The Super Bowl in Houston brought us a lot of things. It brought us Super Bowl Live, which was just so incredibly fun. It brought Houston more than 100K visitors, and one hell of a game we got to watch from some of the best restaurants and bars in the world. But a win for me was getting to getting to have brunch with theSkimm founders and meeting a fellow Skimm’bassador, who, just so happens to also be an incredible writer and debut author. PS. Subscribe to theSkimm for a daily newsletter that makes it easier to be smarter!
I’ve written about my book club before — sure, make grandma jokes here, but we’re no grandmas — and we’ve done book reviews before too, but Abby Fabiaschi’s “I Liked My Life” is different from any other emotional rollercoaster of a novel I’ve ever read (yes, even this one).
During theSkimm brunch, I hear Abby describe her book to a few people — each time with a similar defensive hesitation: “It’s about a family recovering after the matriarch kills herself — but I swear it’s not as dark as it sounds,” she says preemptively, as everyone is usually a little taken aback.
The book does take place right after Maddy commits suicide by jumping off a building and the book’s perspective jumps (no pun intended) from her workaholic husband, Brady, her 17-year-old daughter, Eve, and, well, Maddy herself (postmortem). Eve and Brady deal with the anger and sadness that has overwhelmingly washed over them while Maddy watches helplessly from above.
It’s a book that will make you cry (multiple times) and laugh (seriously!). It also, maybe not unintentionally, made me think about my own life, losses, family and priorities. PSA: Read with a friend so you have someone to talk to about it. So necessary.
After I read the book, I asked Abby to answer a few questions about her writing process. (No worries, there aren’t any spoilers). Click here to get your hands on a copy of “I Liked My Life.
One thing I kept thinking about as I read was that you are a stay at home mom with two kids yourself, right? Being a mom, I’m sure you identified with Maddy on some things. Did you write yourself into that character at all? Until my children turned three and four, I was an executive in high tech, working 60-70 hour weeks and traveling a lot. We had the full time nanny lifestyle. I resigned with intent to treat writing as a job— in the hopes that one day it would be— but it was trickier than I anticipated. I became the chauffeur and laundress and cook and grocery shopper, all of which ate into my writing time. I began to see the spectrum of challenges that women face, whether they “lean in” to juggle work/family or stay at home. There’s guilt on both sides.
I know first hand the tension of a father-daughter relationship, and the symbiotic relationship mothers and daughters have. How did you develop those relationships so well? My father and I were actually very close, and I was aware from a young age that we were unique. I began to observe father/daughter relationships, intrigued by the idea that a father’s instinct to protect and provide can inhibit his ability to be emotionally present for the people he protects and provides for.
Suicide is not a pretty topic, but somehow you made this beautiful story around it. Do you have any personal connection to suicide? If not, how did you manage to develop that theme? I don’t have a personal connection to suicide, but I lost one of my closest friends in high school in a car accident and my grief was complicated by guilt. At fifteen, the world revolves around you. I wasn’t contemplating things like fate; I just knew that if I’d invited her to my house that day, as I’d planned to, she wouldn’t have been in that car. With I LIKED MY LIFE, I set out to explore mourning with the added burden of feeling responsible. I sought a death scenario that would incite enough “guilt” for the conflict to carry a novel.
I love that the book talks about the afterlife without being overly religious. I’m like Maddy in that I have this feeling of a greater being and questioned an afterlife, and I just love how the book depicts Maddy in a sort of purgatory able to watch over her family and they can sense her presence. Again, is this something you have first hand experience with, or is it something you created? I do feel as though I get guidance from loved ones who are no longer physically here; a supportive chill during an intense bout of solitary thought or a memory that pops to mind with a germane message. Is it real or does my mind concoct these moments the way it makes my head itch when I hear the word lice? I honestly don’t know. But these spiritual trysts ease my pain, comforting me in a way the grounded world cannot, so I no longer question their authenticity. I suppose I’ll uncover the truth when I’m on the other side of the fence.
Maddy had a lot of Maddy-isms, and they are so profound! Were all those thoughts or advice tidbits yours? Or do you have a Maddy in your life? Recently, after a glass of wine, my sister read through the truths at end and attributed them to different people in my life. Some are original me, but most are nuggets I picked up along the way from my sister, parents, grandma, and mentors. I guess they represent advice I’ve received that managed to stick.
“I Liked My Life” is one of those books that you read one way and then, with a surprise plot twist, you begin to think so differently about once you finish. So, what came first? Did you always know how it was going to end? Or did you start one way, and the ending changed? I must answer this carefully, as no one likes a spoiler. For those who have read the book: I always knew what the ending wasn’t, but I didn’t conceive of how it would play out until I got there.