In her third novel, “Impersonation,” Heidi Pitlor wanted to write, she said, “about a worker bee. I wanted to write something about someone who was highly educated, had supposedly done everything right, and still couldn’t make ends meet.”
Allie Lang, the novel’s protagonist, is a single mother who worries about making rent on her run-down house in a non-glamorous corner of the Berkshires. Parenting, for her, is not a series of perfect Instagram moments. Although the book is in no way autobiographical, Pitlor said, “we all rely on our own lives. I certainly relied on my own anxieties and my own need to fit in, as a young mom — that sense of early motherhood, when you’re just really vulnerable.”
Allie is also a ghostwriter. When a big assignment pairs her with a high-powered and high-profile feminist activist, she finds her own life bleeding into that of her subject’s. “I knew the central tension would be a person with privilege working with a person without privilege,” Pitlor said. “And that’s about all I knew.”
Pitlor, who is series editor of “The Best American Short Stories,” said she borrowed a little from her own life here as well. “I’m not a ghost writer but I’m a little bit a ghost editor,” she said. “I work with a big famous writer every year. That dynamic between the public face of something and the behind-the-scenes face of something — I didn’t have to dig too deep for that.”
The book is set in 2016 and 2017; Pitlor began writing it in the lead-up to the 2016 election. “At the end of the day,” Pitlor said, “this is about characters and their lives, not about our political system — although it is, in some ways.” In dealing with issues of gender, class, parenting, and the #MeToo movement, “Impersonation” is both timely and timeless.
Heidi Pitlor will talk with Laura Zigman at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at www.amightyblaze.com.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.