Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Q&A with Justine Sullivan




Justine Sullivan is the author of the new novel He Said He Would Be Late. She lives in the Boston area.


Q: What inspired you to write He Said He Would Be Late?


A: In 2020, my husband and I watched the movie Luce. On the surface, it's a thriller about two parents who suddenly wonder whether they actually know their adopted son. But what it's really about is implicit bias and the danger of unfounded assumptions.


I couldn't stop thinking about the film and started wondering what could drive a woman to question everything she thought she knew about her husband. 


Q: Your character Liz's married name is Elizabeth Bennett, her daughter's name is Emma, and she loves Pride and Prejudice. How did you create Liz, and what do you see as the relationship between your novel and the work of Jane Austen?

A: I read Jane Austen in high school and college and loved that her protagonists are very relatable. They're funny and mischievous and tortured and sometimes quite annoying, like Liz.


In my novel, I see some of that ironic social commentary Austen is known for, as well as the fixation on finding (and keeping) a "perfect" husband. 


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: He Said He Would Be Late refers to the late nights Liz's husband works in finance. She knew that was the deal before she married him, but they become something Liz grows paranoid about when she begins to question the foundation of their marriage. She constantly tries to reassure herself, well he did say he'd be working late, so...


Q: The writer Christina McDonald called the book “A pacey, compelling tale of obsession that's also an insightful and intimate look at marriage and the many vulnerabilities of new motherhood.” What do you think of that description, and did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it?


A: Thanks, Christina! This is a great description. Liz's obsession with making sure her husband is who she thought she married cannot be separated from her anxiety as a new mom. There is nothing quite as transformative as motherhood and for some women, that means a new vulnerability about their identity.


When we meet Liz, an author-turned-stay-at-home-mom, it's easy to see that she's lost her sense of self. And past trauma, as well as anxiety and depression, make even small things seem like very big things she can't make sense of. 


I did not know exactly how the novel would end before writing it! I had a rough outline, but let the characters drive the ending. I hope it's a surprise. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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