Welcome to the inaugural meeting of the 1010 Park Place book club. We will be discussing some fabulous books that remind us to Make Life Count. Our first pick is Holly Robinson’s Folly Cove, a novel about three very different sisters and their formidable mother as they each face a season of change.
I was able to catch up with the author and ask her some questions about this beautiful book.
JEN: You have the great line: “Husbands come and go, but sisters are forever.” So often, the point of so many novels is for a woman to find a good man, but in this case, the sister and daughter relationships seem to overshadow the romantic ones. Did you start with that philosophy or did the characters take on that view as you wrote them?
HOLLY: I’m so glad you highlighted that line. When I’m writing a book, every so often a line emerges that makes me sit back in surprise and say, “Oh! That’s what the book is about!” This was one of those lines. I was in a lot of relationships before I married my first husband, and when that marriage didn’t work out, we divorced. I’m now happily remarried. Through all of those breakups and my divorce, the women in my life were a constant source of support and friendship. Plus, there’s a certain depth of emotional connection women give each other that’s different from what men and women have in relationships. That’s what I meant by “Husbands come and go, but sisters are forever.”
JEN: Flossie, the resident Zen-master, has so many wise things to say throughout the book. Most of the characters do. My copy of the book is filled with highlights where I wanted to capture some excellent life advice. Did you do any spiritual reading as background to write your characters or are you just really balanced?
HOLLY: Like most writers, my characters are a reflection sometimes of who I WISH I could be—or, in other instances, they have adventures and take risks I would never dare to do, but love fantasizing and writing about—like the youngest sister in Folly Cove who takes off for Puerto Rico to live on a beach and surf. I’m not nearly as balanced as Flossie, but I have done a lot of reading about Buddhism because I spent two months trekking in Nepal and India. That gave me the background in spiritual reading I needed to create her character.
JEN: You don’t shy away from the difficulty of mothering. I adored this line: “What a responsibility, being a mother and having to keep your body intact so your child would survive.” I also loved how you articulated the wish most mothers have: “Please let my daughters cope with life better than I did.” Why did you feel it was important to be truthful about the hard work of mothering?
HOLLY: Motherhood has been idealized in our culture: Hallmark cards, TV commercials, fairy tales, certain movies. For centuries women have been raised to believe being a good mother is the only way to sainthood. The truth is much more complex. Fortunately our culture is shifting away from that black and white view of women being either mothers or whores with nothing between. Even the recent movie, “Bad Moms,” attempts to convey the idea that motherhood is hard work no matter how you do it—as a working mom, a single mom, a mom trying to keep a good relationship with her husband, etc. For the record: Motherhood can be hard on the ego, as I know firsthand, from raising three kids and two stepchildren. Being a mom is the hardest, but best, thing I’ve ever done in my life—but parenthood is definitely not for everyone. And, yeah, I hope my daughters cope with life better than I have at times!
JEN: Secrets and lies drive much of the narrative and they threaten to tear the characters apart. As Elly realizes: “it was hard to love someone who never removed her shiny suit of armor to reveal the soft flesh underneath” and yet, as a species, we seem to hold others at arm’s length with untruths. Do you agree with Gil’s comment that “we’re all impostors in our own lives,” and Flossie’s assertion to Sarah that “we all lie?” As an author, are you looking for a particular truth, or do you feel you have a responsibility to get readers to face their truths?
HOLLY: Definitely the latter. There are many truths, depending on who you are and where you are in your life, and each reader will get a different “truth” out of the same book. I do feel like Gil is right, and we’re all impostors in our own lives. Think about what your parents taught you, those old adages about “put your best foot forward,” “smile and the world smiles with you,” etc. We all try to look like we know what we’re doing, right? Look at the postings on Facebook about happy vacations, loving anniversaries, cute kids—not lies, exactly, but these mask the fact that most of us are scrambling to get a Pop Tart into our kid before the school bus comes, fretting about something that went wrong at work, or worrying about the extra weight we haven’t lost since childbirth.
We lie to ourselves, and to each other, and life has to be about constantly trying to scrape away our disguises and pretenses to get to some grittier truth, so we can understand the meaning of everything we do on a deeper level. I hope my novels help readers do that.
JEN: This book is in part a love story to the beautiful surroundings: to the beach and the ocean and the woods. Have you considered setting a book like this in an urban setting, or are the natural “rhythms of the world” integral to your work?
HOLLY: That’s an interesting question. I did write an urban setting in my novel Chance Harbor—one of the characters lives in Cambridge, MA—but it’s true my other novels are mostly set around the North Shore of Massachusetts. This is partly because there is so much lush landscape here, as you point out, and because I love the history that fairly seeps out of every tumbling stone wall and wooden house. Some houses here have been around since the sixteen hundreds. I think the other reason I write books set in these natural seashore settings is because there is something very primal and cleansing about our connection to the sea. Anyone who has ever walked along a beach can feel that tug of the surf’s rhythm, and listening to the ocean can make us feel sometimes as if we’re breathing with the planet. And isn’t that the point of life, in the end? To be at one, and at peace, with our surroundings?
JEN: Can you give us a sneak peek about your next book?
HOLLY: Absolutely! This new novel I’m wrestling to the ground is a slight departure for me. It covers many of my favorite themes, like how women can balance motherhood with personal relationships and their careers. The twist is that one of the main characters is a woman living now, while the other plot line revolves around a real-life woman artist in 1878. The research is killing me, but the book has a great mystery at its core and the characters are starting to take over their own stories. I can’t wait to see where they take me—and you!
Holly is happy to answer any of your questions, so please write them in the comments field and we will have them answered. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the book. Did the characters remind you of your own family? Do you think everybody lies? What truths did the book help you face?
Join us, December 13th,for the next book club, when we’re reading Plum Johnson’s memoir, They Left Us Everything. I thought it was the perfect read for this time of year, when we’re so focused on family. Johnson’s memoir is about emptying and selling her childhood home, which “hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century.” As she sifts through antiques, old papers and medical equipment, she thinks how her unique family helped shape her. This book will have you thinking about your own family.