A Conversation with Susannah Marren
1. What inspired you to write Between the Tides?
I have long been interested in the female experience in our society – as a mother, a daughter, a wife. I’ve also been intrigued by the dangerous elements in certain female friendships and how they play out. I believe that environment informs our relationships. The idea of city life versus a suburban existence and the pitfalls and rewards inherent in both became a theme of the book. The fact that a wife/mother (Lainie) did not fit in either place was very compelling for me. The question lingers: what is the price of motherhood?
2. The yin and yang of Lainie and Jess’ friendship and long history of competition was convincing. Do you have any ‘toxic’ friends?
For Between the Tides I liked the idea of an ongoing competition — one that invoked events of those early years at the shore for Lainie and Jess. I carried that competition into adulthood—motherhood, life in Elliot, career (or lack thereof) and marriage. How many of us get to revisit such a friendship and still be in the game? While writing this I thought a great deal about the summer friends of my youth and how the ‘it’ girls—who were toxic — were not always the ones everyone followed later in life.
3. In the novel there are triangles everywhere. We have the Lainie, Charles, Matilde triangle; the Lainie, Jess, Charles triangle; and the Matilde, Claire, Lainie triangle. What are you saying about the nature of threesomes?
I felt very strongly in writing this book that power shifts even when there is trust within the relationship. For example, Lainie and Charles are never truly secure as a couple despite that they have real feelings for one another. As a result, Matilde becomes a wedge between them.
In the Lainie, Jess, Charles triangle, we have a marriage that is not whole and thus Jess seeps into the equation. It becomes a messy and tricky triangle because Lainie and Jess share a history of rivalry for the ‘glittering prizes’ from when they were young. The prizes were popularity, beauty and winning the right guy. Jess, as a young woman, wanted whatever Lainie had – she wanted Lainie’s boyfriend Clark, not because she actually liked him but because he was Lainie’s. When Jess falls for Charles, it’s actually about Charles, not about winning. This is a departure.
The Matilde, Claire, Lainie triangle is about birth order and Matilde, as the older daughter, is very connected to her mother. This connection keeps Matilde from her own life and her own experiences. Claire, at the age of five, already longs to be a part of Lainie and Matilde’s world. Lainie is vaguely aware of this while Jess is completely conscious of how it occurs. And so we wonder at the end, is Jess actually a better mother figure for a ‘normal’ family? Is love alone ever enough or do we need other ingredients, such as the ability to survive the challenges of modern life?
4. The voices of Lainie and Jess are distinctive and both narrators are ‘types’. Why did you tell the story this way?
I thought that some readers will identify with Jess and others with Lainie and perhaps ask the question, am I a Lainie or a Jess? I was in both characters’ heads and I felt the friction between them combined with the intensity of their attachment. Someone asked me why Lainie didn’t appreciate her situation while Jess had to cover up a terrible secret—William’s abuse. Lainie wasn’t a fit for the life she had and longed for the shore and freedom. In contrast, Jess embraced the Elliot lifestyle and went to great lengths to sustain her image and position in that world.
5. Did you find it easy to switch from Lainie sections to Jess sections?
I found it fluid in terms of Laine’s point of view and Jess’s point of view. I thought about both characters for months on end. I have always known how the book would end — since the earliest drafts and for that reason, I was able to shift gears as the story unfolded. Jess is tough minded and a survivor – that’s very obvious from the outset. Lainie, in an otherworldly way, is a survivor too.
6. When Charles announces that he can’t commit to Jess why does she believe she can keep the affair affair going?
Jess never loved a man as she loved Charles and it threw her for a loop and changed the nature of love for her. She respected Charles and was drawn to him, For once it wasn’t about getting ahead or being the victor, it was about being in love. These feelings sobered her and gave her a kind of humanity she never had before. Not that she stopped being manipulative or looking out for herself, but that her emotions drove the Charles relationship for her. She almost cannot accept Charles’ situation – his commitment to his wife and family. Jess soldiers on—seeking what she can get from Charles.
7. Did you purposely leave the ending of Between the Tides open to interpretation? What are you asking the reader to consider?
Yes, I did leave the ending open to the reader’s interpretation. Part of what I’m asking the reader to consider is that not everyone fits into a societally prescribed role. Lainie loves her children but is it possible that Jess is the one who can make Lainie’s family happier– and on some level does Lainie realize this? What constitutes family – what is fictive family? I’m asking if we are able to forgive and understand those who don’t embrace motherhood or wifehood.
8. Do you consider this a romance novel or women’s fiction?
I consider this novel to be a bit of both. Surely there is a romantic element and it is part of the tale. Yet it’s also a story about mothers and daughters, and female friendships — and how singular is the search for happiness.
9. What sorts of fiction and nonfiction do you read? Who are your favorite writers?
I am a fan of both novels and nonfiction. As far as fiction goes, I love the classics, Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Jane Austen’s work, the Bronte sisters. For more current novels, Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, The Goldfinch by Donna Tart, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, BelleFleur and other fiction by Joyce Carol Oates. When it comes to nonfiction, I love to read about Anne Boleyn, Mary Todd Lincoln, and books about gender roles throughout various cultures.
10. What is your next project?
I’m currently writing a new novel. I’m quite excited about it and very involved with the story. Most days it fills my head – and I already know the plot.
Title: Between the Tides by Susannah Marren
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 305 pages
Lainie Smith Morris is perfectly content with her life in New York City: she has four children, a handsome surgeon husband, and good friends. This life she has built is shattered, however, when her husband Charles announces he has accepted a job in Elliot, New Jersey, and that the family must relocate. Lainie is forced to give up the things she knows and loves.
Though Charles easily adapts to the intricacies of suburban life, even thriving in it, Lainie finds herself increasingly troubled and bored by her new limited responsibilities, and she remains desperate for the inspiration, comfort, and safety of the city she called home. She is hopelessly lost–until, serendipitously, she reconnects with an old friend/rival turned current Elliot resident, Jess. Pleased to demonstrate her social superiority to Lainie, Jess helps her find a footing, even encouraging Lainie to develop as an artist; but what looks like friendship is quickly supplanted by a betrayal with earth-shattering impact, and a move to the suburbs becomes a metaphor for a woman who must search to find a new home ground in the shifting winds of marriage, family, career, and friendship.
Between the Tides is an engrossing, commanding debut from tremendous new talent Susannah Marren.
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Susannah Marren is originally from Long Beach Island, New Jersey. She currently lives in Manhattan with her family and still spends her summers on the Jersey Shore. Between the Tides is her first novel.