ONE MINUS ONE—TWICE!
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by Ruth Doan MacDougall
January 23, 2013
Out of the blue.
In May 2011, Marney (who is, as most of you know, the creator of this site and master of it) joyfully forwarded me an e-mail that had come to the site. It was from Nancy Pearl, the librarian, NPR commentator, and author of the Book Lust books about books. Nancy explained that she was planning a Book Lust Rediscoveries series of reprints of her favorite books and would love to include two of my early novels, One Minus One and The Cost of Living.
The project progressed, and thus last fall I found myself working on the copyedited manuscript and then the proofs of the first of the two novels to be reprinted, One Minus One. The emotions this caused went zooming around in all directions.
I remembered how the idea for the book came to me. In 1969 Don and I were living in Dover, New Hampshire. He was the librarian at the high school in nearby Somersworth and getting his master’s degree at the University of New Hampshire, also nearby, in Durham. Our acquaintances were almost all teachers. At one of the teachers’ parties I met a recently divorced young woman, who was from away and had moved here to start a new life. There weren’t that many divorces back then, and she was, I think, the first divorced woman I’d met who was my age, thirty. I myself was, of course, very much married. Just trying to imagine how I would survive a divorce from Don was so excruciating that it’s a wonder I decided to explore it in a book, but I did.
I named the heroine Emily Bean, having her return to her maiden name after the divorce, using a surname from my mother’s side of the family. My working title for the book was Amputation. Later, when Harvey Ginsberg, my Putnam’s editor, said that this title was too gruesome, he and Don and I searched for other titles and in desperation almost settled on Emily Bean—and then Don, who has named so many of my books, came up with the right one.
Other emotions evoked by the reprint were about place and equipment. In Dover Don and I lived in an upstairs apartment in a big yellow Victorian house (that bears a strange resemblance to an apartment in The Cost of Living). I wrote at the kitchen table, on a little Olivetti typewriter that was so light I had to chase it around the tabletop if I got typing madly. I can clearly remember working there, particularly on one scene; it flowed, and instead of my usual four pages a day I did eight, which was a record. Now here I was in our house in Sandwich, in my garret office that contains three desks: the veneer desk like Snowy’s that I’ve had since my youth, and the big Steelcase desk we bought after One Minus One was published, with nowadays my computer desk at right angles to it where once a typing table stood. As I worked on the reprint of One Minus One, scrolling down the screen, I remembered working on the first proofs on paper with a pencil.
And I thought of the book’s 1971 publication in hardback, with a broken wedding-cake bride and groom on the white-and-pink 1970s-style cover. The following year it was published as a mass-market paperback, with a young woman on the cover flourishing a mane of hair, whereas in the book Emily’s hair is very short. The new One Minus One is not only a trade paperback, with an intriguing twenty-first-century cover, but it’s also an e-book and an audiobook, undreamt-of in 1971 (at least by me).
Other emotions, memories: in the book, there are excerpts from diaries, fictionalized versions of my grandmother Ruth’s diaries and my high-school diaries. It was the latter that got Harvey thinking about my next book. As I was finishing up One Minus One he invited us to New York. There, in his apartment before going out to dinner, we were making general conversation when he asked what I had in mind for my next book. I replied that I’d been too consumed by Emily’s plight to think ahead. Then, as I’ve described before, he made a suggestion. He said, “Why don’t you write a novel about high school in the nineteen-fifties?"
Without One Minus One, there wouldn’t be The Cheerleader and The Snowy Series.
I am extremely grateful to Nancy Pearl for making it available again—and for making me think about what my life was like when I wrote the book and about my life afterward. In her wonderful introduction she asks, “And really, in the end, who’s to say which offers the best guide to how to live your life, your heart or your head?” Now from this vantage point, I certainly can see how I lived mine.