‘The Liability of Love’, the third novel by West Hartford resident Susan Schoenberger, was published in July.
By Ronni Newton
Susan Schoenberger’s last novel lasted seven years, but as the gripping story unfolded and evolved with the state of society, it became even more relevant than ever.
“Responsibility for love” may unfold 40 years ago, but it is certainly a story for today.
The novel stars Margaret Carlyle, an intelligent but naive young woman who goes to Trinity College in 1979, shortly after the death of her beloved mother. On her very first date, she is assaulted by a “big man on campus”, a future charismatic movie star. The resulting trauma, the secrets she keeps, her ability to relate to men and the general course of Margaret’s life are deeply touched. The novel explores unrequited love, loss, survival, feminism, and class privilege.
The characters, the familiar setting
“My characters kind of emerge as I write,” Schoenberger said.
They are multifaceted, and they are not always what you would expect of them.
Margaret’s husband, Douglas, and the other male lead character, Fitz, both have bodily issues, rare for male characters.
“Some of the characters came to me fully formed,” she said, with Fitz being one of them. She always had many close male friends and said Fitz was a compilation of several of them.
Elmwood’s neighbors, Ollie and Tiffany, also came to her mind as full characters, and laughing she said these were probably slight exaggerations from some of the people who attended her high school in New Windsor, NY.
She will not name a favorite character. “It’s like asking who your favorite kid is,” she said, but admitted that “Fitz is probably the one I’m most proud of.”
Locals will recognize many scenes from the book.
Schoenberger didn’t have a street in mind for the Elmwood ranch that Margaret and Douglas live in, but said when she and her husband moved to West Hartford in the mid-1990s they looked at many similar starting homes. to the framework she created.
While Trinity College is real, it takes a fictitious bachelor’s degree with the geography of West Hartford, and the insurance company Fitz works for is completely imagined.
Schoenberger has three adult children, two of whom are daughters. Although this is not ancient history, for them, reading what the lives of women were like in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the way she appears in “The Liability of Love”. Is like reading historical fiction – and it’s very different from the way they experience the world. .
She has always been clear to her children.
“I am a strong feminist,” she said. “I think [my kids] were aware from the start that women had a difficult road ahead.
Authors, even fictional ones, tend to write about what they know – so having a novel set in Hartford and West Hartford is not surprising, as Schoenberger has lived in West Hartford for over 20 years. But the pivotal event in Margaret’s life is also something she experienced firsthand.
Unlike her character’s abuser Margaret, “He was an alien,” Schoenberger said. “I was very lucky to have never been raped,” she said, but an incident decades ago was something she was not able to fully deal with. era, and which haunted her and influenced her life for years.
In the 1980s, when Schoenberger was a junior journalist working for The Day in New London, she pushed away a man who assaulted her in the parking lot as she left work late that evening. It was the night before the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and this tragedy overshadowed everything that was happening – especially for someone who worked in the news industry – so she repelled the attack at back of his mind.
But although she rarely talks about it, the incident deeply affected her own life, the place she chose to live, the hours she worked. “It’s a motivator for so many decisions you don’t even realize you are making. “
The “#MeToo” movement didn’t even exist when Schoenberger started writing “The Liability of Love” in 2014, and like the worldview, the novel evolved.
“I wrote an entire version that ended very differently,” she said. Then #MeToo started happening in 2017-2018, and the storyline started to change. There were some scenes that she completely deleted, and others that it ultimately made more sense to include.
Assault is just one of the things that happens to Margaret, but bringing that to the fore has made “The Responsibility of Love” a stronger book, Schoenberger said. “These are the things that we push aside. “
In previous versions, Margaret’s husband Douglas was the main character. Based on the advice of his agent and others who read the manuscript, attention shifted.
Schoenberger has had the same agent since 2007, when she started working on her first book, “A Watershed Year”.
“She’s brutally honest but I trust her instincts,” Schoenberger said.
“I try not to think about everything that is on the cutting room floor,” she said. Sometimes she reads entire books as a backdrop for a character who never even makes a book out of it.
Without giving away the ending, Schoenberger said she believes readers will leave the story at the right time.
“It’s hard, it’s one of the hardest things because you want to have a resolution but give people a chance to imagine what will happen next,” she said of the good end of a story.
Deciding how to approach this in his writing is something Schoenberger said evolved through doing a lot of reading.
The process of releasing a book in 2021 is radically different from what it was in 2014, when Schoenberger’s last novel was published, partly because of the pandemic, but also because of social media.
To promote “The Liability of Love”, she gave Zoom conferences and strengthened her presence on social networks, in particular on Instagram (@schoenwriter). She did an outdoor reading in early August at Books on Pratt in Hartford and wrote a newsletter. For more information, visit their website, susanschoenberger.com.
“The Responsibility of Love” is Schoenberger’s third novel. “A Watershed Year” was released in 2011 (reissued by Amazon in 2013) and “The Virtues of Oxygen” was released in 2014.
Schoenberger is originally from New Windsor, NY, and graduated from Dartmouth College in English Literature (Honors) in 1984. She has spent years in various roles with newspapers including The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), The Baltimore Sun, and The Hartford Courant, and is currently Director of Communications at Hartford Seminary.
She lives in West Hartford with her husband, Kevin Wyman. They have three grown children and a rescue dog named Leo.
Schoenberger writes most of his writing early in the morning, before work, and on weekends.
“The Liability of Love” was released in July 2021 and is published by She Writes Press, a company that works exclusively with female authors.
Schoenberger is delighted that he received a star-studded review from Kirkus Reviews: “In pragmatic prose studded with pithy observational gems. . . different actors can only get what they deserve by telling their own truths. A very observed, compassionate and fascinating work.
Schoenberger said that “Responsibility for Love” is excellent “book club fiction” and while she predicts audiences will continue to be heavily focused on women (who buy 80% of fiction , she said), she would like to attract male readers because good.
“The only thing that really matters to me is hearing from the readers,” Schoeberger said. “That’s why I write.
Novel number four is already a work in progress. “I know that’s probably going to change,” she said, but as of now he’s a hyperpolyglot – someone who is able to speak and write in many languages. It’s not something Schoenberger herself mastered, but she was fascinated when she read a book about it.
For more information on Schoenberger, including details of all of his writings, visit his website.
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of West Hartford LIFE.
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