When young mother and wife Kristin disappears leaving her husband Paul and children behind, her friends and neighbors Izzy and Clara can’t help but wonder if they truly knew Kristin and begin to question what they know about themselves. This is the story at the center of Jessica Strawser’s new novel, Not That I Could Tell.
Strawser’s first novel, Almost Missed You also deals with a vanishing spouse and well-guarded secrets between friends. In an email interview, I asked Strawser about her inspiration behind her less-than-perfect fictional marriages and the truth about domestic abuse.
When I interviewed you about your last novel, Almost Missed You, I remember that you mentioned in regards to the plot that you wanted to “peel back the layers slowly to reveal that all was not what it seemed.” Was that true also for this novel?
Absolutely—though Almost Missed You achieves that “unpeeling” effect by jumping back and forth in time, whereas Not That I Could Tell unfolds more linearly, with the woman’s disappearance at the start of the book as the catalyst for all that follows.
Not That I Could Tell touches on the subject of secrets people keep from family and friends. What is it about this that appeals to you?
I’ve always been interested in the versions of ourselves we present to the world as opposed to the more complex realities of our inner lives. I think the distance between the two is in some ways becoming greater in this era of social media, where just about anyone can make things look better than they are. That could manifest as something as relatively insignificant as pressure for every child’s birthday party to be Pinterest-worthy, or as serious as what Kristin’s friends begin to suspect she may have been hiding.
From the beginning, we suspect that Kristin’s disappearance isn’t as cut and dried as it seems. How challenging is it to keep from revealing too many clues to the reader?
In some ways it was easy, because this story is mostly told through her neighbors’ eyes, and they were largely in the dark about what had really gone on. It was important to me for Kristin to have the chance to tell at least some of the story herself, and so deciding where to position her mini chapters, where she’s talking directly to the reader, was key.
Domestic abuse is a strong topic and explored quite extensively in the book. Was this difficult to write about?
I lost a close friend to domestic violence almost ten years ago, so it was difficult, yes—but I also felt incredibly driven to write this story in a way that would let my characters (and readers) grapple with some of the same questions that I have. In that way, it came naturally, because the heart of the story was already there.
Did the use of multiple narrators allow for more freedom in telling the story?
The more I read, and write, and live, the more I’m convinced of how limited any one character’s perspective really is (whether in real life or on the page). I gave a lot of thought to who should narrate this story; I wanted to show how people in the same circumstance can read into it very differently, in part because of every individual’s personal experience and history that can bend the context.
Was there a character you were attached to more than the others?
This book features a sort of ensemble cast that I loved for all its quirky diversity—but I think I related most to Clara, as I understood her plight from the start in a way that readers would not until much later in the story.
What would you like for readers to take away from the novel?
That the world is full of women who are stronger than they know, and that real friendship is worth leaning into.
Are you already working on novel number three?
Yes! Forget You Know Me is coming from St. Martin’s Press in February 2019. Look for a cover reveal soon!