How Enron inspired Laura Dave to write The Last Thing He Told Me
The novel, out May 4, is also in the works as a Julia Roberts-starring Apple TV+ project.
As The Last Thing He Told Me, the gripping novel from bestselling author Laura Dave opens, protagonist Hannah Hall discovers that her new husband, Owen, has disappeared — on the same day that the FBI raids his software startup The Shop on suspicion of fraud. In his wake he leaves only a scribbled note (delivered by an unsuspecting neighborhood teen) with a plea about their teenaged stepdaughter, Bailey: "Protect her."
Fans of Dave's work — she's known for bestsellers like Eight Hundred Grapes, a marriage tale told against the backdrop of Sonoma wine country, and Hello, Sunshine, which follows a culinary star's fall from grace — will recognize the addictive nature of her prose in Last Thing. But the propulsive plot feels as new as it does exciting. The origins date back to Dave's early-aughts obsession with the Enron scandal and, more specifically, her desire to answer the question: What happens when we trust the people in our lives despite all evidence to the contrary?
"I remember seeing [Enron CEO] Kenneth Lay's wife do an interview on television and she insisted that he had done nothing wrong," Dave explains. "And I thought about, what if someone really believed that who their husband was, was in direct opposition to what the world was trying to tell them."
In the following 15-plus years she labored over eight different drafts and tens of thousands of words, eventually picking the project up again full-time in 2018 after her husband — a screenwriter — suggested she look into a slightly different angle. "He suggested that maybe the husband [in the story] was bad and I said that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard," laughs Dave. "But it made me pick it up and I thought okay, so the husband's not bad, but what if they can't ever find their way back to each other?"
Dave used her years of research to construct an intricate, page-turning plot about the criminal investigation into the startup in question, and Owen's family's attempts to track him down—but the author sees the relationship between protagonist Hannah and her stepdaughter Bailey as the true heart of the story. "It was the missing piece," she tells EW. "Gloria Steinem has this quote about watching women become the heroes of their own lives—for me, that's always been Hannah's journey."
The thriller, which Dave is currently developing as a Julia Roberts-starring Apple TV+ series, will be the second collaboration between the author and her husband, Josh Singer, of Spotlight fame (they're also working on the script for her 2017 novel Hello, Sunshine). "I've been writing this book the entirety of my marriage so we've both been living with these characters," she says. "And writing it with my husband creates an interesting situation because there's so much honesty — I can't be precious about it."