Channeling a newlywed’s worst nightmare in ‘Forever, Interrupted’

Taylor Jenkins Reid Provided
Taylor Jenkins Reid didn’t pull any punches in her debut novel.
Credit: Mila Shah

“Forever, Interrupted” is every newlywed’s nightmare. Tucked into a blissful new life after marrying your best friend, your new spouse will bike to the corner store to buy you Fruity Pebbles, simply because getting you what you’re craving brings them joy.

In this novel, however, the joy is short-lived: Elsie Porter loses her husband, Ben, nine days after they elope following a whirlwind romance. Ping-ponging between her crippling crawl back to whatever a “normal” life might be and the early days of their courtship, the book is a brisk read despite the heavy subject matter.

In the book, Elsie and her mother-in-law (who Ben procrastinated telling about Elsie’s existence) come to terms with losing him, including whether leaving rancid hot dogs in the fridge honors him. Taylor Jenkins Reid tells us why she chose to wreck her characters’ lives in her debut novel.

How did you get the idea to do this book?

I eloped a couple of years ago, almost five years ago. I only knew my husband for four months before we got married. Obviously getting married in general is a rush of emotions, sort of a crazy time, but to do that with someone you just met, I was very overwhelmed. … [I started thinking,] “What happens if I lose all of this? What happens if he dies?” I just became very, very fearful of something crazy happening and me losing him. Around the same time, I knew I wanted to sit down and start writing a book. My brain had been focused on all of these terrifying things. I thought, “Why don’t I explore this and find out if there’s a story here?”

In what ways did the story, then, parallel your own life?

We told our parents really soon, my mother immediately. She sort of saw it coming. His family knew very, very soon after. He doesn’t have the relationship with his family that Ben has with Susan in the book, where he’s always trying to protect them. … It was completely shocking to them, and it forced all of us to become a family instantly. I think that’s a very interesting dynamic.

The unimaginable sorrow is really vivid. Did you lose someone yourself, or how did you get into that space?

This fear had been so real and almost visceral for me, that getting to those places, writing the scene when she actually loses Ben and it’s all sinking in for her, it was really easy for me to write because it was basically writing my worst fears on paper. These were things that I had mulled over in my head, and they were second nature to me. If Alex was 25 minutes late coming home from something, my brain was already going, “What if this is it? What if it’s happening now?” Getting to those places where she’s realizing what she’s lost was sort of finally letting out all these thing that had been driving me insane. I didn’t sit down to write it to make myself feel better about things I was afraid of. I sat down to write it because I had a good story. When I was done, I definitely had a feeling of, “I’ve let that go.”

So it sounds like writing this helped allay some of your initial fears.

It did. I just assumed when I started to write the book, “OK, this woman loses her husband, and her life is going to be terrible from now into eternity, and nothing is ever going to make her feel better.” That’s what I thought the story I was writing was. As I started to write it … you lose your husband and it’s terrible and it’s awful, but at some point you put two feet on the floor and you get out of bed. That’s what has to happen.

This is your first book. Did anything surprise you about the writing process?

I had this whole idea when I sat down. I was like, “This is going to happen and then this is going to happen and then this is going to happen.” You start writing, and you suddenly realize that all of the things that you thought might happen, that’s not going to work now that you’ve sat down with the character and started to write. You’ve gotten to know her, you’re like, “She would never do this, that would never happen.”

What are you working on next?

“After I Do,” it comes out next summer, and it’s about a married couple that takes a year apart because they’re no longer in love.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison


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