Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spotlight on: Mary Marcus

About the book:

Harriet is floundering. She's in her early forties, her kids have gone to college, her marriage feels empty, her cable TV cooking show has lost its sense of inspiration, and she longs to leave the West Coast for New York. Then one day she meets Lydia, a gorgeous woman in her late twenties. Lydia reminds her so much of herself a decade or so past, and her husband, who hardly likes anything, likes Lydia as well. It slowly dawns on Harriet that Lydia could be the answer to everything that's ailing her. All she needs to do is turn Lydia into "the new me."

Reminiscent of the work of Susan Isaacs and Nora Ephron, The New Me is a witty, poignant, perceptive, and beautifully written novel about change and the price of becoming who you want to be.

Praise for Mary Marcus and The New Me:

The New Me by Mary Marcus is a revelation. Like Joan Didion, she brings to life the nuance and emotion of a sometimes-dysfunctional family life in Southern California with a jaundiced view of Hollywood in her peripheral vision. Like Williams Carlos Williams, she knows that precise observation of details can illuminate great depth. Part baby-boom prose poem, part woman’s rebirth, The New Me is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful. What a cool first novel!”
– Danny Goldberg, author of Bumping Into Geniuses

The New Me is funny, poignant and deftly written. It is a relatable story that beats with a pulse of a modern marriage paradigm and provides cringe-worthy moments that simultaneously delight and distress. This book made me uncomfortable in all the best ways. I couldn’t put it down.”
– Moira Walley-Beckett, Writer/Co-Executive Producer of Breaking Bad

“So you think it’s all sun, surf and smiles. Mary Marcus shows you the dark side of the California dream. A sadly eloquent, painfully honest account of how a mystery woman intrudes on a marriage growing melancholy. Reader beware: you might find yourself in these pages.”
– Heywood Gould, author of Cocktail, Fort Apache The Bronx, Greenlight For Murder

“Mary Marcus expertly illuminates the world of a lived marriage in this inspired novel. With careful nuance and dark humor in her back pocket, she raises questions women might not dare ask themselves. The New Me will give the old you something to think about. A real treat.”
– Rachel Eddey, author of Running of the Bride

“Mary Marcus has created Healthy Harriet and her world with a sharp eye and robust humor. A great debut book parsing the complexities of love, married life, motherhood, and betrayal.”
– Alissa Torres, author of American Widow

“In The New Me, Mary Marcus tells a clever and engaging tale of the intertwined lives of transplanted modern city-dwellers, which not only illuminates surprising dimensions of our all-too-human strengths and frailties but how the path to self-discovery is seldom what we expect.”
– Bran Ferren, Founder, Chief Creative Officer, Applied Minds, LLC

“Have you ever worried you could be replaced by another woman? Have you ever secretly hoped that you might be? Is eighteen years of making dinner every night enough already? These questions haunt the irresistible chef/wife/mother Harriet Prince in Mary Marcus’s funny, heartbreaking and thriller-paced novel, The New Me. Marcus serves up the humor and sadness in a threatened empty-nest marriage and reminds us that for even the best cook, endings can be bittersweet.”
– Delphine Hirsh, author of The Girls’ Guide to Surviving a Breakup

Excerpt from The New Me:

It’s not surprising that I met Lydia at yoga. It was the only place I went regularly other than work and the farmer’s market. She put her mat down next to mine and we smiled at each other, the way yoga people do.

I took up practicing in the summer before the boys entered their senior year of high school. I heard it helped you sleep and if I hung around the house at the dinner hour cooking and serving, the boys and I would invariably start shrieking at each other. That year, Jules was working thirty miles away on some show shot on a horse ranch mostly at night. Wednesday night he was home and he generally spent it in bed with a tray and the remote control. Once in a while, he and the boys went out to this revolting Mexican restaurant they all love and I won’t go near. Otherwise, he was gone except on the weekends when he slept, being understandably exhausted from the night shoots. Three mornings a week before dawn, Jules and I would cross paths in the kitchen: me with my commuter’s mug of café au lait on my way to the cable studio for Healthy Harriet. Jules on his way to the kitchen for his Irish oatmeal before hitting the sack. (The oatmeal everybody loved was made the night before in the crockpot by Healthy Harriet.) Looking back it is remarkable how often Jules landed gigs that either sent him on location or put him in an entire other stratosphere schedule-wise from the rest of us.

Once I started yoga, I was hooked almost right away and began going into down dogs in the kitchen and soon handstands against the door that led to the laundry room. When I took the boys for their college tours, I remember Googling yoga studios in the towns we visited. Like cooking, it kept me sane. And gave me something to look forward to. And it wasn’t solitary like running. I liked the chanting. The bowing and the “Namaste”—I particularly loved the one chant we repeated three times: Loca Samasta Sukihino Bhvantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering.

