Spousal loyalty, female rivalry and the complicated mother-daughter bond. Susannah Marren’s new novel, A PALM BEACH WIFE (St.MartinsPress) has everything to make it one of this summer’s most sizzling reads!
Faith Harrison is the quintessential Palm Beach woman. She is a captivating beauty, ideal wife to Edward, her elegant, wealthy husband, and perfect mother to Katherine, her college-age daughter. In a town where affluence, privilege and glamour rule, Faith is respected and adored by women of all ages.
At Faith’s couture designer consignment shop on famed Worth Avenue, her daughter Katherine affixes to every item—Birkin bags, Hermes scarves, Buccellati earrings and Judith Leiber minaudieures—snippets of fables and fairy tales. She carefully matches each tale to the jewelry or bag, but soon the stories begin to foreshadow secrets and betrayals that fester beneath the surface.
Things begin to implode on the eve of the winter season, when Faith learns of her husband’s impending scandal. As this threatens to unravel her world, her own lifelong deception comes to light. Scrambling desperately to save her family, Faith must confront the haunting truth about what she left behind, her buried regret, and the demons that haunt her still.
Amid the lush exterior and surreptitious interior, Marren creates intriguing characters, each invested in living the Palm Beach life, where the price of escape and the price of belonging are equally steep.
We got the opportunity to ask Susannah some questions about her novel, PALM BEACH WIFE and to get a peak inside the exclusive island.
The Island of Palm Beach, Florida
First, please tell us ALL about your novel, A PALM BEACH WIFE. I live in Miami, which is within driving distance and I’m intrigued.
A PALM BEACH WIFE is about a woman who lives in Palm Beach and has ‘the life’- a successful husband, beautiful daughter and is an ‘it girl’ about town. Until, in the early pages of the novel, her life implodes and she is left to save herself and her family. Add to this the fact that Palm Beach, a character itself in the novel, is not a forgiving place and Faith has worked hard for a very long time to be a part of it. The beauty and glitter of Palm Beach comes with strict social standards and expectations. The book is about privilege and lifestyle– and what lurks beneath for women. It is about mothers and daughters, female rivalry, trust and betrayal, the role of wife. What is reinvention, what is survival?
So many of us are captivated by how the one-percent live and Palm Beach certainly personifies that. Why the interest?
As a barrier island north of Miami, Palm Beach is known as rarified, moneyed and elite. It is also physically stunning with the Intra-Coastal on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Worth Avenue – where my protagonist Faith Harrison has a consignment shop called ‘Vintage Tales’- is magical and elegant. The one percenters have carefree lives and every material possession possible. Mansions, private jets, yachts, club life and charity balls. All while vying to fit in, to be included and an ‘insider’.
In A PALM BEACH WIFE I write about this lifestyle, the emphasis of a material life and the high price of inclusion. There are labels, ‘requirements’ –women are dressed and bejeweled and accessorized in a specific way. A label culture – which is also emblematic of a celebrity culture. What could be more fascinating for those of us looking in– how does it really happen and what is it like to be a part of it?
Marriages seem to be made and broken in Palm beach. I remember being at The Breakers once and listening to people bet on “how long they thought a couple would stay married,” as the two walked by in their wedding attire. Why the cynicism?
The cynicism would come with the rate of divorce in America but it is also specific to Palm Beach where wedded life is dicey and critically important for wives who do not work.With a material life at the heart of the matter, one might ‘need’ the marriage all the more to sustain this. And for young couples, marriages might not just be about unions, but ‘mergers’ where families marry into other very affluent families.
On a more general note, beyond Palm Beach, based on my research for my non-fiction work(written under my real name, Susan Shapiro Barash), which includes several titles on the role of wife -The New Wife: The Evolving Role of the American Wife, Second Wives: The Pitfalls and Rewards of Marrying Widowers and Divorced Men, and The Nine Phases of Marriage: How to Make It, Break It, Keep It, A Passion for More: Wives Reveal the Affairs that Make or Break their Marriages -women hold the bar very high when it comes to their marriages. They want their husbands to be their friends/ lovers/ protectors rolled up in one. When they feel their husbands have failed them – no spoiler here for A PALM BEACH WIFE- some women believe that a new husband might be worth pursuing.
