New Book: Best Intentions -- How Well Do You Know the People in Your Life?

Best Intentions book coverI'm not one to read fiction books, preferring drug-addled memoirs and Suze Orman-style advice texts instead, but there is a new book out there that broke my rule.

Emily Listfield's Best Intentions is a true page-turner that begs the question: How well can you ever really know a person?

The book follows four former college friends on the edge of 40 as they navigate marriage problems, career pressures, parenting tactics, and most importantly, past grudges. Readers will wonder just how much love influences how we perceive those closest to us -- how much we trust them, how many questions we're willing to ask, and when we'll allow doubt to take hold.



Listfield has written six novels, including Waiting to Surface and the New York Times Notable Book It Was Gonna Be Like Paris. She's a former magazine editor-in-chief whose work has appeared in Redbook, More, Harper's Bazaar, and Parade among many other publications. She talked to us about what inspired her book and how she plans to celebrate Mother's Day this weekend.

At its core the book questions how well you can ever really know a person -- what made you want to delve into this subject matter? Why was it on your mind?

I've always been fascinated by this question and have touched on it in previous books, I think it's something we all wonder about in various ways, What is the next door neighbor who seems so friendly really up to? How could the Craigslist Killer's girlfriend swear he is 'beautiful inside and out?" Obviously those are extreme cases, But everyone -- your spouse, your lover, even your children are to some degree a mystery. I believe everyone has had the experience of looking at the person sleeping next to them and wondering what is going on in the head and in their heart. 


Did you learn anything about "trust and perception" while writing the book?

I started out with the premise of how dangerous it is to think you know what someone else is thinking -- even someone you love. You may act in ways you think will make them happy but without real communication the results can be disastrous. Sometimes we are scared to ask questions. Sometimes we find it difficult to admit our hopes and fears. Writing Best Intentions showed me once more how easy it is to jump to the wrong conclusions -- and how important it is to speak up.

Your main characters are part of the wealthy, Manhattan elite (at least on the outside) -- why that demographic? What do they represent to you?

They are pressed up against the window of an elite world without really being a part of it. At one point Lisa, the narrator, says, "I feel like I am in their world on a visa."  I'm downtown [Manhattan] single mom/writer with a daughter at a very chi-chi uptown school -- the differences, the ambivalence and the ambiguities are driven home to me every day. Lisa doesn't envy the other wealthier mothers necessarily, but she does have moments of being jealous of their freedom from anxiety. (And moments of being revolted by them!) I think no matter where you live, those are issues many women deal with, especially these days. Plus, that whole Gossip Girl world is awfully fun to send up a bit -- just so ripe for humor and irony.

The narrator is pushing 40 and her past has come to haunt her -- what about this age (late 30s) do you think, makes the past more significant?
Forty tends to be a landmark birthday. All four main characters went to college together and are now at a crossroads. It's natural at this point to compare your past expectations to where you actually find yourself. Lisa is in a lengthy marriage but worries about the lack of heat; her husband, Sam, thought he would be further along in his career, and her best friend Deirdre wants a baby desperately and thinks her long lost college flame might be her best bet. It's time when we think of past lovers, roads not taken and wonder what might have happened -- and if it is too late to try again. In the end, of course, it is also time to come to peace with where you are in life and appreciate it.

How does the story apply to modern day moms?
Motherhood is at the heart of Best Intentions. Lisa is mom to two tween girls and she struggles with all of the issues that brings up, from learning how to let go, to the overwhelming urge to keep them safe. She loves her job -- and needs the income -- but is sometimes jealous of stay-at-home moms. She and her husband struggle with parenting issues -- who is the disciplinarian? who is good cop? Most of all, she thinks about the deep, deep connection she has to her children and weighs how they will be affected by her actions, trying to balance their needs with her own.

If you could pick one passage from the book to share with another woman, what passage?
My female friends are so important to me as a source of both humor and support. I think there are wonderful passages in Best Intentions about marriage and motherhood that all women will relate to, but I would chose something about the abiding friendship between Lisa and Deirdre. The two best friends get together to talk about everything -- men, children, jobs, dreams, desires -- and yes, diets. (Let's be real.) In this passage they are having breakfast a day before they will all gather for a reunion. It is, after all, a universal truth that you want to look as thin as possible before seeing an old boyfriend for the first time in years:

"Are we doing carbs or not this week?" I ask.

Deirdre shakes her head,"Too dangerous. I’m trying these seaweed capsules.”

“I thought we agreed, no diet drugs.”

“They’re not a drug. They’re completely natural. They’re from Germany,” she emphasizes. The European origin adds to their cachet, much like this past summer’s rampant use of a certain SPF 60 sun block from Sweden whose ingredients are not yet FDA-approved and thus has to be brought back from Europe, serving the dual purpose of announcing where you have been and that your skin is far too sensitive for any lotion America can come up with. “You take three before every meal. “They’re supposed to expand in your stomach and make you feel full. The only potential side effect, according to the box, is the risk of choking to death if one accidentally expands in your throat on the way down.”

“That would certainly prevent you from over-eating. Do they work?”

“Who knows? My stomach is so bloated from them that I couldn’t zip my jeans this morning.”

I glance at Deirdre, who is, in fact, wearing jeans. White jeans. And looks quite thin. As always.

“These are a different pair,” Deirdre explains. “My fat jeans.

I roll my eyes. “There is no such thing as ‘fat’ white jeans. It’s a complete oxymoron.”

Who would you cast in the film version of the book?

Now this is fun! For Lisa: Kate Winslet. For Sam: Gerard Butler. For Deirde: Rachel Weisz. For Jack: James Franco.

How does being a mother influence your work?

Being a mother influences everything in my life and that includes my writing. Having children gives you a deeper connection and stake in the world, it simply ups that ante in all ways -- love, hope, fear, appreciation. In terms of fiction, it has given me a broader canvas and a deeper understanding of characters' motivations, their deepest wishes and desires.

How are you planning to celebrate Mother's Day?
I have my mother over for brunch every year. Hopefully my daughter, in honor of the day, will do the dishes!

Does being a mother influence the type of books you read? How so?
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