LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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I’ve been mentally compiling this post for months; every time I go to Barnes & Noble I’m greeted/assaulted by yet another novel on the “New Fiction” table about someone’s wife. The wife of someone with a notable profession or occupation or designation. This is a somewhat strange trend in women’s literature that’s appeared in the last few years that, if the covers above are any indication, has gotten way, way out of hand. (I searched “wife” on B&N’s website and this wasn’t even all the results from the first few pages.) There seems to be no end to the interpretations: there’s the wife of a ringmaster, the wife of a tea planter, the wife of a tiger (um?), the wife of a traitor, the wife of a widower (wait…), even the wife of a Nazi officer. There’s the 19th wife (I haven’t read it but I’m guessing/hoping it’s about a polygamist family), the silent wife, the secret wife, and a wife who is ~unseemly~. There’s a wife in Paris and a wife in California. There’s even the absolutely confounding “My Husband’s Wife.” (Your husband’s wife IS YOU.) So many wives! So many novels about women, women ostensibly interesting enough to string a whole book around. And yet! This sub-genre of women’s lit has relegated these interesting, novel-worthy women to secondary characters in their own stories. Women, even when they are the protagonists, are only defined by their relationship to men.
Oh, the rage.
To be fair, I’ve only read “The Paris Wife,” (because of course I have) and I fell in love with McLain’s interpretation of Hemingway’s first, long-suffering wife, Hadley. Do I get why it was titled “The Paris Wife”? Sure. Could it have easily been titled something else entirely, something befitting the struggles of the main character, her resilience in the face of infidelity, her selflessness and goodness? Yes! But nah, she was married to Hemingway right when they first moved to Paris, so naturally her story became, “The Paris Wife.” She was just his wife, after all. Merely an extension of her husband. Except she wasn’t! She was strong-willed and independent and the title on the cover was so unbefitting for the character inside the pages.
I have the same reaction when I see other women’s social media profiles that start “Wife, mama,” and list a thousand other descriptions based solely on their relationship to other people before listing anything about themselves as an individual human being. I’m my own fully-formed person who isn’t defined by her husband, and I would never expect Jamal to say he’s “a husband” first when meeting new people. I have never described myself as a wife first. And that isn’t a deliberate, feminist choice, or a slight to Jamal. I speak French, I’m working on a novel, I drink an obscene amount of tea, I can pick things up with my toes, I slept with a nightlight until I was in my early 20s, I listen exclusively to classical music on the radio, and I have a membership to the Louvre. I’m a writer who happens to have a husband, I am not a wife who writes occasionally. If you boiled my existence down to my identity as Jamal’s spouse, I would become “The Senior Vice President of Solutions Architecture’s Wife,” which says absolutely nothing about me and everything about him. I think that’s what is so infuriating about all of these titles, especially because the books go on to say everything about the women. Maybe publishers don’t think people (read: men) would buy them otherwise?
I saw a tweet recently, in response to the hideous comments about glorified-sexual-assault made by one of the candidates for president, that fit this post perfectly. Lots of men came out to express how disgusted they were by the comments…not as human beings with morals, but rather as husbands and as fathers of daughters. Because if you can’t even title a novel about a women with deference to the actual woman, why wouldn’t men only think about women in relation to themselves? The tweet read: “Fun fact: in addition to being wives and daughters and mothers and sisters and grandmas and aunties, women are also people.” A novel concept (pun very much intended).
On the last day of September Jamal and I drove to upstate New York for a friend’s wedding. I’d long dreamt of spending a picturesque fall weekend in the Finger Lakes region, and his friend’s nuptials seemed like the perfect opportunity to don some flannel and visit a few wineries and see the leaves change color. The weather had another thing in mind; it rained the entire time we were there, even through the (beautiful) outdoor ceremony and throughout the (blessedly tented) reception, stopping only the following morning as we loaded up on breakfast before beginning our six hour drive home (four hours to Jamal’s parents to pick up Fitz, and two hours back to Philadelphia). But you guys know me and my predilection for rain and cloudy days, so I wasn’t bothered by a little inclement weather. If anything, it made Watkins Glen, the tiny town nestled at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, and the surrounding areas, more atmospheric, more lovely, somehow. Aside from the ceremony portion of the wedding on Saturday evening, where we were more focused on the touching vows the bride & groom wrote for each other than on the drizzle, and the short walks to & from our rental car into each of the five (five!) wineries we visited and had tastings, the rain didn’t really even affect us. Give me fog and mist any day.
