In her latest novel, Susan Wiggs takes on a new demographic: the twenty-something.
“I re-remembered how cool it is to be in your 20s,” Wiggs said. “Nothing’s happened yet. I kind of wanted to straddle that with Sarah – a lot has happened to her, but she hasn’t really started her life.”
Wiggs knows women in this position: they leave home for college, meet a suitable mate early on, and embark on a domesticated path without branching out too far on their own into the big, wide world.
Some are satisfied; others are not. Sarah Moon, the heroine of “Just Breathe,” falls into the latter category, although she doesn’t realize it at first.
When motherless California girl Sarah hits school in Chicago, she quickly falls for dashing Jack. Jack, a well-to-do Chicago native, bends Sarah’s young self into the wife he wants her to be; she’s only too happy to melt into his tight-knit posse of family and friends.
The couple’s smooth life and plans for a family unravel when Jack is diagnosed with cancer. Sarah nurses him through his illness, and while he comes through with a clean bill of health, not all his pistons are firing. She spends the next year at the fertility clinic trying to make a baby via insemination.
And oh, that dastardly Jack – he rewards Sarah’s devotion by having an affair with a well-endowed equestrienne.
Wiggs gets to the Sarah-leaves-Jack-to-start-a-new-life part with dispatch, leaving the reader to enjoy her forward movement.
That includes an escape back home to her idyllic Northern California town, a budding romance with a lovely firefighter named Will Bonner, and the news that her final insemination attempt, the one she endured the very day she walked in on Jack and the horse lady, took. And it’s twins.
“I liked this character because even though I’ve never been divorced, so many of my friends – and I’m sure my readers – have,” Wiggs said. “And I didn’t want to make light of it.”
That is, in part, why Wiggs gave Sarah an excellent career, as a cartoonist. First off, Wiggs generally likes to bestow fantasy jobs on her heroines. Helming her novels have been bakers, restaurateurs, owners of picturesque inns, and mayors, to name a few.
In Sarah’s case, creating a comic strip, naturally titled “Just Breathe,” offers built-in therapy, a quirky, dry way to help her process the dark stuff in a not-so-dark way.
Wiggs herself scripted the strips and at the outset, even tried to draw them. In the process, she gained a deep appreciation of the craft of cartooning.
“It is so freaking hard,” she said. “It was very humbling for me to try to write this comic strip, and of course I failed.”
Happily, Wiggs’ publisher offered assistance from the art director who designed the book jacket.
The results are wry and deadpan, in the vein of one of Wiggs’ favorite comic strip artists, Nicole Hollander of “Sylvia” fame.
Here’s one exchange between Sarah’s cartoon alter-ego, Shirl, and her ex-husband-to-be, Richie:
Richie: I’ll do anything you want. Please, please don’t do this.
Shirl: Wait a minute. Am I hearing this right? Are you groveling and begging me to give you another chance? That’s so sweet. You’re so cute when you grovel. Maybe we’ll get through this after all.
Richie: Er. I just came back for my car keys.
Of course, contemporary romances being what they are, the other element that tempers Sarah’s dark time is dishy Will, a shallow high-school classmate of Sarah’s who grew up to be not only dishy, but decent. And tan, with really broad shoulders. The firefighter thing is sweet, too.
“I believe I must have an affinity for men who are rescuers, manly-type rescuers. It’s very elemental to me,” Wiggs said.
Ultimately, though, Sarah’s journey of self-discovery is her own, with Will a lovely end-of-summer bonus to Wiggs’ faithful readers.
And it’s an audience that’s grown, in large part thanks to Wiggs’ consistent and prolific output. She reliably puts out two books per year, and although she says they all “feel magical” in the idea stage, she likens the writing process itself to an icky medical condition.
“Most days, it’s like passing a kidney stone,” she said. “But I’m also compelled to do it.”
Next up for Wiggs is a new paperback, “Fireside,” due in February. She’s also writing her first Christmas novel, to continue her popular “Lakeshore Chronicles” series.
And she’s got a wedding to help plan; her own 24-year-old daughter is getting married next year.
No doubt Wiggs’ sensibility and her thoughts on what makes someone a heroine of her own life will have rubbed off.
“I think every person deserves their time to become their best self,” Wiggs said.
Let it out, honey
Susan Wiggs will launch “Just Breathe” at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. In addition to a reading, book signing and refreshments, there will be drawings for both a spa gift basket and admission to a Field’s End event with Michael Hauge on Oct. 11. For information, see www.eagleharborbooks.com.
Wiggs will also hold a book signing at 4:40 p.m. Sept. 4 in the passenger cabin of the Seattle-to-Bainbridge ferry crossing. See www.susanwiggs.com.