TERRY GROSS, host:
In the new novel, "Outtakes from a Marriage," Ann Leary writes about a woman married to an actor who, years after they marry, becomes famous and stars in a TV show. She finds herself having to balance her life as a mother with her public life as the wife of a celebrity while at the same time trying to figure out how to pursue her own aspirations as a writer. The novel is based, in part, on Ann Leary's own marriage. Her husband is Denis Leary, who is famous for his abrasive comedy and for his starring role on the TV series "Rescue Me," as a firefighter with a very messed-up personal life. The character has ruined his marriage because he's incapable of fidelity or handling responsibility. I asked Ann Leary if people assume that her husband is that way in real life.
Ms. ANN LEARY (Author, "Outtakes from a Marriage"): Right. Well, you know, the Denis Leary who people know is very different than the Denis Leary that my children and I, and also Denis Leary's good friends, know. Denis - he kind of became famous later in life than some people. He was in his 30s, and he had had a lot of adult life to kind of form his own friendships, his relationships, and he's still, to this day, is - his closest friends are the friends he made in college. So, he is not really very much like the Joe Ferraro character that I created in my novel, and he's nothing like, really, the Denis Leary that I think a lot of people think they know.
We live a very quiet life in the country. We dote on our pets. We love our children and raise them and are very involved in this little community we live in. We're not really part of the Hollywood scene, and so that too, we kind of are not like the couple in this novel of mine. And you know, he's just a pretty sweet guy. He's really not the guy that you see on "Rescue Me," and others that know him will tell you that, too. I'm not just his biased wife.
GROSS: I'm going to ask you to do a short reading from your novel, "Outtakes from a Marriage." And this describes a period in your main character's life when she's had just had her first baby, and her husband is first starting to become known in the acting world.
Ms. LEARY: OK.
GROSS: And at the same time, she's also wondering whether the romance has started to go out of the relationship.
Ms. LEARY: Right. Yes. She's just trying to see what part she might have played in the problem that they right now have in their marriage, which is not what it used to be.
Was our house, our marriage, cold? Had I caused Joe to stray? There was certainly no disputing that our sex life wasn't what it had been before we had kids. Whose was? Babies change you. Before I was pregnant with Ruby, I used to watch mothers tend lovingly to screaming babies and toddlers, and I worried that I might never be able to summon up the appropriate maternal instincts toward any future offspring of my own. In my mind, I was witnessing an extremely annoying little person and an adult with an almost Christ-like capacity for love, tenderness and forgiveness. I didn't understand their history the way I do now, the history of the mother and child's love for each other which, for me, began almost immediately after Ruby was conceived.
Nine months before Joe ever saw or touched Ruby, I was awash with her in my every waking moment, consumed by thoughts of her. Then, in those first days and nights of her life, when she needed to suckle almost hourly, everything beyond her spiky pink hair - really, it was pink - those dimpled knees and elbows, those gorgeous lips, everything beyond Ruby disappeared into a sort of soft focus backdrop. We spent endless hours gazing into each other's eyes. Nobody had told me about the urge to gaze, about the instinct that compelled Ruby and me to peer at each other over and over, again, between feedings, passing the gaze back and forth. All night and all day, milk, breaths, gazes and sighs were passed back and forth between us like life-giving transfusions, until both of us were just pumped full of love for each other.
And every now and then, from somewhere far off in the murky distance, I'd hear Joe's voice saying, I got a call back for that Barry Levinson film. It's not a big part, but it could be good because - and when he was finished with whatever nonsense he was droning on about, I'd say something like, the skin on her cheek is so soft. It's like kissing air. Kiss her. It's like kissing nothing. I can't stop kissing her.
GROSS: And that's Ann Leary reading from her new novel, "Outtakes from a Marriage." You know, reading this, you can't help but wonder what it's like for a couple when they marry when they're young, and then years later, one of them becomes famous - because that's what happened in your marriage...
Ms. LEARY: It did.
GROSS: And that's what's beginning to happen in the scene.
Ms. LEARY: Right.
GROSS: That you just read. And they're really, at that moment, living in two different worlds. She is in the world of new motherhood, and he is in the world of, you know, new celebrityhood.
Ms. LEARY: Exactly.
GROSS: And those worlds are so far apart.
Ms. LEARY: They are, and you know, these are two people who are changing drastically from the people they were when they meet each other. And I think, in any marriage that lasts a long time - and maybe this is why all marriages don't last a long time - is that, you know, people change and whether the relationship is going to be able to stay the same is up in the air, really. And at this point in the novel, it certainly is.
Julia was not prepared at all for what motherhood really entailed - the really intense, you know, kind of almost asphyxiating, you know, love and really obsessive love she had for this baby. And Joe, at the same time, was on this completely different trajectory where he was falling in love with having people love him and being famous. And so, both of them found quite rewarding what they were doing, but they were not really overlapping in their what the, you know, kind of the course their lives took.
GROSS: There's a funny section in the book when, you know, the husband is nominated for a Golden Globe and the wife realizes, wow, she's got to get a dress and she...
Ms. LEARY: Right.
GROSS: Is finding it very difficult to go from, you know, mommyville to the red carpet.
Ms. LEARY: Right.
GROSS: You know, it's very difficult to become red carpet ready.
Ms. LEARY: Right.
GROSS: And so, one of the things she does is goes to like a swell fashion boutique, and the person who she is working with at the boutique, her name is Monica. And you write, it's possible that petite Monica had never seen a normal middle-aged body up close before. The shock might be too much for her. Should I explain about the little pouch of skin that hangs over Caesarean scars? Has it been...
