Why A Feminist Family Lawyer Wrote A Novel From A Male Perspective
I come from a world of women. Three sisters, two daughters. No brothers, no sons. I co-founded an all-women law firm. I’ve spent my whole career working with other women lawyers, practicing family law. I am surrounded by women friends and trusted advisors. I sobbed when Hillary Clinton lost, I have a total fan girl crush on Sonya Sotomayor, I raged at the Dobbs decision.
Nonetheless, my best friend, whom I married decades ago, does happen to be a man. I know how he thinks, I know what he thinks about. I experience the texture and nuance of the way he lives his life on a daily basis. And, surprise surprise, it is different from my experience as I move through the world. Calling it male privilege is a rough label that doesn’t quite capture it all, but that is certainly a part.
I also represent men in my family law practice. And there’s nothing like representing a client going through a difficult divorce or custody case to really get to know them, fast. So despite swimming through life buoyed by a sea of women, I do have a pretty decent bench of experience with male emotion.
When I sat down to start my first novel, ‘Every Other Weekend’ (released May 23rd), I wanted to write what I know: a divorce story. I also wanted to write it the way such a story actually evolves – in the round, from multiple points of view, from characters who all live in the same community and whose lives intersect. I wanted to explore a simple but profound conviction I’ve learned from decades practicing family law and being in and out of courtrooms: there is no one truth.
People do sometimes out-and-out lie, for sure (that made it into the book as well!) but they also sincerely experience and remember things differently. They create their own narratives about what is happening around them. They ascribe motives to others to make sense of their own experience. And all of that is valid even though it does not line up on paper as one set of facts. It’s more like an overlapping Venn diagram.
So I told the story from the differing perspectives of husband/father, wife/mother, two young daughters, husband’s divorce lawyer, divorce lawyer’s eighteen-year-old daughter, family court judge who ends us presiding over the custody case, millennial polyamorous girlfriend, and various friends and neighbors who gossip, dissect and weigh in. And, ultimately—because he saw and heard absolutely everything—I included a brief coda from Pinky, the family dog.
When I opened my laptop to embark on this venture, I had only the barest idea for the story. I just started writing. And the natural starting point that came to me was in the first-person voice of the husband/father, whom I named Jake. The words flowed. Turns out Jake is a composite of many guys I have known. Charming, good-looking, used to getting a good reception in life, but somewhat skating on the surface, tending to minimize and overlook what’s going on underneath.
One thing I really enjoyed writing about from Jake’s perspective was desire, sex, and his response to polyamory. How do I know what’s in men’s heads when they think about sex? I don’t really of course, but as I wrote it felt authentic, and none of my male readers has disagreed.
Jake plays guitar in a band that is based very closely on a band my husband used to be in. I know so well the juice and excitement that comes from performance, both for the player and the audience, the buzz from playing well and having people watch you, the sweaty relief when it’s over, the basking in the compliments that inevitably follow. So when I wrote a scene where Jake’s girlfriend and her friends came to hear Jake play, dancing wildly while he did, I’m pretty sure I really did know exactly how he would have felt afterwards, including the super-charged eroticism of that moment.
What a treat to be able to inhabit a character’s mind and body and imagine what they are thinking and experiencing—really, lots more fun than practicing law, even though I love that too.
My goal was to have the parts of the story that Jake doesn’t tell the reader come out through other characters. Initially, I didn’t include his wife’s direct perspective at all; you just heard about it indirectly. But early readers told me they needed to hear from Lisa, Jake’s wife, in her own voice, so I added her in. They were right. And Lisa’s perspective was super easy to write from because she’s a woman I know so well: accomplished, competent, feet firmly planted in the ground, but like us all, living her own contradictions.
Ultimately, the story is still really Jake’s; he’s the primary character around which the others all revolve. I still don’t know quite how that happened. But I did learn this: the act of writing a novel takes you on an unpredictable journey. And I am very much looking forward to taking that trip again.
Originally posted on March 13, 2023 on GirlTalkHQ