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Dear Ayelet Waldman,
For years, I only knew you as Michael Chabon’s wife. Yes, I’d also read that you were a writer of some sort as well, but what mattered was that you were married to the guy who had me in thrall with the epic The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and hilariously weird Wonder Boys. What must it be like to be married to a genius like that? How did he butter his bread, what music did he listen to, what wonderful thoughts did he share with you during dinner?
Although I am an unrepentant feminist (feminism the astonishing notion that women are human, etc.) and should be ashamed of relegating anybody to “the wife of” (or even “the husband of”) as a sole identity, this is not what I’m apologizing to you for.
No, it’s something even worse.
I dismissed you as a lightweight, a writer underneath my full consideration as a reader (a Reader of Lit-ra-churrr, a Master’s degree holder, someone who thrills at every new Thomas Pynchon novel), because you wrote a series called “Mommy-Track Mysteries.”
The name alone was enough to make me roll my eyes at the cutesy-ness of it all. Baby-wipes and bad guys? Murder weapons and motherhood? Oh, the hijinks of stroller-unfolding whilst clue-hunting! Please. I was sure the series would be cloying and saccharine and, well, just a little bit stupid, like the stereotypical zero-IQ sorority girl in college majoring in early childhood education because little kids are just, like, soooooo cute, aren’t they?
I still haven’t read one of your mysteries (in part because it takes a lot to get me to read a mystery, unless you are Laura Lippman or Dennis Lehane), but I did give your latest novel, Red Hook Road, a try, because of a positive Library Journal review – and it was one of the most beautiful, rich, deeply human, and deeply touching novels I’ve read this year. I loved it even more than – dare I say it? – anything your husband has ever written.
The general plot was revealed in the review, so I knew to expect the tragic accident of the just-married couple on the way to their wedding reception, which happened within the first 20 or so pages. But I didn’t expect the way you were able to so perfectly capture a family’s response to such a tragedy – and how utterly captivated I was at following their lives and emotions. By the time I reached the last pages, I was openly weeping: not because it was sad (though there was a bittersweet quality to it all, of course), but because it was so true, and so beautiful, and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to no longer be part of the world you’d created, privy to the lives of these people you made real for me.
So please accept my most sincere apology, Ayelet Waldman. You are a uniquely gifted writer with a deep sense of how people think and act and feel.
And from now on, although I will continue to look forward to Michael Chabon’s new novels, I won’t not be able to think of him as also the husband of one of my favorite writers. What must it be like for him to be married to such a genius of the human heart? How does she butter her bread? And what wonderful thoughts does she share with him over dinner?
Laura Raphael, A Reader