By that point I must have begun to realize subconsciously at least, that much as I loved him, I was much happier and the boys acted better when Jules wasn’t around. What a revelation! For years I had been in the habit of thinking the problem was that Jules was gone most of the time and we all missed him. Granted we did miss him, especially in those first few years in LA when they were young and I didn’t know a soul and I had to start all over again work-wise. Though I do remember sort of putting it together that the horrible pains that tightened my neck muscles and sent me to the chiropractor for adjustments only happened when Jules was at home. When he was around, I not only felt sort of queasy, I could literally feel the chords of my neck tightening like the reins of a workhorse. The Jules effect wasn’t a whole lot more salubrious on the boys. In fact Sam started having the same neck problems I did. Maybe it was his violin, maybe not. I’m not trying to say things were perfect between the boys and me. Especially Dan and me. Certainly we fought when I hung around serving them dinner and when I fussed like they were ten-year-olds. However, when I stopped doing that we were much better. I say all this because the combination – of just leaving them food and not fussing over them realizing I didn’t miss Jules, realizing they didn’t miss Jules, doing yoga and finally when they left home and the coast was clear, meeting Lydia – was like finding the essential fixings for a good stock, and the basis for what I cooked up. The spontaneous orgasm at yoga probably didn’t hurt either. A little giftie from the universe, a sort of hey, look, it can happen again, maybe not in the way you think but it can happen.

Dinnertime yoga in LA – and probably everywhere else too – is primarily practiced by single and/or divorced women. If I were a guy on the make, that’s the first place I’d go. Women who do a lot of yoga have great bodies and I even stopped shouting (except in the shower) when I got hooked. But the men at yoga are usually few and far between and often gay. That or AA. It didn’t take me long to discover not only was I one of the least limber in class, I was also the only woman there who actually lived with her husband and kids. Certainly my role at home was quite different than it had been before – the real change had come when they got their drivers licenses. However, I still considered myself a mom. And I did what moms do everywhere whether their day jobs are over or not. I planned the meals, did the shopping, cooked what they liked, ran the house, showed up at school functions and bought them things, tried to get them to talk to me . . . and now that they were older watched for signs of drugs, though I generally avoided signs of sex. A far cry from the old days when there was all this plus driving, plus organized sports, music lessons and the rest of it. Since I’m trying to tell it like it was, did I mind that I wasn’t so fucking central anymore? Not really. Sometimes I felt wistful for the early years, particularly when I looked at the lines around my face. But like a lot of women, I was dead-tired from too many years of doing too much cooking/managing/scheduling. Yoga gave me a place to go and something to get good at, though I’ll never be really good at it in the way I would have been had I started in my twenties.

Randy, who was teaching the night I met Lydia, was a mixed race hunk, twenty-four years old with blond dreadlocks, golden skin and shoulders that stretched from east to west.

“Supta Badda Konasana. Lie flat on your back. Put the soles of your feet together and let your knees relax and sink toward the floor. Good. Bring your awareness to your groin. And breathe. Breathe!”

I suspect Randy must have had that effect on others because unless you got there early and put your mat down, you couldn’t get a place. And too, after it happened to me, I figured it was probably happening at yoga centers all over the country, and was at least in part responsible for the huge surge in popularity.

It makes perfect sense, when you’re lying there, soles of the feet together, thighs spread, breathing into the sex organs that once in a while someone will get off.


When the class rang out with the chorus of OM, I’m almost sure I came forth with an AHHHM. Just for the record, the big O during the big OM has never happened since then, though I have gotten close a few times. And I still do yoga almost every day. And I’ll never know whether Lydia knew what was happening on the mat next to her.

“How often do you come?” she asked in her melodious English voice. Not of course what she meant, still strangely apposite for the first thing she said to me.

“Every day if I can. I’m hooked. How about you?”

“I’m a rank beginner.” I’m Lydia, by the way.

“I’m Harriet.”

We didn’t shake hands. We were schlepping our mats and navigating down the stairs and onto the street. When we hit the lit sidewalk she did a little start.

“Healthy Harriet!”

I smiled.

“You taught me to make brown rice with mung beans, carrots, ginger and ghee.”

“I’m so pleased!” I told her, and it was true. It wasn’t that she recognized my dubious status as a food network host. It’s the feeling that right away, this beautiful obviously highly intelligent creature with the gorgeous English accent seemed to approve of me and get me. And the feeling was mutual.

“Good old mung!” I replied. “I’ve got that cooking at home in the rice cooker.”

About the author:

Mary Marcus was born and raised in Louisiana but left for New York after graduating from Tulane. She worked for many years in the advertising and fashion industries for Neiman Marcus, Vogue, Lancôme, Faberge, and San Rio Toys where she worked on the Hello Kitty brand. Marcus’ short fiction has appeared in North Atlantic Review, Karamu, Fiction, Jewish Women’s Literary Journal and The New Delta Review among others. She lives in Los Angeles and the East End of Long Island.

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