Confessions of a Stepford Wife
Kira should not be going back to Longview, Texas. She should stay in California where her life might be boring, but it’s hers. She only has her grandmother, who banished her from East Texas, and her sister Katie, who approves of nothing in Kira’s life.
In May Cobb’s new novel, A LIKEABLE WOMAN, Kira’s mother, Sadie, officially died by suicide, but Kira knows that’s a lie. Her mother would never leave her like that. Sadie was a free-spirit; a creative soul shackled in a small town with an abusive husband, who confided her deepest hopes and dreams to Kira while they were cocooned together in Sadie’s artist’s shed. She was frustrated and sometimes sad, but not depressed.
But the invitation that arrived in Kira’s mailbox has opened the door to memories best left forgotten. Memories of the night her mother was murdered. Kira’s teetering between returning to Longview and staying in her stagnant life when her grandmother calls to tell Kira she finally believes Sadie was murdered. Kira can’t stay away. Not now that she finally has an ally.
The Big Thrill was pleased to sit down with May Cobb to talk about mother/daughter relationships and what it means to be a “likeable woman.”
Sadie and Kira have an enviable mother/daughter relationship. They’re both artists and confide in each other. They’re the closest of friends. Perhaps too close? Sadie shares pieces of her life that mothers typically don’t share with their children. How did this oversharing affect Kira’s ability to mourn her mother?
Part of Sadie and Kira’s relationship is inspired by me and my mom’s relationship because we’re super close, and we have always been simpatico. But of course, this is a novel, so I needed to make it more dramatic and fraught. I wanted to give Sadie more flaws and one of those is oversharing with her daughter. [Sadie’s] an adult who has nowhere else to turn…so she can’t help but share these adult things with Kira. Her mom might have put too much on her in that way, but it’s just a human thing, you know?
But Sadie didn’t have this kind of relationship with her older daughter Katie. Can you explain why?
I also wanted to play with how, sometimes in families, battle lines can be drawn and sides can be taken. I don’t think that’s terribly uncommon. Katie’s at that tipping point age where most children are embarrassed by [their parents]. They don’t want to be in the same room with them. They hate everything about them. That was more Katie’s journey. And she was always more of a daddy’s girl, so when her parents’ marriage started to unravel, she took her father’s side even though he was not in the right.
Sadie’s story is woven through the chapters via a memoir she wrote for Kira to read when she was older. In it, she tells Kira some stark realities about her life, which also include some clues regarding her death. What made you decide to use chapters from Sadie’s memoir to help tell her story?
One of my favorite books is The Silent Patient. I loved those diary entries from the main character Alicia. I love books that have different texts in them as a way to tell a story, and I thought, with Sadie’s character, I could totally see this.
I also like the thought of a mother’s voice reaching a daughter across the boundaries of time and death. And then, from a suspense element, I thought it would be cool to have the information doled out in a way where Kira is finding out her mom’s secrets in real time while she’s [in Longview]. Hopefully, the reader is reading the book with Kira and is trying to figure out who could be behind all this.
You titled this book A LIKEABLE WOMAN. In her memoir, Sadie counsels Kira to never be a likeable woman. What is a “likeable woman?”
It’s funny because I don’t even feel like Sadie’s necessarily likable. I feel like she was a total renegade. She was on the cusp of going to college in New York when her parents were killed in the car wreck, and then she let herself get [trapped] into that mold of women…where they get married, they get into the suburban home, and they have children. And that’s their whole lives.
Even though she finally gets her art shed in the backyard and starts making her batiks and is trying to live a more defiant life, she’s still let a big part of her slip away in the name of likability and conformity. I think for this book likability equals conformity. She’s a woman in that era in which [it’s your job to] please your husband above all else and you stay in this role. That’s a safe role for you to be in, and you’re not supposed to have notions of living some bohemian lifestyle. You’re supposed to want to be a mom above all else and a housewife. But Sadie was never going to be content with any of that, so she definitely doesn’t want her daughter to follow in her footsteps.
Kira’s grandmother is the domineering matriarch of the family. She influenced her son’s marriage to Sadie, she pushed Sadie to conform and become this likable woman, and she sent Kira away to boarding school because Kira wouldn’t accept the narrative that her mother died by suicide. But when Kira returns, her grandmother seems very disconnected from the world around her. Did the memoir really change her mind about the cause of Sadie’s death? Or was this a manipulation to get one of her family members to return to her?
I think she’s both manipulating Kira because she…doesn’t have much time left and she desperately wants to see her granddaughter again. She also recognizes that Kira’s life is glacial and she’s never going to move on unless she hears the truth about her mom. So, it’s a little nice of her, and then also a little manipulative.
I’m at work on the next book which is Rear Window meets Spare Room set in Hollywood.