal. I didn’t think it would happen and I promptly forgot about it. But my kids have been very eager to remind me. So I guess we’re going somewhere warm this winter. So much for the deal I made with myself that I was going to save money.