Fumbling Through Marriage In 'Sunshine When She's Gone'

Mar 3, 2013
Originally published on March 3, 2013 7:43 am
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. There could be pivotal moments in the course of even the most solid of relationships; moments when two people look at one another and say are we going to call it quits and go our separate ways or can we somehow use this crisis to come together and recommit? In her new novel, "The Sunshine When She's Gone," Thea Goodman explores what happens to one couple, John and Veronica, in the face of one of those moments.

THEA GOODMAN: They're hardworking. They've done everything right. They've followed the path of their careers. They've gotten married. They've had a kid. They're doing well. And then everything sort of falls apart, or in some ways comes together over the course of a long weekend.

MARTIN: John's desire to give his wife some well-deserved rest that weekend careens out of control when instead of taking their newborn baby Clara for a simple walk in the park, he takes her a bit further afield - to Barbados, very much to his own surprise. To pick up the story, Thea Goodman joins us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thea, thanks for being with us.

GOODMAN: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: The trip in and of itself is kind of crazy. Just logistically speaking, he doesn't really pack anything. He doesn't bring the baby's formula and he kind of supplies baby infrastructure. And then to make matters worse, when he gets there, when he gets to the island, he starts lying. He starts lying to people kind of doesn't really make sense.

GOODMAN: Yeah. I mean, he starts lying with impunity, which is also not really part of his essential character. And I think that's part of a fantasy, particularly when you're traveling. There's this notion that the rules change. You're in a new place, you're in a new physical atmosphere, you're in a new climate and the world kind of opens up to you in a different way. And I think that's partly what's happening to him in Barbados. There's also a good dose of nostalgia that comes with this trip to Barbados because it's someplace that he's been with Veronica before.

MARTIN: But he intentionally doesn't call Veronica to tell her where he is. Why is that?

GOODMAN: I think it doesn't really occur to him that he's being deceptive until he gets there, and then it dawns him, wow, I really have gone far away and if I tell my wife, she's going to kill me. I better think of something quickly. And it's not, you know, none of his lies, I think, are premeditated and his action isn't premeditated either. They just kind of emerge and he's sort of stunned with them too, as the reader is.

MARTIN: So, meanwhile, Veronica has awakened and realized that her husband and baby are gone. And she starts lying to herself too in some ways. She plans to go find them but she doesn't try that hard. What happens to her during this period of time?

GOODMAN: Well, I mean, I think the situation that she's in causes great anxiety for her. And it's a situation that entails a lot of ambivalence because on the one hand, she's given freedom again. She's given a chance to sleep, to take a nap and it's so wonderful. On the other hand, she's very attached to her family, which is natural, and she misses the baby. So, yeah, she finds herself in between. And I think the self-deception, I mean, it's part of my characters - both them - they both have that trait, and they're very flawed people.

MARTIN: And they're a little bit self-obsessed.

GOODMAN: Yes. I mean, these are narcissistic people. They were children in the '70s and we were taught to develop ourselves. And we're part of this me generation. And our whole reason for being was to self-actualize. And so having a child is going to be a huge disruption in that path towards self-actualization. So, although they're in their mid-30s, they're really shocked by this transformation, whereas people perhaps from earlier generations were more used to a notion of sacrifice.

MARTIN: I mentioned at the top of this interview that couples go through several of these kind of pivotal moments in the course of their relationship when they either split up or they double-down and recommit. Do you think that parenthood bring out more of those moments?

GOODMAN: Yes, I do. I think it's difficult. And I think that becoming parents challenges most marriages. In some ways, this book is very romantic, in that couple, they do always long for one another even while they're escaping from one another.

MARTIN: Thea Goodman. Her new novel is called "The Sunshine When She's Gone." She joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thea, thanks so much for talking with us.

GOODMAN: Thank you. It was such a pleasure to be here, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.