You might know her best as “the voice of reason” on The Real Housewives of New York. But Carole Radziwill is first and foremost a writer. She spent more than a decade at ABC News, reporting from around the world, and earned three Emmys. Her first book, the memoir What Remains, spent over twenty weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Today, she talk to R@R about her newly published first novel, The Widows Guide to Sex and Dating.
LB: Your first book, What Remains, is a beautiful memoir about your marriage and losing your young husband to cancer. Now, your debut novel opens with a New York Times obituary of the heroine’s husband. Two different very different books, both with a widow at the heart of them. How did your experience writing fiction differ from your experience writing a true story?
CR: When I was writing my memoir I thought it would be easier to make it up but it turnout its harder. The only limitation is my imagination and that could be daunting. I also felt like the burden of truth is greater in fiction. You aren’t creating characters but people who have to be believable. I worried over each detail of every person in the novel.
LB: Why did you decide to make your heroine’s husband a sexologist?
CR: I knew I wanted the novel to explore every permutation of sexuality. Making one of the main characters a sexologist allowed me to approach sex with a somewhat intellectual eye.
LB: Claire’s husband said that there could be love or sex between people, but never both. What do you think of his assertion?
CR: I think in any given relationship there are phases were one or the other is more prominent. Long stretches of a lot of sexually activity followed by stretches of a different sort of intimacy defined as Love.
LB: The book is filled with funny lines and observations. I love when Claire’s friend says, “Widows are the new virgins.” Where did that come from?
CR: Its something I thought of when I was dating. Each time I told a man I was a widow his sexual interest peaked.
LB: You use an omniscient narrator, something I haven’t experienced in books lately. Did you make that choice from the very beginning, or is that voice something you found along the way?
CR: I am a voyeur of life so I felt comfortable having an all knowing narrator sort of looking in from the outside. It was natural for me to write it in that way.
LB: Claire married young, and her own talents and aspirations are put on the backburner because her husband made it clear there wasn’t room for two writers in the relationship. Do you think it’s possible to have a true balance of power and success in a marriage?
CR: Why would anyone want a balance of power? I’m not someone who finds value in the “two peas in a pod” kind of relationship. I’m also not a big believer in equal power in my romantic relationships. If sex is the great equalizer, which I think it is, there had best be something to equalize.
LB: Claire is appalled to read a “Modern Love” column about a man who is dating four months after his wife died. Meanwhile, a psychic advised Claire she would not experience love for one whole year. Is there a double standard for men and women in this situation?
CR: Yes. I felt it. I write “when a husband dies the world gets just another widow, when a wife dies a star is born.”
LB: What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently – either fiction or nonfiction?
CR: Manhattan, When I Was Young. Mary Cantwell
LB: What’s your favorite romantic movie?
CR: Braveheart. WIlliam Wallace goes to war against the King of England to avenge the murder of his love.
LB: Any plans for another novel?
CR: Yes, but first I am going back to non-fiction. A collection of essays on life, love and war.
THE WIDOWS GUIDE TO SEX AND DATING by Carole Radziwill/Henry Holt and Co./ February 2014
Claire Byrne is a quirky and glamorous 34-year-old Manhattanite and the wife of a famous, slightly older man. Her husband, Charlie, is a renowned sexologist and writer. Equal parts Alfred Kinsey and Warren Beatty, Charlie is pompous yet charming, supportive yet unfaithful; he’s a firm believer that sex and love can’t coexist for long, and he does little to hide his affairs. Claire’s life with Charlie is an always interesting if not deeply devoted one, until Charlie is struck dead one day on the sidewalk by a falling sculpture … a Giacometti, no less!
Once a promising young writer, Claire had buried her ambitions to make room for Charlie’s. After his death, she must reinvent herself. Over the course of a year, she sees a shrink (or two), visits an oracle, hires a “botanomanist,” enjoys an erotic interlude (or ten), eats too little, drinks too much, dates a hockey player, dates a billionaire, dates an actor (not any actor either, but the handsome movie star every woman in the world fantasizes about dating). As she grieves for Charlie and searches for herself, she comes to realize that she has an opportunity to find something bigger than she had before—maybe even, possibly, love.