Love in Mid Air
A compulsively readable novel that will have women questioning their ideas of love, sex and marriage.
Forty-something Elyse has a perfectly nice husband, child, home and life and knows she should be grateful for what she's got. Flying back from a work trip she meets an attractive, married man and impulsively embarks on a life-changing affair. And of course, everything does change. The affair challenges her relationships with her husband, her child and especially her close circle of friends, who feel threatened by her behaviour.
Witty, intelligent, intense and sexy, Love in Mid Air offers a provocative new take on marriage and adultery. It doesn't shy away from the pain, but Wright does explore the benefits of post-marriage life and the notion of how women often 'settle' for what is normal or 'acceptable'. A fabulous Fay Weldon-like look at love, life, marriage and sex, it's a sharp, seductive and absolutely irresistible read.
Praise for Love in Mid Air
"Wright hits out of the park in her debut, an engaging account of woman contemplating divorce... While the idea of housewives complaining about their husbands over lunch may strike some as conventional hen-lit trope, Wright conveys friendship and the blasé everyday with authenticity and telling detail, while passages depicting Elyse's inner life are rife with the same wit and insight that infuse the dialogue. Through this story is one that readers may have seen many times before, Wright delivers fresh perspective and sympathetic characters few writers can match." - Publisher's Weekly US, starred review
"...a spare, intense, honest and sexy book..." - Alison Smith, author of Name All the Animals
"Funny, sexy, heartbreaking, wise, Love in Mid Air is the kind of novel you will stay up late for. I read the first page and was hooked, I couldn't put it down. It is not simply the story of a divorce, the story of an affair, the story of one woman caught between two men; it is a delicate exploration of the pull that almost every woman will feel at some point in her life for the unhindered freedom of something more." - Dawn Clifton Tripp, author of Season of Open Water
Kim Wright divorced her husband 12 years ago. Living in a small town, the divorce impacted on the community and Kim suddenly became the person that women confided in about their bad marriages. The notes she kept as repository for women's secrets became the basis of Love in Mid Air.
She has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than twenty years for many magazines including Wine Spectator, Self, Travel + Leisure and Vouge, and has twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing. Love in Mid Air is her first novel. Kim lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Love in Mid Air
Allen and Unwin
Author: Kim Wright
An Author Interview with Kim Wright
What inspired you to write about this subject?
When I got divorced twelve years ago, two weird things happened. Firstof all, women started spontaneously telling me their bad marriage stories,even women who I thought were perfectly happy. If you get divorced ina small town, you've screwed up in a very public way. All of a suddenyou become the person it's okay to confess to and women werepractically flagging me down in the supermarket, leaning over my cartand saying "You know, things aren't that great at home
." I became therepository of a hundred women's secrets, and the notes I kept from thatperiod became the basis of Love in Mid Air. The stories were altered, ofcourse, a loose amalgamation of what was happening to me and myfriends. For so long I had thought it was just me who was unhappy butnow I was being shown the whole spectrum, the oceanic quality offemale discontent. I walked around for a year saying 'Wow, isn'tanybody happily married?"
The other thing I realized is that there were very few booksthat dealt with the subject of divorce in a realistic manner. Most of thebooks were about men leaving women, even thought it's morestatistically likely for a woman to initiate divorce, especially after the ageof 40. And there was often some sort of quick fix - the deserted womanended up falling in love with her attorney or some hunky handyman whoshowed up to help at her new house. I resented this whole idea thatdivorce is about swapping one man for another - ideally as fast aspossible - with little exploration of the affect a woman's divorce has onher friends and the whole social web. I knew that needed to make it intothe story as well.
Is the material autobiographical? Are you Elyse?
I'm Elyse, but I'm also Kelly and Nancy and Lynn and Belinda and evenGerry and Phil and Jeff. For me, a novel is like a dream - all thecharacters are aspects of me, in dialogue with each other. But while thematerial isn't literally autobiographical, it's emotionallyautobiographical. I've never been kissed by a stranger in the traveler'schapel of the Dallas airport, but it's the kind of thing I've wished wouldhappen. It's not hard to imagine how it might feel.
How much did you know about what would happen to Elyse whenyou started this book? Did you have the entire book plotted or did itchange as you wrote?
