Exclusive: Q&A with Lucinda Rosenfeld, Author of I’m So Happy For You

Lucinda Rosenfeld’s latest novel, I’m So Happy for You, is an honest (albeit dark) look at a pair of best friends from college — Wendy and Daphne — who are now in their thirties and living in New York. Subverting the classic chick lit formula, Rosenfeld bravely reveals the unpleasant things (envy, selfishness, fear) operating just below the surface of many female friendships. If I’m making it sound the least bit unpleasant, it’s not; like Rosenfeld’s past two novels, this one kept me up until 4 a.m. just so I could find out how it ended — lucky for me, it didn’t disappoint.

Flavorpill: Was it hard for you to put down the character of Phoebe Fine and take up a new protagonist? Do you find one more likeable?

Lucinda Rosenfeld: First, I want to say: thanks for featuring I’m So Happy For You on your web site. It was indeed difficult letting go of Phoebe Fine (protagonist of What She Saw… and Why She Went Home) and beginning a new chapter (forgive the pun) in my fiction writing, with Wendy Murman (protagonist of ISHFY). In case you couldn’t have guessed, Phoebe was based in part on yours truly. However, as I rapidly approach forty, I’ve started to think of her as my youthful alter-ego — and therefore don’t relate to her as much as I once did. I’m thinking especially of Phoebe’s self-destructive side…

As for who is more likable — Wendy or Phoebe — I think I’ll leave that question to my readers. Clearly they’re both flawed characters. But, then, I’m not really interested in any other kind. I’m also not entirely convinced that unflawed characters exist. Most of us, I think, are just a big mess of competing impulses, some selfish, others generous.

FP: Do you think friendship plays a more important role in a place like New York, where most people are transplants? Do you think that this allows for more unhealthy friendships to exist?

LR: That’s an interesting question. It’s possible that distance from family makes friendship that much more important to us. It’s also probably true that being a walk or subway ride away from our friends (versus, say, a car trip) makes it easier to maintain a connection. Or does that not matter anymore in the age of Facebook and Twitter and texting? I don’t know. But I would wager a guess that in expensive cities like New York where people tend to marry later — and therefore enjoy more years of pre-procreative “freedom” — friendships become that much more intense, the dark ones as well as the light ones.

FP: Was it fun to return to New York City as your setting after hanging out in NJ with Why She Went Home? Was real estate on your brain while you were writing this or is that just part of being a New Yorker writing about the city?

LR: I was actually worried that in setting the novel in Brooklyn, the material wouldn’t seem as “fresh” as it might. Not only do a plethora of writers live here these days, but so many of the hit cultural products of the last ten or fifteen years were set here. (I’m thinking of everything from Friends to Law and Order to Sex and the City to The Devil Wears Prada.) However, ISHFY is essentially a psychological novel. So I don’t think “place” matters as much as it might in another book…

As for real estate being on my brain, my now husband and I purchased our (yes) Brooklyn brownstone at the end of the ancient (in real estate-ese) year of 2003. However, we purchased a giant three-family fixer upper, which we can’t afford to fix. So, in fact, the subject of renovation is never far from my brain. I was very sad when Domino magazine folded. [Editor’s note: As were we.]

FP: Do you think men understand the depth of emotion that goes into most female friendships?

LR: Men are so inarticulate about their feelings — or, at least, men like my husband and his friends! — that it’s hard for me to say what they feel about anything. From what I can gather, men’s friendships are built around activities (golf, drinking, poker, etc.), and it’s in the context of these activities that they experience joy and hurt. An example: a few years ago, my husband had a huge fight with one of his “boy friends” after the guy canceled golf on him just before tee time. Apparently, my husband experienced his friend’s behavior as a form of betrayal — and cursed him out. They didn’t speak for months afterward. This, of course, makes no sense to me.

FP: Wendy has an interesting relationship with her mom. While I can see why she would annoy Wendy with her “wisdom”, I found her incredibly endearing. If there’s a role model in this book, did you mean for it to be her?

LR: It’s interesting that you liked Judy Murman. I’m also pleased. To be honest, I had a lot of trouble with her character. I really wanted to make the book about friendship not family. So it’s no accident that Wendy has no siblings or father. But of course everyone has (or had) a mother at some point. I suppose I meant for Judy to be, like Wendy, a fundamentally flawed person (in Judy’s case, on account of her brittleness) who nonetheless has good or mostly good intentions. My sister had trouble believing that Judy would end up being a loving grandmother. But she always seemed to me to be someone who might have an easier time relating to children (or babies) than adults.

FP: Speaking of babies, there’s an embarrassing argument between Wendy and Daphne at a baby shower that made me cringe. And giggle. Was it inspired by something you’ve witnessed in real life?

LR: When I first started to attend friends’ baby showers — in my early 30’s — I remember being shocked and scandalized by what I deemed to be a distinctly un-feminist spectacle (i.e. all these smart women oohing and aawing over sock puppets as if none of their professional accomplishments meant anything, after all). Later, when I had babies of my own — and became predictably mushy on the subject! — I think I realized that a large part of my objection had to do with me feeling threatened because I wasn’t then married or pregnant myself. That said, I never entirely got over my suspicion of baby and wedding showers. The scene in ISHFY grows out of that discomfort. I don’t want to pardon Wendy’s behavior, but I want the reader to find her lashing out at Daphne to be understandable at least.

FP: There are tons of Oprah-friendly novels about the power of girlfriends. That, this is not. Do you hope those readers will grab your book and get a bit of a jolt? Or do you think everyone — even the staunchest “chick lit” fan — can relate to what you’re doing in ISHFY — even if they don’t want to admit it?

LR: No doubt some readers will be turned off by the fact that Wendy never entirely regrets her acts of sabotage against Daphne. But I’m hoping that others will respond to the honesty factor. The truth is: envy plays a huge role in friendship, and we don’t generally want good things to happen to our friends that haven’t already happened to us. Wisely, we keep most of those ill feelings under wraps. But sometimes we act on them — and, of course, when we do, it’s never pretty.

FP: Would your dream apartment resemble Daphne’s?

LR: In a word, yes.