The weekend was all too brief, but whet our palettes for another trip upstate in the future. We brought back eight bottles of wine. The region is known for sweet white varietals –“grapey,” they call them– and our bar is now fully stocked, including a kit to make mulled wine when the temps dip a little lower. It was a gorgeous weekend getaway, the best part of which was that Jamal didn’t check his work email once. Not once! A rarity, but a welcome, and much-needed, treat.
I found these candles by Maison La Bougie over at Le Bon Marché and my eyes just about popped out of my head. If I were ever to think up the “perfect” candle, ones that smell like a day spent in Paris –starting with the view of La Tour from your bedroom window and cold morning air, breakfast of coffee and croissants at Café de Flore, and an afternoon reading at the Bibliothèque National, inhaling old pages and leather spines– would’ve been what I came up with. And that’s exactly what these are! If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be Café de Flore. But truthfully I’d take any of them, and would sniff them longingly when Paris felt too far away. It doesn’t hurt that the packaging and branding is beyond gorgeous.
This edition of four candles, along with tons of other goodies, is available through a special collection of Paris-themed items in exclusive collaborations with Paris-based designers for sale at LBM until October 15th. There are sweatshirts with the names of different neighborhoods embroidered on them, Repetto ballet flats with the map of the city on them, pins in the shape of a baguette and a wheel of Camembert, just to name a few of the delightful objets for sale. Here’s wishing I could beam myself to Paris before this pop-up ends!
I’ve been working on this novel for three+ years, and during that time, whenever anyone would ask me what it was about, my answer was always, “An art heist in Paris. It’s a backwards whodunit.” I’d go on to explain that the book opens with a character stealing a painting, and his storyline works backwards through the novel, going through each painting he stole and why, while another, parallel storyline, about his former colleague and the gallery assistant at his friend’s wife’s gallery (still with me?), takes place present day and moved forwards. Usually there are hand motions involved; I’d literally point my hands in opposite directions to drive home the plot. But it always bothered me that my novel isn’t actually a whodunit, even it if unfurls backwards; we know whodunit the moment the book opens (spoiler: Dubois!). If anything, it’s a whydunit, but that’s not really right either.
So a few weeks ago, I chanced a google of “backwards whodunit” and lo and behold, there’s actually a literary term for precisely this genre of book: “howcatchem.” And as the name suggests, rather than a mystery around who, howcatchems focus on the how. (If only I’d known sooner! I could’ve saved myself all of the gesturing!) Howcatchems are also known as “Inverted Detective Stories,” and usually start with a murder, and are followed by an investigation playing out to piece together the crime. Other crimes (say, for example, stealing 14 paintings from the Paris Sotheby’s over two years) fall into the subgenre of “Capers.” According to Wikipedia:
The caper story is a subgenre of crime fiction. The typical caper story involves one or more crimes (especially thefts, swindles, or occasionally kidnappings) perpetrated by the main characters in full view of the reader. The actions of police or detectives attempting to prevent or solve the crimes may also be chronicled, but are not the main focus of the story. The caper story is distinguished from the straight crime story by elements of humor, adventure, or unusual cleverness or audacity.”
Et voila. That’s my novel to the letter. (Swindles!)
The only problem, of course, is that I cannot bring myself to say with a straight face, “I am writing a caper!” I don’t have an old-timey tweed cap and I don’t use a typewriter. Nor do I particularly like the term ‘howcatchem’; perhaps because it’s not as frequently used as “whodunit,” it sounds less like an actual word and more like a try-hard portmanteau one must pronounce with a southern accent. Backwards whodunit it is.
PS. Want to hear something weird? I’ve already started outlining what my next novel will be, and it follows the same story structure. Apparently I have a thing for capers.
PPS. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t be working on or even thinking about my second novel until this one is finished. Fear not, that day is coming very, very soon. (eep!)
On a rainy Saturday two years ago (two!!) Jamal and I said “I do” in front of 85 of our closest family and friends. It’s been a grand two years. We celebrated with an indulgent, over-the-top brunch on Sunday like we did last year (and hopefully like we will next year and the year after, if for no other reason than the insane chocolate fountain). This last year went by in a flash; the first year felt longer than the second, which may be attributed to the rut we were both stuck in last year (I changed careers about three different times, oy). Jamal is in Baltimore for the week, because of course he is. He hopped on a train right after we ate, but after two years of marriage and six years of being together, this doesn’t even faze me. Besides, I start my new role as an intern in the Fine Arts Department at an auction house today! In terms of distractions, I think that’s a good one. (More details to come, kiddos!)
Happy anniversary, Jamal! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Thank you for making marriage so much fun.