I'm still learning how to plot. For me, it's the toughest part of the novelwriting process. I did have the ending when I started, or at least most ofit. I knew Phil would hit Elyse, I just didn't know why. I knew shewould end up living alone. On the other hand, some events evolved as Iwrote. No one was more surprised than me when Lynn went back to herhusband.
The book is set in the American suburbs, familiar terrain for manyreaders. Was it difficult to write about a setting that has been sooften described in literature and, in some ways, so generic?
Most of my life I've earned my living as a travel writer and there are twobasic types of articles. One is when you're writing about a place fewpeople have been to - Korea, Lapland, South Africa, Nevis. Since yourreaders aren't starting with much information, you have to describe theplace in detail, really layer it on. Other times you're writing about aplace a lot of people have been to - Las Vegas, Paris, New York - andthis requires something different. You try to give people that a jolt ofrecognition and memory, and for your descriptions to resonate on anemotional level. Writing about the suburbs is lot like that. You'redescribing a world that your readers have not only been to but that a largenumber of them are probably living in right now. There's always thechance people will say, "What are you talking about? It's nothing likethat." I didn't put in a lot of place details, but I tried hard to get themright.
Did you ever consider a narrator other than Elyse?
It's always been Elyse's story, told from her point of view.Elyse has an affair and is at times selfish and short-sighted. Did youworry that she might be an unsympathetic heroine?Elyse has a bucketload of flaws but I've never seen her as unsympathetic. Itgoes back to the realism I was talking about earlier. People who areunhappily married - even the most sane and rational of people - often findthemselves taking risks and exploding emotionally in ways they never wouldhave predicted. A friend once told me "When you're driving away from amarriage, there's no way to avoid going through Crazytown." And I thinkthat's what Elyse is doing through the course of the book. She's a perfectlynormal, likable woman who just happens to be driving through Crazytown.
Why did you decide to tell the story in the present tense? How wouldthe story be different if it were told years after the events had takenplace, and Elyse was looking back as an older woman?
This was something I did change as I revised. I started out using past tenseverbs, which is the more traditional way to tell a story, but which alsoimplies that the narrator is looking back in time, whether the events occurredfive minutes ago or fifty years ago. Elyse is impulsive and out of control soI decided it would be more interesting to have her describing things as theywere happening, to really get inside her head while she's having sex orbreaking pots or tumbling down the church steps. Present tense also makesus worry more about her - she's not safely looking back on events from arocker on the front porch of the nursing home, she's right in the middle ofthe mess. And one of my quirks is a writer is that I simply prefer presenttense verbs. "Fly" is a stronger word to me than "flew."
Although the book is told from Elyse's point of view, the voices of theother women are a major part of the story. Are all the perspectivesequally valid? How did you decide how to present these multiple andsometimes conflicting opinions about marriage and family life?
There had to be counterpoints to Elyse's opinions. There are lots of validways to view marriage and motherhood and sex and suburbia and I wantedto get at least four or five of them into the story.
Is that why you decided to put a book club in the book?
It was one way to get them all talking. As kind of a joke, I had them readtwo books about women having affairs - The Bridges of Madison Countyand Madame Bovary - so they could comment on Elyse's situation withoutknowing that they were commenting on Elyse's situation.
The novel has several fairly graphic sex scenes. What makes a sexscene work?
A sex scene needs to do exactly what any other scene in a book does -advance the story and show you something new about the characters. Peoplebehave differently in bed than they do up and dressed and walking around,so sex scenes are a great way to show the sides of your characters that thereader might otherwise not see. I used the sex scenes between Gerry andElyse to show what she wasn't getting out of the marriage - not just cuddlingand affection and the complete focus of a man's attention, but the sort ofuncensored, dreamy, very intimate conversations she has with Gerry. But itpleases me a little that, even though she is having an affair, the most bizarreand in some ways the hottest sex scene in the book happens between thewoman and her husband.
Do you have a favorite character in the book?
My heart, of course, lies with Elyse and Kelly, but among the minorcharacters, I love Belinda. She starts out as someone who is easy for theother women to dismiss because she's younger, less educated, her kids arealways getting hurt, and she wears those ridiculous sweaters. But I alwayshad the idea of using her like the wise fool in a Shakespearean play,someone who might appear comic but whose take on events is actuallypretty insightful. And Belinda certainly grows through the book. She'sheroic at the end when she brings Elyse the casserole.
A favorite scene?
