I have just finished reading The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D. Wow, all I can say is this poignant book had me thinking. I’m sure it will get you all thinking too – do you know your husband, kids, family and friends as well as you think you do? You might be surprised.
Thanks for joining us Nichole:
THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. is about a woman who inherits the journals of a friend who died, and realizes she didn’t know her friend as well as she thought, including where she was really going when she died. Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women — their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears — considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.
THE DIVIDING-LINE DAY MY NOVEL CAME OUT
When my first novel came out two months ago, the launch party felt a little like a wedding. Well, one where my five children had already been born, and were racing around the room jacked up on chocolate-dipped strawberries.
It was held in an old brownstone in Boston. There was a long brass bar, and hors d’oeuvres passed on trays. A few speeches, some roasting. I read a bit from the first chapter, and wore teetery shoes higher than my comfort zone. (My fear and secret thrill: I’ll never be able to chase the kids in these.) In front of me was a roomful of guests with an appreciation of what it had taken to get there. But unlike my actual wedding, one person in particular wasn’t there, a friend lost in the September 11th attacks, who would never know she’d been the inspiration for the story.
It had taken 11 years to process the thoughts and emotion, and turn them into a novel. And in that time I’d gone not only from being a journalist and mother of one, to a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother of five. That evening of the launch party felt like a line of demarcation down my life: who I was before I’d published a novel, and after. My driven inner self was coming out of her minivan cocoon. Everything would be different now, wouldn’t it?
Shortly after the launch party, we got an au pair for the summer, and I started traveling to do readings at bookstores. It was both heady and humbling: One day I might have an audience of 75 and get a lovely piece of news, like the day my book was named one of VOGUE’s must-reads of summer. The next night, there might be three or five people and a lot of empty chairs. Mornings, I’d get in my rental car and drive to bookstores that were not stocking my book, in hopes they might give it, and me, a chance on their shelves. My father asked in an email what it felt like, and I told him that while one person did squeal excitedly to meet me (I think she confused me for someone else), that it felt a lot of the time like being a Fuller Brush salesman, hawking your wares door to door. Brushes you’d made yourself. One hair at a time.
The truth is, I love it. There’s a sense of settling into myself, of being in my groove, with the miscellaneous scattered parts — personally, maternally, creatively, professionally — coming into alignment. I feel incredibly fortunate that all the years of hope and frustration—the years of being the crazywoman writing in the attic, doing something in her free time that no one can relate to—have resulted in something I can hold in my hand, and share.
But with the sharing came traveling, and time away from the kids, and from a household that operated, on the best of days, like a catamaran flying a hull and trying to soar upright. I created this travel schedule myself, and had anticipated it for forever three months. But in my heart of hearts I had dreaded it, too. I imagined reading in a Chicago bookstore and receiving a call from a hospital back home. Or almost as bad, a simple text message that I’d failed to call in time before bed, and small people were sad.
Back to the launch party, which I’d both hoped and feared would represent a stark line through my life: Toward the end of the evening, as I sat signing books, my oldest child walked up. My 11 year old, my mature one. He interrupted a conversation with my former editor-in-chief so he could hand me his stained napkin and empty kebab stick. “Here, Mom, I can’t find the garbage.”
And that — along with the fact that after the party, I was squatting in my fancy shoes to change a diaper — perfectly summed up the fairly invisible line of demarcation. Because of course nothing had substantively changed about my life. Nor did I want it to.
Nichole Bernier is author of the novel THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins, and lives outside of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found online at www.nicholebernier.com and on Twitter @nicholebernier.