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My Passionate Mother by Judy Feiffer
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My Passionate Mother

Best Seller
My Passionate Mother by Judy Feiffer
Jun 28, 2005 | ISBN 9780345484468

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  • Jun 28, 2005 | ISBN 9780345484468

    Buy from Other Retailers:

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“Judy Feiffer has put an intriguing new spin on the romantic triangle in this taut and winning novel.”–Hilma Wolitzer

“MY PASSIONATE MOTHER is the most passionate love story I have read in years. It will shock and awe you and you may never feel the same about mothers and daughters again. Read it and gasp.”–David Brown

“A beautiful book set in an island off the New England coast; ‘a microcosm of the world,’ written in strong, spare New England prose. Deftly Feiffer weaves the wildness of its seasons’ changes and the perils of the weather, into a narrative of a girl/woman and two men locked in a love triangle always on the verge of explosion which–strangest of all–evolves into a quadrangle. She delivers to us with unfailing originality an edge of the seat page turner.”–Elaine Dundy

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Judy Feiffer

Q: How did you come up with the character of Claire?

Judy Feiffer: Claire came to me on a bus ride. I was traveling from New York to Martha’s Vineyard and I started writing about a divorced middle-aged woman who decided to go back to the true love of her life, a burnt-out case living on an island. The original story was a musing on true love, romantic once-in-a-lifetime love. There is a part of me that believes in eternal love, and I always wanted to write about it but never knew how. On this bus ride, Claire and her story appeared to me, vividly and strongly. I have a lot in common with Claire, but I named the character after my mother.

Q: What about Joe? Was he based on someone from your life?

J.F.: I grew up on black-and-white movies and always had crushes on movie stars. Joe is based on the actor Joseph Cotten, a uniquely handsome man who seemed both gentle and steely at once.

Q: The relationship between Claire and Joely is of particular interest. Joely falls in love with her mother’s lover, which is pretty taboo stuff. Can you discuss that relationship?

J.F.: That’s such a complicated relationship and, for many women, terribly fraught. My own mother needed constant praise and unconditional love from everyone, and made me her confidante. She talked to me about everything—her dreams, frustrations, her sex life, and what she called her “raptures.” In the novel, Joely reaches out for her mother, but Claire isn’t there. It’s not that she doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t know how. So Joely reaches for her mother’s lover, Joe. She’s subconsciously hoping to find the mother love she craves. The book explores the complicated relationship between a romantic woman, her romantic daughter, and a man they both love.

Q: Why was the triangle element important?

J.F.: Many women are torn between the warring forces of practical love and romantic love. A woman may not be in love with the man she marries, but he may offer security and a family. And she may continue to yearn for an illusion of romantic love. Joe represents romantic love, fantasy love. He is in love with Claire but he isn’t really there. Claire is split between a man she doesn’t love and a man she’s obsessed with. And she’s made a deal: She marries one man in order to be with the other.

Q: Were you thinking about the love triangle as a literary device?

J.F.: I wasn’t thinking about a literary device.

Q:Was it a Faustian deal that Claire made?

J.F.: I don’t think it was a Faustian deal. I think it was a human deal.

Q: It’s pretty cynical, don’t you think?

J.F.: No, because all the parties involved wanted it and agreed to the arrangement. They simply couldn’t handle it.

Q: What kind of research did you do for the book?

J.F.: I used to spend summers on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a beautiful island and an island of controlled passions. The island of Pequod is based on Martha’s Vineyard with some Nantucket thrown in. I did some research at the Vineyard Historical Society. I discovered that Vineyard men went to California during the Gold Rush and to the Arctic for whaling oil. I don’t go extensively into it in the book. I was primarily looking for historical highlights.

Q: Why did you make Claire a photographer?

J.F.: I was a photographer in my twenties. For the first time in my life I felt a sense of identity. I felt fearless. I looked out at the world and felt safe. So I adapted my own experiences for the book. I wanted Claire to have something of that feeling, a sense of her own creativity, her own identity.
I based the character of Eugene Jones on a brilliant Life magazine photographer named Eugene Smith, who wanted to have creative editorial control over his work. He’s not a main character, but he’s a pivotal character.

Q: When writing My Passionate Mother, what were some of the obstacles that you came up against?

J.F.: I had a very good time writing the book. It flowed. The only obstacles were plot obstacles.

What is your technique for solving plot problems?

J.F.: I don’t really have a technique. Patience, I suppose, throwing myself into incidental activities—a hot soak in a tub, scrubbing the floor, peeling potatoes, and sometimes as I do these things I stumble on a solution. I call it an epiphany. It happens out of the blue. At that moment I rush to the typewriter, because epiphanies don’t hang around. You have to grab them or they’re gone.

Q: What are some of your favorite love stories?

J.F.: Madame Bovary cast a spell over me when I read it. I saw in Emma a woman destroyed by her illusion of love. I’ve always related to her.

Q: How old were you when you wrote My Passionate Mother?

J.F.: Seventy-four.

Q: What role does writing play in your life as a senior?

J.F.: I didn’t start to write until my late fifties. I was let go from my job. I supported my mother and needed to make money. As I’ve gotten older, writing has become critical to my life. There is something called unstructured time. Unstructured time can be deadly. Writing is a discipline. You do it every day, like you would go to an office. You sit at your typewriter—I use a typewriter, not a computer. You get up and walk around. You sit at your typewriter. You go to the store for a carton of milk. You sit at your typewriter. I try not to make any appointments until the afternoon. I give myself deadlines, but not in the beginning, when I’m figuring out my story. When I start I am like a detective following the clues in my subconscious, and I don’t want to be hindered by a deadline.

Has your process changed during the past two decades?

J.F.: I think writing awakens you. As you go along, you become familiar with the themes in your life and the people who inhabit them. When I started writing I didn’t know what I wanted and I improvised. Now I don’t start a book until I have a notion of who my characters are and what they want. I learned this from a writer friend, Irving Wallace, who said to me: “Most writers don’t know the end of their book, and by the time they get there they don’t know where they’re going and the book has no ending.” So now when I start, I know the story and the characters. My job is to bring them to life.

Q: Why don’t you use a computer?

J.F.: I don’t want to end up in a mental hospital. I’ve tried to learn how to use a computer, but I ended up a nervous wreck. I’m machine-phobic. I can’t work my VCR; I can barely work my answering machine. A few years back, I bought a computer and hired a high school boy to teach
me how to use it. I was unteachable. Then I found out his mother had typed manuscripts for other computer-illiterate authors, and I thought, This woman can save my life. She did.

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