The Rest of Her Life explores what happens when a mother’s childhood intrudes on her daughter’s.
The new novel’s protagonist, Leigh, is an adult and a mother, but she continually returns to her identity as a daughter—can there be the one without the other?
I think it’s really hard to write about being a mother without writing about being a daughter. I’ve read Mothering Without a Map [by Kathryn Black] and Motherless Daughters [by Hope Edelman], both of which are about how not having a mother, for whatever reason, is going to affect your mothering. That’s kind of what I was exploring with Leigh in this novel, about the blind spot she has with regard to her own mothering.
In the novel, there’s a literal blind spot—
—when Leigh’s daughter, Kara, strikes and kills a pedestrian with the family car, yes. Whenever you read newspaper accounts of car accidents where someone’s hit a pedestrian, they always say, “I never even saw it.” So there’s this idea that you can do all this harm without even seeing it—what a good metaphor for bad parenting.
You returned to Kansas to live and set both your novels there.
I moved around a lot as a kid. As a writer, I always felt like an imposter, an outsider when I tried to write about setting. Sometimes that can be a good vantage point, but on the other hand, it can be a disadvantage to not really know a place. Kansas is the first place that I really have lived in long enough to understand. I almost feel like I own it in a way.
It’s also been a focal point for contentious battles about issues like intelligent design—was that a factor?
This novel was born out of me reading the local section of the paper every day. You can’t read those sections without reading about those battles, and they do have ramifications for the entire nation. All I try to do is write it fairly. The two misconceptions about Kansas is that it’s ugly, which it’s not—it’s breathtaking. And the second is that there are all these “crazy” people here, and I wanted to show a more balanced, nuanced view of fundamentalism and of the different kinds of people who live here.
Your first novel, The Center of Everything, is a very popular choice for book groups.
Often what happens is that when I visit a book group to talk about the book, I end up wanting to join the group—and in one case, I did end up coming back, as a regular member. I was surprised to be invited into some Kansas City schools as well. There were two major groups that the book appealed to—mothers of grown children and also teenagers.