Park Slope parents have a reputation. Often mocked as kale-loving yogis who cannot help but intervene in every minute detail of their child’s actions and interactions, the stereotype is easily recognizable. Brooklyn Eagle recently featured author Amy Sohn, a Park Slope mom herself, has long been fascinated by modern marriages and parenting, and through her writing she unabashedly spotlights the familial relationships she observes close to home. Her latest novel, “Motherland” (recently released in paperback by Simon & Schuster), is no exception. A sequel to her New York Times bestseller “Prospect Park West”, “Motherland” offers Sohn’s sharp, unsentimental take on some modern Brooklyn parents as they struggle to relax and enjoy a vacation on Cape Cod.
The novel features characters from the earlier work – most notably Rebecca, Karen, and Melora – along with their husbands, who are immersed in dramas no less complicated than those of their wives. Rife with tension, temptation, and infidelity, “Motherland” traces these characters’ intersecting stories and highlights the complexities of marriage and parenting in America today.
In celebration of the book’s paperback release, Brooklyn Eagle spoke to the author. She tells us what it’s been like to write about her own neighborhood and offers her take on the advantages and challenges of modern marriage.
What has been challenging (or easy) about writing about your own neighborhood?
It has become harder me to be anonymous, a “normal” wife and mother. My friends are always worried I am going to be writing about them and don’t want to tell me their secrets. One acquaintance became convinced she was a character in my novel because she was going through a painful divorce and learned that there was a divorcing mother in the book, but I had already completed the novel well before that happened.
Your writing is frequently received with some controversy – whether for its uninhibited treatment of sex, or for its often unglamorous representation of modern family life. What is your take on that feedback?
I would rather be controversial than irrelevant and boring. Some people feel my portrayal of family life is “too” glamorous in that the characters are affluent in relation to ordinary Americans. Others feel my take is too dark, perhaps not glamorous enough. I write about my community and my world but I amp up the drama and discord to make for compelling reading. If I am putting up a mirror to my neighborhood, I want the mirror to be a little cracked. The day-to-day lives of Park Slopers are far less interesting than the day-to-day lives of my characters. Except for my own – which is a nonstop thrill ride of debauchery and hedonism.
In your work, you offer an unflinching portrayal of marriage that can be raw and sometimes even ugly. Have you ever held back for fear of being compared to your fictional characters? Do you worry that some friends and neighbors might recognize themselves in your characters?
I’ve never held back for fear of being compared to my characters. People look for the autobiographical no matter what you write about and authors can’t really stop them. I think my generation is figuring out how to make marriages that are committed and egalitarian but also have spice, surprise and sex. We are making it up as we go. That makes it more liberating but also more challenging. Who gets to decide what’s best for the kids? How do you make family decisions when both parents feel equally strongly about something? How do you manage work versus family time in a two-income household? How do Mom and Dad make time for each other while also wanting to make time for their children?
Despite your sometimes satirical depiction of Brooklyn, you’re a lifelong Brooklynite who still calls it home. Why did you decide to settle in Brooklyn, and what about your neighborhood do you love most?
When I was twenty-two, like many recent college graduates, I moved to Carroll Gardens because it was affordable and within walking distance of Brooklyn Heights, where I grew up. I didn’t want to be too far from my parents but didn’t want to live right next door. I got a share in a walkup for $650 a month and I had a deck. I had a new experience of Brooklyn, with the bars and restaurants beginning to pop up on Smith Street, and felt comfortable being a single person with the Smith Street bar and restaurant scene exploding. (I wrote my second novel about that, “My Old Man”, which takes place in Cobble Hill.) Ten years ago when I got married and we began to think about buying an apartment, Park Slope was a natural choice because of the schools. I love open fire hydrants, outdoor restaurants, Prospect Park, the library and the old people. I also love watching the dogs.
Where and when do you get your best writing done?
I get my best writing done at my shared writing space or at home at the kitchen table when my daughter is at school.
What are you working on now?
I am completing my fifth novel, to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2014. It is not set in Park Slope but it is about a very contemporary woman and her romantic problems.
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Amy Sohn is the author of four novels. She has written articles and columns for New York magazine, The New York Times, The Nation, and Harper’s Bazaar, and television pilots for such networks as HBO, Fox, and ABC.