As a kid, did you ever finish a book and want to call one of the characters? Find out more, keep the story going a little longer, hear how they sounded on the phone? It's not such a far-fetched idea; novelists base their characters on friends and relatives. When I read Patricia Marx's new book, Him Her Him Again The End of Him, I realized that it was time to act on my fantasy.
Him Her Him is a story of obsession. A charming young grad student goes off to Cambridge and meets a pompous jerk, named Eugene Obello. After a brief fling, Eugene marries someone else, has a child, and calls our heroine when he feels like it . ... There's nothing like the crack-cocaine effect of the almost-available cad and the narrator, who's never named in the book, spends the next ten years getting waxed and ready for the creep's occasional visit while blowing off pretty much everything else in her life. Wacky friends like Obax, a beautiful Somolian chef or Oliver Qas, a theology student given to wearing stoles and capes, try to dissuade her. That doesn't work. Her parents spend a lot of time worrying, whispering, and spying. Mom's best lines come when she doles out knowing advice to her daughter like "Anyone who's going anywhere does not wear blue jeans." Or "never base a plaid in white." She tells her husband "There's no need to be hard on her. I read an article that this generation is the most immature generation in history." I loved that mom.
However, it's tricky to put your mother in your book. Does she like her portrait? Did she have the right to ask for changes? And yet, what mother doesn't want to be immortalized that way? To find out, I called Janice Marx, who lives in Philadelphia, like the mother in the book.
CK: Hello Mrs. Marx. I guess congratulations are in order.
MM: Call me Janice, everyone does.
CK: Ok, Janice, How many times have you read your daughter's book?
JM: 3 times, the first time I loved it. The second time I loved it, by the third time I hated Eugene Obello.
CK: How do you like character of the mother?
JM: Well, she says "yeah, yeah," I would never say that. And the father says "Jesus Christ." Patty's father never said that." [Note: mother in book doesn't say "yeah, yeah," daughter says it. Father doesn't say "Jesus Christ," he says "baloney" and "hooey."]
CK Generally, what did you think?
JM: Well, as a friend of mine said, "it reads like a novel."
CK: As the author's mother, was it your job to correct grammar and spelling?
JM: Her grammar's pretty good, but there are always errors. I saw one after it was printed, probably a who or a whom thing. I never told her.
JM Do you want me to tell you what I told her to change?
JM: I told her to change the name "Aunt Sugar," that's a stupid name. I told her to make Uncle Walt a dentist; I don't a want a podiatrist in the family. And she said that grandma was born in Bulgaria. My mother was born in this country. I told her to change that right away.
CK: It is fiction Mrs. Marx.
CK: There are some pretty big words in there. Does Patty really know what dendrochronological", abecedarian, and threnodist mean?
CK: For years, Patty couldn't write anything longer than a paragraph and then this comes out - 75,000 words. How did she do it?
JM: I have no idea. When you read book, it is really Patty though. I didn't give her a lot of help. (JM: Did you see the People magazine review, with the beautiful half-page picture of her? I spent $4 on it.)
CK: Did she have good work habits growing up?
JM: (Pause) I don't remember that she did. She always had attitude. She'd come home and say, "I don't have much homework, only 3 books to read tonight."
CK: The mother in book often gives daughter how-to-succeed-in-life rules like "anybody who is anybody has cuffs on their pants."
JM: That's Patty. She made that up.
CK: Is it true that you made your son sit in front of Brooks Brothers to prove that all the successful guys leaving the store had cuffs on their pants? Patty says your son pointed to one well-dressed guy without cuffs and you said, "yeah, well that guy is not going anywhere.
JM: I did get excited about cuffs.
CK: There is some funny stuff about food in the book. At one point, the narrator reviews the contents of her refrigerator: baloney sandwich on Wonder Bread minus two bites; fat-free pudding in a baggie; unwrapped lollipop touching unwrapped lettuce; can of chocolate syrup with random receipt sticking to label-
JM: Patty never ate. When she was a kid and staying with a friend I would get a phone call. The friend's mother would say, "she cannot stay another night. She hasn't had a thing in her mouth in three days." It wasn't that Patty stopped eating, she was born not eating.
CK: Did you worry?
JM: I am still worrying. Today I am worrying
CK: Has there been a lot of talk among your friends about the book?
JM: I told Patty to put my hairdresser in the book. She did. Nino at the Philadelphian, on p. 213. He photocopied his page, taped it up, and discusses it with everyone who comes in. Now he thinks he's a celebrity.
CK: What did you think of her outfit at book party - a sheer black top, tight Balanciaga skirt and $1200 Manolo Blaniks. BTW, I think she got those shoes on sale for $99.
JM: I thought it was sensational, incredible - not that she's ever had a bad outfit.
CK: She looked beautiful. Who should play Patty when they make it into a movie?
JM: Yeah, right.
CK: It might become a movie, and Patty told me that she wanted Reese Witherspoon to play her.
JM: Absolutely not. Reese Witherspoon's chin is too big. And Patty's dark.
CK: Who should play you?
JM: I am the mother of the book, not the mother in the book?
CK: But if they have to cast that mother in the book?
JM: Reese Witherspoon, of course.
Patricia Marx's new novel Him Her Him Again The End of Him was published by Scribner. Don't miss the rave review in the NYT Book Review and off course the People magazine piece (offline only sorry....)