Suzanne Finnamore is the author of three books: Otherwise Engaged tells the story of a woman planning her wedding. The Zygote Chronicles is about Finnamore’s pregnancy, from conception through the baby naming. And in Split, she writes about her husband leaving her and her toddler son for another woman, who became pregnant before the divorce was final. Her writing is deadpan, witty, and electric, and she isn’t afraid to get extraordinarily personal.
I always give The Zygote Chronicles to my friends when they tell me they’re pregnant. It’s my favorite book about pregnancy. In it you talk a bit about raising a Jewish son. I know that you’ve since split from your ex-husband, who was Jewish. Is Judaism at all still a part of your life?
Thank you, that’s very kind. It is the book that means the most to me, because it is basically a love letter to my son; the book begins when he is conceived and ends with his birth. But the timeline is rather tragic, because before the first draft was done, my husband has already left us. When he left, my son was barely 1 years old. And I was actually in the midst of going through the classes at the Marin County Jewish Community Center, which I loved. I was going to convert because I felt it was something meaningful I could do for my husband, that the three of us would move forward into the future with that as our faith.
But then, you know, he basically came home from work one Friday night and announced he was leaving (the whole scene is in Split; the opening is word for word what happened). And I literally fell to the floor as though I’d been shot. He left that night and moved in with his mistress, who I was told didn’t exist. She became pregnant before our divorce was final, and they moved away from Marin to Los Angeles and then to New York. And I have to say, I pretty much fell apart. I’d like to say that I was strong enough to follow through on the conversion process, but I was having a really hard time swallowing the grief and getting out of bed in the morning. I had to pull it together enough to buy him out of our house and not lose everything. So while my son, Pablo, is Jewish, the only Judaic event in The Zygote Chronicles is his naming ceremony, which was very lovely and perfect.
Now you’re a mom and a stepmom. What were some of the challenges you had as a stepmom?
My husband’s marriage broke up in a similar fashion, not of his choice and rather suddenly, when his own son was 1. So we had that in common. We understood that we had to pull together to make things as normal as possible for the children. But he has joint custody with his children’s mother, and she lives locally and did not leave the community and start a new family, so that is so much better for their kids. For me, however, it was like being involved in a sticky divorce all over again, even though I met my husband after they had been apart for awhile. It’s not something I would wish on someone. I was lucky because my step kids are sweet natured and genuinely good; they liked me immediately and didn’t make my life hell. And yet being a stepmother is always, always extremely difficult because these are not your children, they already have a mother and father, and the parenting styles are already set in stone. So as long as I understood that I was not going to have the kind of bond and control that I had with my own son, I was fine. And when I forgot that, I was screwed.
Do you have another book in the works? Can you tell us what it’s about?
Yes. The book is a memoir entitled Add To Cart: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and How I Remarried At 50. It is about leaving California and moving with my son to the south when I realized I could no longer keep our house, when I was laid off from my job in advertising at the beginning of the recession, and faced the very real threat of foreclosure. By that time, my ex-husband had abruptly stopped paying child support and I just couldn’t swing it any longer on my own; unemployment and the advance from Split wasn’t enough. And so we left, and my 10-year-old son–who must be Jewish because he is a total mentcsh–did the work of a full grown man, never complaining. We gave almost everything away and went online to buy a 900-sq foot tiny house in a “transitional” neighborhood in Durham, NC, sight unseen, where we didn’t know one person. Four months later I met my second husband, who is the love of my life, on Match.com.
Moving across the country is always a huge step. What were the best parts about leaving Marin County for North Carolina?
I no longer fear the mailbox, which was stuffed with a $4,000 mortgage and bills I couldn’t pay. I no longer sit in traffic for hours to traverse the 15 miles to my job in San Francisco. And if I am dead honest, those are primarily the only really, really good parts about leaving Marin county for North Carolina. I spent the first half century of my life in San Francisco, I am a native of that city, I lived 12 years in my little house on a hill in Marin County, arguably the most beautiful place on earth. I deeply miss California, it’s where all my friends and family reside, there are no bugs the size of Buicks, and the Pacific ocean was once 10 miles from my door.
I was incredibly lucky to have that life for as long as I did, and I am grateful to have the life I have now in North Carolina, especially Durham, which has history and culture and cool, and which has a lot going for it. That said? California is not just a different state, it’s a different world. And for better or worse, it’s my world. One doesn’t forget.
Do you think your son will end up reading your books? Have you talked to him about what’s in them at all?
He is reading The Zygote Chronicles now, at 13. He is occasionally aghast but mostly he is deeply amused, laughing out loud and dog earing pages, which is about the best feeling I can ask for; it is better than receiving a Pulitzer. Historically, he has always been proud of his mom being a writer, but he was always content to just see the books on the shelf. Now he’s actively interested, and at 51, I’ve sort of thrown in the towel of self consciousness; I have nothing to hide. In 2008, when Penguin graciously published Split, Modern Love ran a chapter excerpt, and that seemed to get his attention. In other words, when I was in the New York Times, he brought it to school. That was a great day.
Are you a kveller?
Every day. I kvell about books I’ve read by other authors, and about my kids and my husband, who took me on despite me being absolutely broken and crazy. He is not Jewish, but he is also a mentsch. He proposed to me after we’d known each other for five weeks, and has been a stupendous stepfather to my son. He is a real catch, and to think I met him online… if I hadn’t logged on that day, I’d be writing this from God knows where. He saved me.