I took Fitz out for a walk after dinner on Tuesday night, and was stopped in my tracks the moment we closed the door behind us. The sky was a bright yellow, with giant tufts of thick clouds in shades of pale pink and orange. Fitz wasn’t as impressed, and kept sassing me whenever I paused to look up at the sky and marvel (apparently peeing was more important). We came back inside and I quickly grabbed my camera and ran back to the corner to snap a few photos. In those short 10 minutes, the colors had changed and brightened and become more saturated and, somehow, more beautiful. I haven’t seen a sky like this since Paris in early summer; I had lunch with my dad’s friend John last week and we both agreed the cloud formations and sunset colors, like virtually everything else, are far more gorgeous in Paris. Well, I think this was Philadelphia’s way of proving us wrong.
I’ve used Clinique for more than half my life. For my 13th birthday, my mom handed me the Clinique 3-Step system and said, “Here, use this.” I didn’t need instructions on the how-to, I’d been watching her to use the set twice a day, every day, for my entire life (she still does, and she doesn’t look even close to her real age). Over the years, I’ve modified the routine to fit my finicky, hypersensitive, pale skin, tweaking the products as needed –my dermatologist recommended Cetaphil cleanser instead of Clinique’s Step 1 face soap, I’ve swapped in an oil-free lotion and added a night cream, and I use an spf20 moisturizer in the mornings, all from Clinique– but the one product that I’ve never wavered on was Step 2: Clarifying Toner. I’ve described it before as being nail polish remover for your pores. It’s a sharp, tingly liquid you soak a cotton ball with and swipe over your face after washing & drying, before using your lotion, and it cleans out pores and removes any traces of residue or leftover makeup or dead skin. I love it. I don’t, however, love the packaging. Purple and green? A little much.
Enter these amber glass apothecary bottles. At $9 for a set of two on Amazon, I figured I could inject a little bit of subdued, French-pharmacy style to my bathroom. And who wouldn’t like to look at one less label while you’re getting ready? They’re a substantial weight but not heavy, and they are easy to hold without feeling like I’ll drop them (I was worried about glass). The amber color protects against UV sun damage, so the liquid inside will stay stable longer. The mouth opening is larger than the Clinique bottle, meaning I get more product on my cotton round in one pass. And they’re pretty.
I realize it’s silly to complain about labels when I store my q-tips in a Diptyque candle jar, but whatever. There are a million empty glass bottles on Amazon in different sizes and colors (cobalt! frosted!) and with different tops. It’s making me want to transfer all of my products over to nicer packaging, even my lip balms.
The Île Saint-Louis, that quaint little jewel box of an island, still retains some of the ancient, original charm of old Paris before Haussmann bulldozed his way through: smaller, shorter stone buildings, narrow streets where there were once fields for grazing cattle (and, of course, Berthillon and Le Saint Régis). Whenever I picture living on this thin strip of land on the Seine, my mind immediately conjures up images of apartments with dark wood beams running across the length of the ceiling, burnt sienna tile floors, rough, cave-like walls leading along the passageways to the tiny courtyards. Entirely lovely, more authentic, even, but different than the classically Parisian Paris apartments, with their herringbone floors and decorative moldings, and large rooms.
So imagine my surprise when I found the listing for this apartment. “But, but, but! That’s simply too big to be an apartment on the Île Saint-Louis!” (The listing agent seems to agree, as they’ve listed the ceiling height as being 55ft. Pretty sure they meant 15?) And indeed, the wood-paneled bedroom, the black & white patterned floor, and the gorgeous stairwell are, to my mind, something out of a grand Haussmann building on the other side of the river, which makes them all the more spectacular here in this apartment. I know that there is no “perfect place” to write, but I have a feeling I would write like the wind at that desk with the view of the Seine out the window.
Do you think I’ll ever have ceilings high enough to warrant such extravagantly long curtains? Oh, but to dream!
Price Upon Request, bien sûr, but based on Sotheby’s search listings it’s somewhere around $3m.
I am so sorry for the continued, lengthy lapses between posts here. Whenever I think about the heyday of this blog (and blogging in general, it seems) a few years ago, I am awe-struck that I was able to somehow churn out 3-5 posts per week while working full-time. How? These days, I am writing like the wind, it just isn’t here. I’m making progress on my novel, every day, but I still feel guilty when I neglect this blog for weeks at a time. I do have things to share with you! I am still reading your blogs, too! I promise to be better at blogging. Maybe not as good as I used to be (seriously, where was I getting all that free time?!), but better. I miss you, kiddos.