Once you leave your hometown, staying close with childhood friends is almost impossible, and the random life events where you happen to reunite (weddings, funerals) usually lend a surreal, bittersweet quality to the interaction.
Sarah Rainone’s debut novel, Love Will Tear Us Apart, centers on a pair of high school sweethearts who are getting married and their motley wedding party — which for the the most part is made up of people they haven’t been tight with since they were kids. Set to a soundtrack that will be familiar to anyone born in the early ’80s, the story is told from multiple perspectives, and yet all of the narrators seem to be saying the same thing: Whether you’re talking about a place or a person from your past, once you leave, you can never go home again.
Flavorpill: Reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of the Big Chill. I always wonder if groups of friends like this exist in real life. Did you have one growing up in Rhode Island ? Which one of the characters is the closest to what you were like back then?
Sarah Rainone: I have one such Big Chill group from high school and another from college. My dad’s a football coach and I have a brother, so it makes sense that I’ve always gravitated towards guys and other women who are comfortable around guys.
There’s a bit of me in each of the characters; like Alex, I wanted desperately for people to like me and did a lot of self-destructive things in an attempt to achieve that; I used to be as self-righteous about vegetarianism and other “enlightened” beliefs as Cort; I’ve struggled with both my sexuality and my artistic career, as has Shawn; and I’ve masked insecurity with comedy and false confidence as Ben tends to do, although I think I was a little less obnoxious about it.
FP: How did being a non-fiction editor of non-fiction books make writing your debut novel more difficult? Were there any ways it made it easier?
SR: Well, I probably self-edit more than most writers, which can make for a pretty clean manuscript, but also a bit of an antiseptic one. So I had to learn to not stop ideas in their tracks before I’d explored them fully. One advantage of being an editor is that I believe everyone needs one, so I was really open to my editor Carrie Thornton’s suggestions. Which is a good thing, because she rocks.
FP: Music obviously plays a large role in the story. When did you start relating to music/lyrics in such an intense way? Were the songs in the book your high school soundtrack as well?
SR: Earliest discoveries that music was cool, fun, and possibly dangerous: Alice Cooper singing “Welcome to my Nightmare” on The Muppet Show, Smokey Robinson getting dry-humped by the letter U on Sesame Street, a vague awareness that adults were getting something about “Puff the Magic Dragon” that I wasn’t. I’ve always loved music and it’s been both a portal into other worlds and a way to travel back in time.
But in 5th grade I realized it had another magical property: it was a way to show the “cool kids” I wasn’t just a nerd. That’s when I started memorizing rap lyrics. Picture the frizzy-haired gifted kid with the Sally Jesse Raphael glasses singing Eazy-E’s “I’d Rather Fuck You.” No wonder my parents worried.
Some of the songs in the book are favorites, but I always put my personal preferences aside and let the characters choose what songs sent them back in time. Believe me, I’d have rather shown off my knowledge of every album Dan the Automator has produced than picked a Dave Matthews Band or Michael Jackson song everyone knows, but it wouldn’t have been as true to the characters, you know?
FP: I think it’s interesting that you begin the book with Ben as your narrator and end it with Cort — two characters slightly removed from the love triangle at its center. How did you decide on that? Were there any characters who were more difficult for you to write? And how did you decide to deliver the story in this way?
SR: Ben’s was the first voice that came to me so the book always started with him; without getting too pretentious here, I tried to use him like Shakespeare used fools and gravediggers — comic relief offering the occasional kernel of wisdom — so it seemed natural for him to kick things off with a bawdy prologue. And while the love triangle is a major part of the plot, the main theme of the book is the characters’ inability to deal with adulthood and how lost they feel as a result. And I thought Cort could best wrap things up on that front because she’s not only searching for direction, a career, or love, but also quite literally for home.
FP: What’s your favorite Joy Division lyric?
SR: Hmmm, I tend to like the overall sound of the songs — Ian Curtis’ voice, Peter Hook’s basslines, especially — more than individual lyrics, but I do like the lyrics to “Autosuggestion”. I assume the band meant it to be ironic, as a kind of proto “Fitter, Happier”… and yet I still want to tattoo it on my arm to help me overcome my fear of action. Whether they meant it as a warning, an admission of defeat, or a rallying cry, it’s still cool because the song isn’t promising that stepping outside is going to make you happy; on the contrary, you’ll be up all night analyzing what you did, what you said, what people think of you. But, I mean, consider the alternative.