In 2005, the writer Ayelet Waldman became a household name after a provocative op-ed piece in The New York Times in which she unapologetically announced that she loved her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, more than she did their four children. The essay, which also referred to the couple’s ”always vital, even torrid” sex life, led to a raucous appearance on Oprah during which Waldman was practically lynched, and it inspired her best-selling essay collection, Bad Mother, published last year. Waldman and Chabon live in a rambling house in Berkeley, Calif., with a wallpapered backyard cottage where Waldman writes at her brand-new TreadDesk (”I burn, like, 300 calories an hour!”), sitting just feet from her husband’s more traditional workspace. EW talked to her on the shady patio about her just-published novel, Red Hook Road, a Maine-set melodrama about two very different families thrown together by devastating loss.
How do you reconcile your ballsy nonfiction persona with this calm, quiet Anne Tyler-like novel?
People are complicated, right? But there’s a part of me that isn’t quite so socially secure. Also, nonfiction is easy; it’s like, me me me me! Look at me. Bad Mother? I puked that out. Fiction is trying to create this world and breathe life into it. I like writing nonfiction, but writing fiction is so much more challenging.
Did the flak from your Bad Mother essays get to you?
A person who says the stuff I say should not be so thin-skinned. But the kind of visceral reaction I got haunted me for a while. I’m not sorry about saying any of it, but it did sit in my brain. It infected me.
Are you really a bad mother?
My husband is basically a really good mother. Years ago, I felt like, what was the point in even trying? But it turns out I’m a great parent to a teenager because you shift from being a boss to being a management consultant. I’ve had no trouble doing that. Who knew?
So how do your children feel about all your revelations?
My kids don’t read anything I write. My older daughter, Sophie, read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh [Chabon’s first novel] and was traumatized by the sex. She can read David Sedaris and David Rakoff, but thinks her parents should live in some Mary-and-Joseph world.
Any books you can recommend for the summer?
I’m on a campaign to get the whole world to read Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy.
Sometimes I wonder how you get any work done, you’ve become such an avid tweeter.
Love Twitter. It may be the worst thing ever for someone who has a big mouth, but I’ve said so much in my life, what’s left to say on Twitter?