divorce book cover

The epic mismatch of Rachel and Mackie is alluded to early on in the series – Mackie isn’t allowed to partake of family activities, his family members grumble about his spouse, Poppy and Mimmy trash Rachel’s less-than-illustrious background because of course they would. I realized Mackie’s story couldn’t possibly be one of the more lighthearted books in the series.

Here’s the funny and weird thing. The book that precedes The Wrong ReasonsInto the Sunset, is a timeline throwback to 2004. Initially, Mackie’s story was supposed to have been the throwback. Yes, Rachel is working in a (Star Wars-themed) café when they meet and is from Pittsburgh, where she grew up in a lower-income situation. She does end up going to college and getting a MSW.

This throwback was supposed to have been some romantic comedy fun or something. I don’t know. They find love despite this massive, massive chasm between their backgrounds and values systems. It was tentatively titled with Rachel’s (derogatory) nickname for the poor guy, Preppy Boy. My brain is throwing up right now. Thank goodness I came to my senses and made the book depressing and sad.

What wouldn’t work about a lighthearted Mackie/Rachel pairing is that I just couldn’t see how such a ‘Cinderella story’ type thing could work well in reality. I’m not saying everyone needs to marry a person exactly like them, but even small disparities between backgrounds can cause friction for a couple. This extreme level of difference honestly would be a very hard thing to make work. A reasonable portion of the Hughes family are – let’s face it – terribly snobby. Rachel is incredibly bitter and jealous. This isn’t a recipe for wedded bliss.

Once I ditched the idea of wedded bliss, the story really started to flow. The idea of someone being emotionally abused and subject to gaslighting really resonated with me. Years ago, with former boyfriends, I experienced this type of thing. I also thought it would be really interesting to shed some light on an abused male character – this is something that happens and isn’t often discussed.

Only a handful of the books are told entirely from one character’s point of view (The DateWhere We Start FromThe Wrong Reasons and the forthcoming prequel Fatherly). For obvious reasons, Rachel wasn’t going to get a voice here. Narrowing the focus to just Mackie’s experience also helped show what being battered down by abuse is like. The reader only sees him doubting himself and thinking that it’s his fault.

The other thing I felt was delicate in this book is the fact that working-class Rachel is the bad guy. I hope I managed to strike the tone I was going for. The open-minded characters admire her for leaving her hometown and getting an advanced degree. It’s clear that the snobbier characters are just being their snobby selves. Going back to what I said about the difficulties of bridging the gap between a couple’s backgrounds, Rachel’s unpleasantness stems from the fact that she thinks the world owes her something and from the way she lets her jealousy of Mackie’s family eat away at her. She also pretends to hate money while using Mackie for money, so that’s not good either.

The Rachel character is awful, but when writing her, I wanted to be sure and make clear that it’s her personality that’s objectionable. Not the fact that her parents were unable to afford a stable of ponies or that she went to the ‘wrong’ schools or isn’t from New England. The series does have fun with some light snobbery at times, but in the end, these are never acceptable reasons to exclude someone. To be honest, living in Ohio now, I’ve been on the receiving end of this when I’ve gone back to visit the East Coast. It definitely stings when someone pretends your state is so low on their radar they don’t know where it is. (Although, it has to be said, shouldn’t the ‘right schools’ teach basic geography?) So, no, I don’t condone needless, petty snobbery, but admit to making myself laugh with the characters’ mostly harmless variety.

This book sets up some of the key conflicts in the series – we haven’t seen the last of Rachel, unfortunately, nor of Sissy Norcross – plus Mackie’s kids come into their own as adults much later in the series. I’m in the thick of writing about that currently, and I’m very excited about what’s to come.

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