There’s old high society, but it’s amazing how many people recreate their image “from nothing” in Palm Beach. Please elaborate.
It is absolutely true that in today’s world high society is not the only way to be in society. And that people recreate their image. This does happen in Palm Beach where women arrive and reinvent themselves. This is fascinating and useful — a method of achieving status if it is done well. Although one is able to rise through the ranks, there is also the fact that they can fall. The price is steep to get to the top and equally steep to descend. This occurrence leads us to A PALM BEACH WIFE where Faith, my protagonist has recreated herself in her early twenties and situated herself in society. She has worked for all that she has achieved and it is very precious to her — and through no deed of her own, it is about to be taken away.
Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach
Mar-A-Lago, The Breakers, the history is deep and there are so many historic sites in Palm Beach. Tell us about your research and what our readers should definitely visit if they go the Palm Beach.
- The Breakers Hotel is magnificent as is The Flagler Museum, which was Whitehall, the mansion of Henry M. Flagler and his wife Mary Lilly. Mar-A-Lago was originally the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, who was an heiress and began building her mansion in 1924. Worth Avenue is another landmark, originally developed in the 1920’s and developed by Addison Mizner and Paris Singer. The Society of the Four Arts, founded in 1936, serves as a not for profit ‘campus’ with two libraries and an auditorium. The original architects were Maurice Fatio and Addison Mizner. I suggest that readers who visit Palm Beach should go to each of these sites – they are impressive.
The Breakers The Henry Flagler Museum
While I did research these sites, I also know Palm Beach very well since my parents were residents for many decades — until my mother died last year. I remember being a young girl and my mother taking me to Worth Avenue as a special treat. In writing A PALM BEACH WIFE, I spent a lot of time in Palm Beach, observing the people, the places and conducting interviews.
Worth Avenue, Palm Beach
BETWEEN THE TIDES is your first novel. A PALM BEACH WIFE is your second, what’s next?
I am currently working on my next novel, also to be written under my pen name Susannah Marren. I am very excited about it and like BETWEEN THE TIDES and A PALM BEACH WIFE, it is about the female journey, how women navigate a path and balance their lives as wives, mothers, sisters, friends, work colleagues, and what their inner yearnings are. What are we really made of when we are put to the test.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
The only piece I’d add (and mentioned above )is the fact that I’ve written nonfiction books and that they fuel my fiction. My nonfiction/studies are about how women truly feel versus the lives they lead, the faces they wear. I’ve written books on the role of wife (referenced earlier), female rivalry, why women keep secrets/ lie for the cause, female friendships, mothers and daughters, mothers in law and daughters in law, how women ‘sleep walk’ through life. I believe that women are beguiling and skillful in how they sort it out, balance it all, and endure. This is reflected in my fiction.
Susan Shapiro Barash is an established writer of thirteen nonfiction women’s issue books, and fiction under her pen name Susannah Marren. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, Elle, Marie Claire, and has appeared on national television including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC. Barash has been a guest on national radio including NPR and Sirius Radio. Speaking appearances include Credit Suisse, Bayer
Diagnostics, UBS, United Way and the Society of the Four Arts. Several of her titles have been optioned by Lifetime and HBO.
Barash holds degrees from Sarah Lawrence College and New York University. She teaches in the Writing Department at Marymount Manhattan College where her focus is on gender studies and has guest taught at the Writing Institute/ Sarah Lawrence College. She has served as a literary panelist for the New York State Council on the Arts, as a judge for the International Emmys, and as Vice Chair of the Mentoring Committee
of the Women’s Leadership Board at the JFK School of Government, Harvard.
Thanks to Meryl Moss Media, we have one copy to giveaway. Just tell us what you know about the Palm Beach, Florida way of life. We’ll announce a winner soon. Good luck.
GIVEAWAY: USA only please