Deep Down True
From the author of Shelter Me--a funny and poignant novel about having your heart in the right place."Sincere, powerful and heartfelt, DEEP DOWN TRUE will resonate with women everywhere ... I loved Fay's true-to-life characters and her ability to portray the intricate dynamics of friendship and family in such an immediately recognizable way. There is a 'me too' moment on every page, right down to the satisfying finish."
Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice- even to telemarketers-but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad's departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn't end in middle school... and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.
-Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author of Love the One You're With and Heart of the Matter
"When I wasn't inside the world of this book-because this is a book that you enter instead of merely read-I longed to be. I love it for its intensely human characters and for the way the author grants them their flaws as generously as she celebrates their daily decencies, their persistent hopefulness, their moments of personal grace."
-Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Love Walked In and Belong to Me
"Enormously readable and hugely relatable!"
-Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of The Middle Place and Lift
"Engrossing, touching, and immensely satisfying. The truth shines on every page. I'd almost be willing to go back to junior high if I could sit at Juliette Fay's lunch table!"
-Beth Harbison, New York Times bestselling author of Thin Rich Pretty
"Fay deals honestly with Dana's emotional journey as she strives "to understand how what had been true before had changed into what was true now" and gives readers a believable cast, from the daughter struggling with the wolf-pack mentality of middle school to Dana's sometimes obnoxious yet fiercely loving sister. It expertly walks a heavily trodden path."
"Fay imbues Dana with the smarts and insecurities that war within most of us. With her comfort zone obliterated, Dana draws on her inner strengths to reconstruct a new foundation for her children in a world where she gets to be the alpha wolf. Highly recommended for fans of women's fiction featuring resilient heroines."
"Heartwarming, funny, well-penned... a solid page-turner, right through to the touching end."
While Dana and Kenneth's divorce is a central event in this novel, it has mostly happened before the story begins. What inspired you to write this book and why did you decide to start the narrative where you have?
I was inspired by the fascinating crucible of the middle school experience, and how sometimes we as adults can be thrown back into those feelings of desperately wanting to belong, while also trying to follow our hearts. At any age these two thingsbelonging and being true to ourselvescan sometimes be hard to accomplish simultaneously.
The narrative starts after the divorce because the divorce itself isn't as interesting as the way it shatters Dana's complacency with the life she knowsa barely lukewarm marriage and an existence that revolves around everyone but her. It challenges her to stop settling for so little and start building a life that is worthy of her.
The kids' dialoguefrom Morgan's explanation of "emo" to Grady's request for muscle-building pancakesis pitch-perfect. How much of it comes from your own life as a mother? Do your children read your books?
I guess it's kind of like moving to another countryeventually you learn the lingo. And for the stuff I don't get right, I have a native speaker in my teenaged daughter, Brianna, who corrects my drafts. She's the oldest and the only one of my four children who's read my novels. The boys have never asked to. Maybe if I were writing thrillers or fantasy they'd be more interested.
I rarely if ever quote my childrenor anyone's childrenin my books. I have too much fun making it up myself. But I do use little common phrases, mannerisms and reactions. As a writer I'm lucky to have such ready access.
The theme of Dana's volunteer work with the McPherson family provides an interesting point of contrast throughout the story, in some senses keeping Dana's own troubles in perspective. What function did it serve for you as the author?
Making the dinners for the McPhersons is emblematic of Dana, who is such a selfless giver that even as her own life is falling apart, she never stops doing for others. The flip side of that coin is that it also serves as a self-soothing behavior. Her rituals of kindness keep at bay the harshness of a world where people kill themselves and husbands leave and kids are cruel. And hey, it's food, Dana's drug of choice.
The dinners are more than just food, though. They serve as an entrance ticket into the life of another family in the throes of even greater adversity than Dana's. And it's a way for her to tap into her true self, which is not about what she can doshe cannot fix anything for the McPhersons. But she can offer her particularly wonderful brand of compassion, which is one of her essential strengths.
Your portrayal of bulimia is quite nuanced and believable, particularly the ways adults unwittingly reinforce kids' negative behaviors. Did you research this topic or come to it more organically?