This book has gone through a lot of versions but one scene that stayed withme from the start was slow-motion time sequence near the end where Elyseis falling. For a long time I didn't know where she was or why she wasfalling but the emotional content of that chapter, including the leapsbackward and forward in time and all the things she's noticing and thinking,pretty much stayed intact from the first draft. So I guess that's my favoritescene because everything else in the book flowed from it.
Is there a time in your life when you've relied on your friends in the wayyour characters do?
Every day. The most autobiographical line in the book is when Elyse saysshe lives and dies by her friends.
The book opens as Elyse is getting ready to turn 40 and she repeatedlysays that "time's running out." Do you believe that there are certainpivotal years in a woman's life where she's more likely to make the sortof drastic changes Elyse makes?
I'm 54 and this is my first novel so I got a late start, largely because it tookme a long time to find my subject matter. Now I know that the material Iwant to explore is the spiritual and sexual evolution of baby boomer womenand yes, I certainly think there are a few key periods in a woman's life wheneverything comes to a head and that yes, certain birthdays trigger certaincrises. The women are about to turn 40 in Love in Mid Air and the sequel,which is told from Kelly's point of view, will occur when they're about toturn 50. A whole different set of questions arises then.
Do you consider yourself a southern writer? Would this story still haveworked if it was set in another part of the country?
I'm a writer and I'm from the south so I guess in the most basic sense of thephrase that yes, I'm a southern writer. When you consider the people likeFlannery O'Conner and Walker Percy who are called "southern writers"then of course you'd love to have that term applied to you. You want towear that t-shirt. But I honestly think that, with a few changes, this bookcould be set pretty much anywhere in America. You might have to pull outall the church references and maybe have them talk a little less. The nonstopchatter of my characters is probably the most southern thing in thebook.
How did you come up with the novel's unique voice?
I take the literary term "voice" very literally. I read passages of the book outloud to myself over and over and over, making small changes until itsounded like human speech. Come to think of it, maybe that's another wayin which the book is "southern" - it definitely comes out of the tradition oforal storytelling. I wanted it to sound very intimate, very confessional. Likea woman leaning over a café table talking to a friend.
Do you write every day? What is your writing process like?
I make my living writing non-fiction so I write every day, but I don't workon novels every day. I've tended to write on the novels in these shortfrenetic bursts when I'm capable of turning out something like 3000 words aday. Most of Love in Mid Air was written in these kinds of spurts,especially one summer when a friend arranged for me to have a house aloneon the coast of Massachusetts.
Given that a work can feel different a day, a week, or years after it waswritten when did you know Love in Mid Air was finished? Had youthought so before that moment, and what was different about it thistime around?
One of the hardest questions anyone can ask me is "How long did it take youto write this book?" I first started it right after my divorce which was over adecade ago. But the time wasn't right
.the experience was too fresh and Iwas under too much pressure to earn a living and it was all a big, ramblingmess. So I put the book aside for five years and then picked it back up. Thesecond time through I cut it down drastically - the characters dropped from20 to about 10, the time frame from four years to nine months. I don't knowthat you ever think a book is "finished" because there's always thistemptation to keep tinkering, to try and make it a little better. But there's apoint where you're finished with it. You start thinking about the next story.
Coming out as a writer could be similar to a revealed love affair. Did itfeel like exposure to write Love in Mid Air?
Absolutely. You write a novel hoping to sell it, hoping to publish it, hopingthat someday somebody will read it and yet when those things actuallyhappen if feels very strange. It's been hard for me to move from the privateworld of the writer, who spends 99% of her time alone, to the more publicworld of the author, who goes out and stand behind podiums and talks topeople. I'm still adjusting.
What advice would you give other first-time novelists?
Make friends with other writers. (And by writers I mean people who areactually writing, not people who talk about how they're going to startwriting soon.) Do whatever you have to do - go to conferences, workshops,readings, whatever. A lot of writers are loners by nature but this is a longprocess and you need confidants. You need to be able to network. Youneed somebody who can introduce you to his agent and tell you to drop thefirst twenty pages and blurb your book and listen to you vent.
Is it hard to let go of characters after spending so much time with them?
Letting go of things isn't exactly my forte. That's one reason I'm writing thesequel. That and the fact it's fun to be inside Kelly's head for a change,after viewing everything from the perspective of Elyse. That scene in thedrive-in with the Brothers Pressley? It looked totally different from the backseat.