Life Drawing

Robin Black, author of the critically acclaimed short story collection If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, returns this summer with her debut novel, LIFE DRAWING.

A fierce and moving portrait of a couple’s life, LIFE DRAWING explores the betrayals and intimacies, the needs and regrets, the secrets that sustain love and the ones that threaten to destroy it.

Robin Black was kind enough to share with us her thoughts about writing this kind of love story . . .

It struck me recently that I have never written the sort of love story that involves people embarking on a relationship. Boy-meets-girl, prince-meets-mermaid, beauty-meets-beast; the question being, will they or won’t they? The truth is, I’m not really interested in whether people get together or not. I’m more interested in how the heck they manage to stay together once the honeymoon ends.

Let me put that another way, in a way that doesn’t make staying together sound as impossible as walking a tightrope with a dozen plates balanced on your head–though of course there are days when any marriage does feel a bit like that. But all I mean is that romantic beginnings have a certain sameness to me. The optimism. The smiles. The certainty of forever, of being different from those other couples who failed. If all happy families are alike, as Tolstoy claimed, then all new couples are even more so.

But what about those couples a decade or two or three or more down the line? What is the impact of experience, of nights and days numbering into the thousands, on their early bliss? That’s where true variety sets in. Some might argue that young love is sexier, but I would argue that a mature love that has weathered so much and contended with so many shifts of expectation is juicier, more complex. And, quite possibly, since we’re talking about human beings here, more lurid, too. The longer the romance, the better the stories.

My own first marriage ended after nine years despite a life of few obvious problems. Our two children were healthy; we didn’t have financial worries; we were both in good health. And yet the marriage collapsed under the weight of something – I still couldn’t tell you precisely what. I just know that the magic, that element that keeps a thing together, was no longer in the mix.

My current marriage, going on twenty years, has been challenged endlessly. We’ve had serious medical crises, and we have a child with special needs; we weathered my bumpy transition from full-time stay-at-home mother to full-time writer; and we’re a so-called blended family, with the attendant complexities that need sensitivity and care. And yet, we adapt. We grow. We have had our better years and our more difficult, but the magic is still there, the thing that somehow makes adjusting more than worth it, the thing that makes us, as one character in Life Drawing describes his marriage, “our own universe.”

There’s something profoundly beautiful and also fascinating to me about that kind of love, the kind that is stubborn about surviving, the kind that really does embody the old wisdom about strength coming from being able to bend. I’m not talking about those stoics who might stay together out of obligation, but about couples (married or not) who are given the gift of a love that can reinvent itself over and over again, a love that will wear thin at times, but then come back, as full and as vibrant as before.

Augusta and Owen, the central characters in Life Drawing, have that kind of love. They’ve had many chances to be devoured by their own betrayals and unhappiness, but they have weathered those – or anyway, they are perpetually trying to understand how to weather them, how to refashion their relationship to survive its own history. Their story is not much like my own, but I think that my marriage—a two-decades-long relationship that keeps going and even improving despite many challenges—made me interested in writing about a couple in that sort of mature and unexpectedly resilient love.

One of the epigraphs at the start of Life Drawing is this quotation from Victor Hugo:

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.

I would add that tucked into that human capacity to embrace imperfection, to love in spite of, are an awful lot of good stories that are waiting to be told.”

It struck me recently that I have never written the sort of love story that involves people embarking on a relationship. Boy-meets-girl, prince-meets-mermaid, beauty-meets-beast; the question being, will they or won’t they? The truth is, I’m not really interested in whether people get together or not. I’m more interested in how the heck they manage to stay together once the honeymoon ends.
Let me put that another way, in a way that doesn’t make staying together sound as impossible as walking a tightrope with a dozen plates balanced on your head–though of course there are days when any marriage does feel a bit like that. But all I mean is that romantic beginnings have a certain sameness to me. The optimism. The smiles. The certainty of forever, of being different from those other couples who failed. If all happy families are alike, as Tolstoy claimed, then all new couples are even more so.
But what about those couples a decade or two or three or more down the line? What is the impact of experience, of nights and days numbering into the thousands, on their early bliss? That’s where true variety sets in. Some might argue that young love is sexier, but I would argue that a mature love that has weathered so much and contended with so many shifts of expectation is juicier, more complex. And, quite possibly, since we’re talking about human beings here, more lurid, too. The longer the romance, the better the stories.
My own first marriage ended after nine years despite a life of few obvious problems. Our two children were healthy; we didn’t have financial worries; we were both in good health.  And yet the marriage collapsed under the weight of something – I still couldn’t tell you precisely what. I just know that the magic, that element that keeps a thing together, was no longer in the mix.
My current marriage, going on twenty years, has been challenged endlessly. We’ve had serious medical crises, and we have a child with special needs; we weathered my bumpy transition from full-time stay-at-home mother to full-time writer; and we’re a so-called blended family, with the attendant complexities that need sensitivity and care. And yet, we adapt. We grow. We have had our better years and our more difficult, but the magic is still there, the thing that somehow makes adjusting more than worth it, the thing that makes us, as one character in Life Drawing describes his marriage, “our own universe.”
There’s something profoundly beautiful and also fascinating to me about that kind of love, the kind that is stubborn about surviving, the kind that really does embody the old wisdom about strength coming from being able to bend. I’m not talking about those stoics who might stay together out of obligation, but about couples (married or not) who are given the gift of a love that can reinvent itself over and over again, a love that will wear thin at times, but then come back, as full and as vibrant as before.
Augusta and Owen, the central characters in Life Drawing, have that kind of love. They’ve had many chances to be devoured by their own betrayals and unhappiness, but they have weathered those – or anyway, they are perpetually trying to understand how to weather them, how to refashion their relationship to survive its own history. Their story is not much like my own, but I think that my marriage—a two-decades-long relationship that keeps going and even improving despite many challenges—made me interested in writing about a couple in that sort of mature and unexpectedly resilient love.
One of the epigraphs at the start of  Life Drawing is this quotation from Victor Hugo: The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.
I would add that tucked into that human capacity to embrace imperfection, to love in spite of, are an awful lot of good stories that are waiting to be told.”

Praise for LIFE DRAWING:

“A magnificent literary achievement . . . and a heart-stopping, jaw-dropping thriller.”
—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

“A gorgeously written suspenseful study of marriage and betrayal. Not exactly a Gone Girl readalike but just as compelling.”

—Robin Beerbower, EarlyWord “GalleyChatter” Columnist

Click to Request an eGalley of LIFE DRAWING.

Click for a Discussion Guide for LIFE DRAWING.

On Love Stories: Robin Black

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