Decatur gets a nice mention in Emily Giffin's latest novel, "Love the One You're With," published Tuesday. But the best-selling author, who lives in Brookhaven, is pretty hard on her own neighborhood and its wealthy residents.
"Insular, pampered, social climbing and stifling" are just a few of the words the book's narrator, Ellen, uses to describe her adopted Buckhead neighborhood and its residents. After marrying her college roommate's brother, Andy (Andrew Wallace Graham III), the aspiring photographer joins one of Atlanta's elite, old-money families —- and becomes seriously homesick for the energy of New York City and for a sexy ex-boyfriend who suddenly reappears in her life.
Giffin is a former New York City lawyer who "escaped" the legal profession shortly before turning 30. She turned to writing, and made the best-seller lists with her first chick-lit novel, "Something Borrowed" published in 2004. She followed with two more big hits: "Something Blue" and "Baby Proof."
It wasn't until the latest novel, her fourth, that she finally wrote about Atlanta. Giffin moved here in 2003 with her husband, Hartley "Buddy" Blaha, president of corporate development for Newell Rubbermaid. They have identical twin 4-year-olds, Edward and George, and a 1-year-old, Harriet.
Q: Why did it take you so long to set a novel in Atlanta?
A: I really wanted to live in a place for a while before I tried to write about it. I moved here in 2003 and was on bed rest and then had my twin sons, and so I sort of felt like I was underground some time. I didn't feel like I got out enough. I didn't really get to know Atlanta enough to write about it confidently until this book. I lived in New York for so long that I just felt more comfortable setting my first three books there. But Atlanta is such a rich setting, I really enjoyed writing about it, and I anticipate writing more books set down here.
Q: You paint a picture of life in Buckhead that is positively suffocating. At one point, Ellen describes her future this way: "A life sentence of having to sit in traffic and having to drive everywhere, even to grab a cup of coffee or a quick manicure. Of sterile strip malls and no late-night delivery options. Of mindlessly accumulating shiny, unnecessary possessions to fill the empty spaces in our sprawling home ... Of still, sweltering summers with Andy off playing golf and tennis every weekend and no chance of a white Christmas. Of saccharine-sweet, blond, blue-eyed Lilly Pulitzer-wearing, Bunco-playing neighbors with whom I have virtually nothing in common."
A: The danger of writing as a first-person narrator is that I'm often confused with the narrator. But let's just be clear that it's not autobiographical. While I did have a bit of an adjustment moving here, I really think it had more to do with suddenly having two children. So those are not my feelings. I just think for this particular character, given what's happening in the book, it worked for her to feel that social dislocation. She felt like a fish out of water. She missed her career, she missed the urban setting. I know Atlanta isn't all Lilly Pulitzer. I think if she had moved to a different part of Atlanta, she might have been happier, but I don't think the story would have worked so well. . . . I apologize for my Buckhead references. I'm not going to win friends and influence people here in Buckhead.
Q: Is the longing for New York autobiographical?
A: To a certain extent, yes. As an author, there has to be something you can relate to in the book. In my first book, she was a frustrated lawyer. She was about to turn 30 and unhappy with her career path, and that's how I felt. In my third book, Claudia didn't want children and there I was with twins and pregnant with a third. Of course, reporters would ask, "Did your husband pressure you to have children?" No, but I could relate to the very powerful and real feeling of giving up something to have children. I did feel the loss when I had children of giving up my personal freedom and the ability to be completely selfish, to travel. It was a loss that was very worthwhile. I love having children more than anything, but I could identify with Claudia's feelings of not wanting to give up what she had.
Q: Do you feel settled in Atlanta now?
A: My husband took a job here and it was absolutely the right decision for us, and it has turned out great. We plan on staying until all three children graduate from high school. That's our plan and that's our wish. We're very happy here now, but there have been some times, as a writer, I felt I could do that anywhere, just as Ellen could be a photographer anywhere. When we moved here, I did have the sense that I don't belong here, it's not me. I just didn't feel like sipping mint juleps or white wine spritzers. But I have different feelings now. That sells Atlanta short and Buckhead short.
Q: Will we be seeing "Something Borrowed: The Movie" anytime soon?
A: The first two books were optioned by Wild Ocean Films, Edward Burns' production company. Of course, you never know with an option; it's a long shot. But I'm excited about it. I think a New York-based film company is perfect for the books.
Q: What will your next book be about?
A: You really have to be a mother for a while before you're ready to write about it, but I think I'm ready to do that now. The next one will be more about a woman's life within the framework of marriage and motherhood. It's still in its infancy, but it will definitely be about motherhood.
Emily Giffin discusses and signs "Love the One You're With." 7:30 p.m. May 30. Borders Books & Music, 3637 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-237-0707.
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