I did a lot of research, read reports, talked to experts, poured over Web sites, went to a conference. The Web sites that anorexic and bulimic girls themselves put up about what they do and how and why are absolutely haunting. I also interviewed a couple of adult friends who'd been bulimic. Ultimately I kept thinking back to a friend from my younger years who was anorexic. I confronted her and begged her to stop starving herself and she told me, "I want my mother to make me stop." I'll never forget it because it was then that I knew she was in for a long haul. Her mother was utterly checked out. It made me see that even as we are leaving childhood behind and insisting that we don't need help, we want our parents' guidance and leadership.
Alder is a really compelling personalitya smart, surly teen with a truly compassionate heart and a natural way with metaphorsand in many ways she is the lynchpin of the novel. Was she an important character in the book's conception, or did she come to be more prominent in later drafts?
Alder was there right from the starteven before Dana! I had originally envisioned her for my first novel, Shelter Me, but there wasn't a spot that was quite right for her. So I knew I would include her in my next story, which turned out to be Deep Down True.
I'm glad I waited, because in her offhanded, teenagery way, Alder is the perfect role model for Dana. As they both struggle for healing and repair, Alder is willing to be alone or hang out with the very unpopular Jet. Refusing to cave to her domineering mother, she goes to Dana, who, Alder knows, will give her the support she needs without making her concede to outside expectations. And Alder quietly demonstrates for Dana how not to be such a doormatfrom getting Grady to help clear the table, to standing up for herself in the final showdown with Ethan. Everyone should be lucky enough to have an old soul like Alder in her life.
Early on, you write, "The story of Dana's divorce bored even her." Was it a challenge to take on the all-too-familiar trope of a middle-aged husband leaving his wife for a younger woman?
Not really. While it's familiar, it's no less dramatic because of the tsunami it can create in its wake. And I don't really see this as a divorce story so much as an awakening that happens to have been launched by a divorce.
Dana's lack of assertiveness has gotten her into lots of troublein her marriage, in her social life, with her own familyand her journey in this book is to find her own voice amid the many forceful personalities in her life. Ironically, the less she seems to care about other people's opinions, the more these people ultimately seem to like or at least respect the new Dana. Can you elaborate on this dynamic?
I think that in each one of us there is what some would call the True Self, or the Divine Self, or the Center. We get pulled out of that center all the timeby stress or disrespect or hormones or any one of a million things. And if we pay attention, we can feel when we're in and when we're out. There's something very appealing about being with someone who knows her True Self and can be that self a lot of the time, because it helps us discover and love our own. Dana's growing self-respect is ultimately a stronger draw than her relentless niceness.
By being let into Dana's head, the reader becomes acutely aware of the millions of decisions that must be processed on the fly in an average parent's day. To your mind, what makes a good parent, and where do Dana and Kenneth fit in on that scale?
Oh my gosh, is there a harder question than what makes a good parent? Loving but not indulgent, attentive but not hovering, strict but not controlling… I can say all these things, but they hold different meanings for every parent and each kid may need a different balance of each.
Dana and Kenneth are well-intentioned parents. They love their children. But while Dana is a bit of a hoverer, Kenneth is fairly disengagedjust like in their marriage. They both learn to correct for that more by the end of the story. And they learn to parent better together as they do, which is tricky enough for married couples, and even harderand more importantwhen there's a divorce.
The scene where Dana purges to feel closer to her daughter is both harrowing and poignant. Was this a difficult scene to write?
Absolutely. I never thought I'd ever write such a detailed account of vomiting, of all things! But while there are many examples of Dana's failings, I wanted to show one of her great strengths, which is the length to which she will go to understand fully and be compassionate toward the people she loves.
The notion of "deep down true" is a wonderful onethat we all have some essential truth of who we are and what we want inside. Did the title drive the story or did you arrive at the title in the writing process?
For my first novel, Shelter Me, I had a title in mind as I wrote that ultimately didn't work out. This time, I decided not to title it until the end, and see what the story offered up as a suitable name, which I think it did in Deep Down True. There was, however, a phrase that I kept in the forefront of my mind as I wrote to hold me on course. That phrase was "the tension between being true to yourself and being liked," which, while not a good title, was a very helpful compass for the journey.
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