Pregnancy, mystery intertwine in local’s new novel
Palm Beach Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK
Elodie has it all. A pampered resident of Palm Beach, she has a loving, wealthy husband, a stimulating job, good looks, a capacious new house overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and a wardrobe full of designer labels. h The only thing she lacks is a child. But at 40, and after several miscarriages, she’s left it too late.
h She’s stunned when her husband suggests that her closest friend and younger sister Aubrey might be artificially inseminated with his sperm to fill that gap in their lives. When Aubrey consents, the entire family embarks on a path that will unlock long-held secrets and turn their lives upside down.
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The story, which is recounted in the novel “A Palm Beach Scandal,” is true to life, said its author, Susannah Marren, the pen name for nonfiction writer Susan Shapiro Barash.
The yearnings, betrayals, cover-ups and shattering self-discoveries described in her book “could happen anywhere, but we’re taught that if you’re financially secure and you live in a beautiful place like Palm Beach, everything should go perfectly,” she said.
To write the book she used what she’s learned about women’s relationships and what motivates them to behave as they do while researching her 13 nonfiction books about women’s issues.
She’s written about mother-daughter relationships in “You’re Grounded Forever ... But First Let’s Go Shopping;” secrets women withhold in “Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets;” sisters in “Sisters: Devoted or Divided;” and epiphanies that shake women out of sleepwalking through their lives in “Reclaiming Ourselves.”
“A Palm Beach Scandal,” which was released in September by St. Martin’s Griffin, is her third novel and her second set in Palm Beach, following last year’s “A Palm Beach Wife.”
She knows Palm Beach well, because her parents lived in the town.
“Palm Beach is definitely a character in the novel,” she said. “A lot of the characters’ choices are made because they live in this town.”
The novel switches between the voices of Elodie and Aubrey.
The sisters react differently to their Palm Beach upbringing and their parents’ social aspirations. Elodie strives to be the perfect Palm Beach wife and daughter while Aubrey rebels, distancing herself in South Beach, where she and her outsider boyfriend manage pop music bands.
The pregnancy, along with the unearthed secret, changes the sisters in ways neither anticipated.
Marren doesn’t take sides.
“I’m not here to judge,” she said. “That comes from my nonfiction background. I’ve interviewed thousands of women for my 13 books. One doesn’t condemn; one just listens.”
The book is loaded with references to real-life Palm Beach haunts, such as The Breakers, The Colony hotel, Green’s Pharmacy, Cafe Boulud and The Mar-a-Lago Club.
References to designer labels abound.
“People are conscious of that there and are able to afford material goods,” Marren said. “Part of the computation for my characters when they walk into a room is to be very aware of who wears what. It’s another message that even if you have all these goods, are you happy?”
Palm Beach novelist Mary Simses enjoyed the novel’s many references to local places she frequents. “It’s fun to see that in print,” she said.
She also appreciated Marren’s ability to see the humorous side of Palm Beach society in scenes such as the one in which an engagement party on a megayacht is broken up when the would-be groom’s father announces that the wedding is off because the bride refuses to sign a prenuptial agreement.
The book features what’s become a signature aspect of Marren’s novels — a surprise ending. That, too, is true to life, she said.
“That’s what life is like for us. We can plan and plan, but there’s no assurance.”
She’s at work on a third novel. It’s also set in Palm Beach.