Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Q&A with Rowan Beaird




Rowan Beaird is the author of the new novel The Divorcées. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Kenyon Review.


Q: What inspired you to write The Divorcées, and how did you create your characters Lois and Greer?


A: The idea for The Divorcées came to me during—of all times—my bachelorette weekend in Las Vegas. On a tour of the Neon Museum, our guide shared the history of lax divorce laws in the state, and how Reno became the “divorce capital of the world” beginning in the 1930s.


I became obsessed with this time period, the glamour of movie stars and socialites journeying to Reno to stay at ranches in the desert, but more than that, I loved the idea of women at such a crisis point in their own lives all living under one roof.


I knew I wanted the protagonist, Lois, to be an outsider, someone who is trying to find her place in the world, and it felt only natural that she would be drawn to someone like Greer who burns with such confidence and self-assurance.


Though theirs is a friendship, I wanted their relationship to read in many ways like a love story—with the same attraction, infatuation, and potential for betrayal.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I’m indebted to many writers and historians. One of the best books written about this time is The Divorce Seekers by William and Sandra McGee. William was a ranch hand at The Flying ME, one of the most famous divorce ranches in Reno, and his photos and stories were invaluable.


The University of Nevada also created an incredible resource in the Reno Divorce History project—their transcripts of interviews with divorcées in particular are fascinating.

In terms of what surprised me, I was shocked at just how much divorce laws varied from state to state.


In Nevada, you could separate from your spouse for any reason just by living there for six weeks, whereas in New York adultery was really the only justifiable cause—to the point that there was actually a business for actresses posing for photos in hotel rooms with husbands so that couples could separate.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the novel called it a “transporting psychological novel of friendship and betrayal, with the moody period feel of a Hitchcock film.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love that description! Film is so critical to the book. It’s in many ways how the protagonist, Lois, accesses and understands the world, and films from this period were crucial for my research.


Yes, it was important to learn about the history of Nevada and divorce, but I think consuming art from the period you’re writing about adds such rich context and texture.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I hope readers understand the many ways that this is a modern story. Though it’s set in the 1950s, the desires and fears of the women on the ranch mirror the desires and fears of women today—especially in light of some recent decisions in this country, like the repeal of Roe v. Wade and even some proposals this past year to overturn no-fault divorce.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My new obsession is the 1970s, and I’m writing a novel set during that decade. It takes place over the course of a wedding weekend, and the bride has just left the often-forgotten cult Synanon.


It’s told from the perspective of two men who love her—her brother and friend from college—who are trying to figure out why she joined Synanon in the first place, and whether or not she’s really left.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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