I was listening to the Overture from The Nutcracker when I first envisioned Mrs. March. She appeared to me fully-formed, in her fur coat and skirt suit, just walking down the street, as excited and hopeful as that flute, and I knew at that moment I was going to destroy her.
I was at this time going through a very intense Shirley Jackson phase, reading with newly found gusto all her short stories in which unsettling things happen to ordinary women in their everyday lives. Stories in which you’re not sure whether the man who just returned home from a work trip is indeed your husband, or a visit to the dentist can lead you to forget which of the women reflected in the mirror is you.
I love all these old sinister books and stories by Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith and Ira Levin and Daphne du Maurier. Perhaps I thought the best way to read a new book reminiscent of this nostalgic style was to write it.
My information on Upper East Side living was mostly gleaned from movies; the lives and locales enjoyed by the Manhattan intelligentsia glimpsed in Woody Allen films, the visits to the dry cleaners’ or a basement laundry room presented in American Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby, respectively. Or a Nora Ephron film in which a publishing party is hosted in an uppity Manhattan apartment and catered with egg salad garnished with caviar.
This version of New York I developed over the years was honed by frequent trips to the city with my affluent parents. That sliver of privileged Manhattan (and of privilege generally, I suppose), felt familiar enough to me to play around in comfortably while writing a novel.
All of this, together with an inspired viewing of The Hours, in which Meryl Streep is asked by the judgmental florist whether her writer friend has based that character on her (“it’s you, isn’t it? In the novel. Isn’t it meant to be you”?), composed the basic ingredients I needed to bake a very interesting and disturbing cake.
I was offered a promotion at the advertising agency I worked at when I decided to quit my job altogether and focus on writing Mrs. March. I had written merely the first few pages on my work computer (when I should have been working) but these were already nagging at me. My boss (who is also inappropriately my boyfriend), offered me two options: they could either promote me to creative director, or they could kindly fire me. It was such a relief. To be fired. I had been complaining about my job for a while. Writing scripts for commercials was never going to allow me to create stories that weren’t centered around a car/fabric softener/spaghetti.
Because I was fired, I could claim unemployment benefits for about a year. I determined, then, to finish Mrs. March in one year. Not accomplishing this was going to be a big, overwhelming failure, so I accomplished it.
Shirley Jackson meets Ottessa Moshfegh meets My Sister the Serial Killer in a brilliantly unsettling and darkly funny debut novel full of suspense and paranoia.
George March’s latest novel is a smash hit. None could be prouder than Mrs. March, his dutiful wife, who revels in his accolades and relishes the lifestyle and status his success brings.
A creature of routine and decorum, Mrs. March lives an exquisitely controlled existence on the Upper East Side. Every morning begins the same way, with a visit to her favourite patisserie to buy a loaf of olive bread, but her latest trip proves to be her last when she suffers an indignity from which she may never recover: an assumption by the shopkeeper that the protagonist in George March’s new book –
a pathetic sex worker, more a figure of derision than desire – is based on Mrs. March.
One casual remark robs Mrs. March not only of her beloved olive bread but of the belief that she knew everything about her husband – and herself – sending her on an increasingly paranoid journey, one that starts within the pages of a book but may very well uncover both a killer and the long-buried secrets of Mrs. March’s past.
A razor-sharp exploration of the fragility of identity and the smothering weight of expectations, Mrs. March heralds the arrival of a wicked and wonderful new voice.