Amy Sohn explores parenting and infidelity through her fiction
One of the sharpest observers of modern parenthood and marriage, the former New York magazine “Mating” columnist, and author of the 2009 bestseller “Prospect Park West,” is out with another satirical novel. The Globe caught up with Sohn, 38, when she came to the Brookline Booksmith to read from “Motherland.” Her latest novel is a candid and unsentimental story about five mothers and fathers adrift on Cape Cod, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and in Greenwich Village.
Q. The book opens in Wellfleet, an area you know well because your husband’s family has rented there for decades. You’ve said it’s pretty easy to distinguish the Massachusetts parents from the New York parents. How?
A. Massachusetts parents are much better — they’re not afraid to discipline their kids, and not afraid to let the kids work out problems on their own. In general, they are much less neurotic. The New York children are more spoiled. Boston parents are not afraid to yell — “stop hitting your brother!” With the New York parents, it’s “use your words.”
Q. Why did you want to write about marital infidelity?
A. I’m fascinated by American marriages, specifically among my generation. Marriage is inherently challenging — you commit yourself to having sex with one person for the rest of your life. That’s why the French are all laughing at us. The other reason [I wanted to write about it] is because of the way we are raising our children now. There is an extraordinary amount of child centrality. I believe that inevitably takes a toll on marriage in a way prior generations didn’t have to deal with. All you have to do is watch one episode of “Mad Men” to get that. [They say] “It’s 7 p.m., Sally, go to bed.” There is no two hours of snuggling or co-sleeping or reading “Go the [expletive] to Sleep.”
Q. You’ve said you’re seeing a lot of women around your age who are in turmoil and not dealing with it in healthy ways. What’s going on?
A. Some are in miserable marriages but don’t know what to do about it because they’re committed to their children, or they’re in flux about work. They’re going to bars and pretending they’re not married. They’re sexting. This is what can happen when the childbearing years are over. You get that independence back. They are close to making a change but afraid to make a change. They are the men their mothers divorced.
Q. You’ve written about being “the guy” in your relationship with your husband, who’s an artist, because you’re the main breadwinner and he takes care of your daughter and makes dinner. That sounds like a nice arrangement — are your friends jealous?
A. I can’t participate in the “Oh my God, he forgot Mother’s Day again” conversation. The one thing it took a couple of years for me to learn was that I still have to set the social engagements [for our daughter]. He would rather be alone with her than sit around on a playdate making small talk [with a mother] for two hours.
Q. You’ve written about being dumped by friends at your elite school in Brooklyn when you were in sixth grade, an event that gave you a lifelong fear of rejection. How does that play out when you’re trying to guide your 7-year-old daughter?
A. It’s difficult for mothers of daughters as the girls get older. It’s very easy to get sucked into the drama between children. I have to learn to let her find her own friends, and to recognize that friendship is incredibly mutable at this age. The worst thing you can do is to project all your own stuff onto it. They can say, “Susie was my friend and now Mya is my friend,” and they are not crying. You have to roll with it, and listen not to what they are saying so much as how they are saying it. Instead of being like, “What happened with Susie????” you could ask, “What happened?” [in a non-emotional way]. You can’t act as if you feel your child is being rejected. That’s how they get totally messed up.
Interview was condensed and edited. Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @beth