Elizabeth LaBan is the author of the new novel Not Perfect. Her other books include The Restaurant Critic's Wife and Pretty Little World, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Newsday. She lives in Philadelphia.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Not Perfect, and for your main character, Tabitha?
A: The true initial kernel of the idea came from a song we used to sing at my kids’ elementary and middle school about accepting that it is impossible to be perfect. It’s a funny song to sing at a school, but also very catchy and true.
At first I thought the book would be about a family that gets in too deep financially – partially because they love their kids’ expensive school so much that they can’t let it go even when they can’t afford it anymore – and so they begin to steal to keep up with their lifestyle.
But that didn’t really work. They didn’t need the things they wanted, and they ended up coming off as spoiled, selfish people. So I began to wonder what it would take for someone who seems to have everything to have to steal, and I thought of Tabitha.
Once I could picture her standing in her lovely, fancy kitchen as the lightbulbs went out and she couldn’t replace them, surrounded by things that cost so much but did so little good for her at the moment, writing down the things she stole the day before so she could one day pay them back, the story really unfolded in front of me.
Q: One of the issues in the book involves secrecy--your main characters are all keeping secrets. Why did you choose to focus on that in the novel?
A: It’s funny, in real life I think secrets can be dangerous – not that I don’t like being let in on a good secret now and then when I am having coffee with one of my friends – but it is almost never good for family members to keep important things from each other.
In fiction, though, I think secrets are the best! I love them, writing about them and reading about them. But they have to make sense, and they have to be compelling.
I loved creating and following through with the secrets in Not Perfect, not only to hopefully hold the reader’s interest as those secrets unfolded, but also because I thought it was a good way to illustrate how isolated the characters were from each other.
Q: Another theme running through it is money (or the lack thereof), and the idea of keeping up appearances. What drew you to that theme?
A: I think so many people live slightly (or completely) above their means, or imagine they will be fine but then something happens and they see they are in financial trouble, and I wanted to explore that and consider what happens when there is a drastic, unexpected change and suddenly no money.
Tabitha was never completely comfortable in her expensive life, but she wanted to be, and she had accepted that it was her normal. When the book begins, she is keenly aware of how ridiculous it is that she has the most expensive granite countertops and lighting fixtures, but can’t afford to buy an everything bagel for her daughter.
Tabitha, though, is more concerned about keeping up appearances because her husband Stuart threatened to tell people a secret, or secrets, she is keeping if she lets people know he has disappeared, and not quite as much with keeping up her social status.
Q: Most of the novel is told from Tabitha's perspective, but you also include the perspectives of her kids, Levi and Fern. Why did you choose to tell part of the story from their viewpoints?
A: When I begin a book I always have that moment of thinking – should this be first person or third person? With The Restaurant Critic’s Wife we see only Lila’s perspective since it is from her point of view.
With this one, though, I wanted to have a tiny bit of distance from Tabitha, to not necessarily be inside her head with her all the time, and to allow the possibility of seeing other’s perspectives as well. I like to read that in a novel, and I enjoyed writing it.
I think it opened up the story a bit, and gave me as the author the chance to tell the story from a few different angles. There is also a point when the reader gets to hear from Stuart, and I wouldn’t have been able to illustrate his personal story as well if I hadn’t made that choice.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished writing the solid first draft of another novel with my writing partner Melissa DePino (we wrote Pretty Little World together). At the moment we are calling it The Backups. This one is about a romantic relationship gone wrong, and the unexpected allies who help the main character see the truth. We are extremely excited about it.
I am also just beginning another solo novel.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Elizabeth LaBan.