In Her Words

Heidi Pitlor

It was July 16, 1999. Some friends and I were hefting huge backpacks into the trunks of our cars after a backwoods camping trip in northern New Hampshire. Someone turned on a car radio and we all heard the news: John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Bessette-Kennedy, as well as her sister, had disappeared in a small plane just off Martha’s Vineyard. I hardly knew anything about these three people. As my friends and I drove back toward civilization, more was said over the radio — gravely, and with alarm — although at that point, not much more was known. Something triggered within me. How did I know so little about these people? I had heard John John’s upper crusty nickname muttered with a derisive lockjaw. I knew a bit about his dabblings in politics and publishing. Everyone knew about the Kennedy curse. But I knew hardly anything about Caroline or her sister. Every DJ on every radio station was soon talking about the missing Piper Saratoga. What had happened to them? What was their connection with Martha’s Vineyard, where I had spent several summers in college working in restaurants? Wasn’t Hyannis Port their domain? As the story unfolded — and with it, rumors of marital discontent, John’s failing magazine, Caroline’s possible depression — I found myself oddly riveted. Caroline soon drifted closer to the center of the story, this lovely, apparently shy woman who rocketed to global fame only after she had died.

At the end of 2002, a beautiful, very pregnant married woman named Laci Peterson disappeared. The media lit up.

Poe wrote, “The death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.” I set out to write this novel with an interest in this country’s — and my own — obsession with the disappearances of beautiful women.

A few months after I started it, a young mother, Rachel Entwistle, and her baby were shot and killed by her British husband in the very small Massachusetts town where my new husband and I had recently moved. I watched the international media swarm in and the town morph into a temporary city of reporters and cameramen and producers and curious onlookers. The Entwistles had lived about two miles from our house, and I began to go for drives past theirs. I took note of the throngs of people and police tape. I tried to catch a glimpse of a family member or neighbor — a hum in my chest, horrified but intrigued. And utterly ashamed of myself. Wasn’t I, literary fiction editor and writer, educated woman and news snob, above this desperate gawking?

I began to think that the media, as well as us, its willing viewers and readers, were reveling in a dark fairy tale: beautiful woman marries charming, handsome man. Something about the man is not as it seems — perhaps his competence, his loyalty, his morality. His hidden flaw causes her downfall, which inevitably leads to his. Is our enthusiasm for this story the ultimate schadenfreude? The perfect are not in fact perfect. Thank God.

The gap between a person’s external and internal lives has always intrigued me. When I began this book, I wanted to tunnel my way inside the archetypes of the beautiful victim and the secretive suspect and unearth some possible complexities. I was curious about how interchangeable the roles of aggressor and victim might be within the bounds of a strained marriage. I hoped to imagine the impact of so much external attention and with it, assumption, both for the beautiful woman during her life and the secretive man after her disappearance. I wanted to travel to the extreme of what might happen when a couple’s desires go ignored for years in the face of their daily realities. When their blackest thoughts about each other finally burst forth, when they must face their own dark impulses and wishes in the light of day, what then?

Light plays a significant role in this book — the clear light of one pivotal day in the life of a husband and wife; the blinding flash of cameras; the ever-changing view through a skylight above the couple’s bed. The Daylight Marriage is a study of exposure — an x-ray of two lives, a marriage, and a culture that professes to love one kind of tale but so often embraces a much darker story.

The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor will be published in May 2015 and will be available wherever books and e-books are sold.

You can pre-order it now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble — or your favorite indie bookstore.

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