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.
M: 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.
GROSS: And at the same time, she's also wondering whether the romance has started to go out of the relationship.
M: 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...
M: It did.
GROSS: And that's what's beginning to happen in the scene.
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.
GROSS: And those worlds are so far apart.
M: 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...
GROSS: Is finding it very difficult to go from, you know, mommyville to the red carpet.
GROSS: You know, it's very difficult to become red carpet ready.
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.
M: 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?
M: 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?
M: 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.
M: 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.
M: 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.
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