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GROSS: Go ahead.
Ms. LEARY: I think that Julia, in my novel, most women will relate to her in the sense that if their husband became famous, this is probably how they'd behave. When Denis first became famous, and we went on our first red carpets, we really had no idea what people did on these red carpets, and so, we were a little bit unsophisticated and as well, the couple in my novel do some kind of silly - they just have no idea how to behave. They actually drive their Town Car to a - they drive a black Town Car to a red carpet, but they're driving, they didn't know you were supposed to have a driver. That's actually something Denis and I did once, a very long time ago, in LA. And then, with the dressing, too.
I think that people think that if your husband's nominated for an Emmy or a Golden Globe, there's all these designers trying to give you clothing, but that's never been the case for me. I have often had to go kind of shopping and then if you do go to a designer showroom, they're used to seeing models. They're really used to fitting models or really glamorous actresses so you do feel like you know - and they just expect you to feel comfortable undressed. And when you're not a model, and you have to stand in your underwear and haven't pre-thought which underwear you should wear, it can feel a little self-conscious.
GROSS: My guest is Ann Leary. Her new novel is called, "Outtakes from a Marriage." We'll talk more after our break. This is Fresh Air.
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GROSS: My guest is Ann Leary. Her new novel, "Outtakes from a Marriage," is based in part on her marriage to actor and comic Denis Leary. It's about a woman balancing her life as a mother, aspiring writer and wife of a celebrity, and having to figure out how to go from mommy one minute to red carpet worthy the next. What's the biggest fashion mistake you've made over the years?
Ms. LEARY: Oh, my God. I wouldn't even know where to begin. My biggest fashion mistake is always listening to my husband about what I should wear because I never see these invitations. They somehow go to publicists or to him and so I get his take on it, which is always, it's casual. Don't worry. Nobody's going to be dressed up. Or that it's very dressy, and I one time went to this - President Clinton was doing some kind of huge fundraiser, and we had been invited as somebody's guest. And Denis had said, it's very dressy, you know.
Oh, you have to - you know, the president is going to be there. So, I wore - I honestly looked like I was going to the Oscars myself. This incredibly elaborate kind - it was almost a gown and it wasn't eve - it was like 5 o'clock in the afternoon. And I showed up at this thing, and everyone was in business attire. I really looked like, you know, I had all this cleavage and even the Secret Service guys, they were laughing at me. They just couldn't believe what I was wearing and really, it was so inappropriate.
And then similarly, I have shown up in jeans and a tank top, and all the women have been dressed to the nines because it was a very dressy, black tie occasion that kind of eluded Denis. That was what it was. So, I've had to really do some - you know, I have to do my own research if I'm going out and not count on him. Because, you know, men, it doesn't matter what they wear. They always look fine.
GROSS: So, when you wore the elaborate gown to the function of the president was that, did you find yourself having to go up to the president and say, let me explain why I'm wearing this?
Ms. LEARY: I mean, it was so embarrass - I can't even describe how - it was so - it was like this - and I don't - it was this very sexy, like plunging neckline. It was right in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and it really looked like I was desperately trying to get this man, you know, to be next in line behind Monica. I mean, it was really - I was so - and there were people I knew there, and I just felt like such a rube, you know. And often, you feel that way as the wife, you know. It's just so - I can't even - it hurts to talk about it. It was so off base, but I've done it more than once.
GROSS: What was it like when he started getting well known, and you watched him change and you also watched reactions to him change? When people started to actually recognize him and think of him as the characters that he played, whereas you had already known him for years. I mean, you knew him outside and inside.
Ms. LEARY: Right, right. Yeah, well, it was interesting. It happened suddenly. I was home a lot with the kids. I didn't go out. He was performing. He would be out a lot. People would start recognizing him. He did this series of MTV spots that were very popular, and so suddenly, people would yell his name when we were walking down the street. We would be offered, you know, police would pull over, are you Denis Leary, and then you know, get in, and give us a ride. I mean maybe - I don't know if I was supposed to say that. I don't know if police do stuff like that anymore. But I was like, how do all these people know who you are? It really hurt his feelings that I kept not really believing how famous he was. He kept telling me, and I kept not really understanding until going out with him more.
And you know going - I do very well remember the first time we went to a premiere and all the photographers started yelling, Denis, Denis, Denis, and it really was - I was blown away. I had no idea that photographers knew who he was. So, it was exciting. Again, it was something that he had worked really hard for for a long time. We had been together years before that. So, we were both kind of - we'd look at each other and say, oh, my God. Can you believe this? And we still do. I mean, we'd never been to a big red carpet event until maybe 2002, I think.
He was nominated for a Golden Globe, and so we had never been on one of these huge red carpets where it takes an hour to get through and all these questions. And it was a blast. We had so much fun. We were dying. It was just, we couldn't believe the behavior of the people around us and the kind of desperate maneuvering for space and the grabbing, you know, the kind of vying for attention. And also the really gracious - some of our huge - people we love - you know, big stars that we thought were great meeting them and having them be very gracious, and it was just great. And again, because we had kind of grown up together, and it was really special that we got to do this thing together that we could laugh at it and know it was silly and still think ha, this is really cool. We're doing this!
GROSS: Ann Leary, thank you so much for talking with us.
Ms. LEARY: Thank you.
GROSS: Ann Leary is the author of the new novel "Outtakes from a Marriage." You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org.