Women and Desire

Originally Posted: September 6, 2010

I’ve been guest blogging at the Mira site this past week and one of the questions that came up from a reader was whether or not I’d had concerns about writing a book “about adultery.” This reader was wondering if I’d been worried about trying to sell a book with a narrator who cheats on her husband…

It was an interesting question, and one that I’ve fielded in many forms since the book was released.  While I was in the process of writing the book, I honestly didn’t think too much about whether or not it would sell: I wanted to write the story that felt potent for me, and tell it in the best way that I could…  But once I started ‘shopping it around’ to editors, some were reluctant to take it on due to the fact that I had an adulterous narrator.  I found this fascinating.  Adultery is one of those deeply human themes that’s been discussed in literature for centuries, by writers such as Tolstoy, Flaubert, Hawthorne, the Brontes …

But when you think about it, not that many women have written adulterous female narrators.  And several editors objected to the fact that my narrator doesn’t get ‘punished enough’ for what she does!  Even though she is wracked by guilt, haunted by her past, nearly loses her family, and is deeply repentant, that wasn’t enough.  They wanted blood!  This brought up a lot of questions, about double standards (surely they’d have been more at ease with a male narrator who goes outside his marriage?)  and how uncomfortable we are, as a society, with female desire…  What expectations do we hold up for women, for mothers?  And what does it mean to sympathize with a character who does something we don’t approve of? What fears does this bring up about our own potential desires and weaknesses?

Anyways, my final answer to my reader was that I think Outside the Ordinary World is not simply about adultery, but about the complexity of human relationships, coming to terms with one’s past, and the difficult work of forgiveness.  I wanted Sylvia to have the experience of walking in her mother’s footsteps; not only so that she could find empathy, but also so that she could go through the crucible of self-forgiveness, and essentially, face a real choice about her own life and marriage.  Hopefully, that’s what resonates most powerfully by the end…

Posted by: Dori

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