Book Review - A conversation with author Wendy Wax

A Week at the Lake scribe talks female relationships and writing about women

Florida-born, Cobb County-dwelling author Wendy Wax has her pulse on the female experience. Her novels are airy and light, heavy on the pop culture references — one of her best-sellers, after all, is about "Downton Abbey" viewing parties — but at the heart of her work is the theme of female friendship: how it forms, is tested, and endures even in the most difficult of circumstances. Her latest novel, A Week at the Lake, centers on Emma, Serena, and Mackenzie, two actresses and a costumer, who've been friends since they met years ago while struggling to "make it" in New York City. But they've grown apart for reasons that only Emma knows, and soon a reckoning will occur when an accident, betrayal, and the revival of their once-annual girls' trip to Lake George, N.Y., forces her secret out into the open. The women must then decide whether their friendship, after all these years, is worth the work of overcoming the past.

CL spoke with Wax about her new novel, the nature of friendship, and the inner lives of women.

So, what inspired you to write novels like A Week at the Lake, which center around women's lives and relationships?

Well, I actually started out writing romances, and they were very much what I think of as women's journeys of self-discovery. That's what drew me in — I found myself writing people discovering whom they are and what they are made of. I also deal with friendship as a central theme; I'm drawn to it over and over again. In this case I wanted to explore a longtime friendship and what can happen to it over time.

Your novel is set in New York, but your character Serena is from the South. Both she and the animated character she plays on TV seem to capitalize on Southern stereotypes to get what they want. Was that intentional?

Absolutely. I have been with New York publishers for a long time and their interpretations of the South and Southerners couldn't be more wrong. I think when I began with Serena, I really liked the irony that she had gone from Charleston to the Northeast, spent years eradicating her Southern accent, and then basically ends up making a living using an accent that she wouldn't have been caught dead with. She really had to come to terms with the fact that this wasn't what she would have chosen to be known for.

My favorite part about this book is that it is actually what it claims to be — a book about female friendship. A lot of times in women's fiction you get women who don't actually like each other, or it's really about romance, but in this one the power really came from the friendship.

The friendship is always the most important part of the story to me, and I hear from a lot of women who really love that, too. When things go wrong, when things fall apart, we're lucky to have our female friends to turn to. I feel very strongly about that, and obviously I feel drawn to writing about it again and again.

What I also like about the book is how your characters experience very real transformations by the end. But I was floored at the beginning by how insecure all of the characters were, these thirty-something-year-old women who were successful in their work. Where did that come from?

You know, I was raised by people who really loved me and in great circumstances and I was still a pretty hot mess as a woman. I don't think it was until I was in my 30s that I started really understanding and appreciating myself. I know a lot of strong, successful, attractive women and I don't think I know any who are like, "I like myself exactly as I am, my body is just right." I mean, do you know any women who are completely comfortable with themselves? Do you and your friends feel that way?

We're trying, but it's hard.

It is hard.

Well, I liked the book, and I'm very happy to hear that you've written romance novels, because I'm a sucker for romance.

You know, I'm glad to hear that. I was at a book signing recently and we got into this large conversation about romance. There were a lot of people who don't understand it, haven't really read it, and make judgments about it. So I'm with you. And I'm really glad that this book resonated for you. As an author there's nothing more wonderful than hearing that somebody really got what you wrote.

A Week at the Lake by Wendy Wax. Penguin. $16 (paperback). 432 pp.

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