Randy Susan Meyers talks about Accidents of Marriage, a gut-punching family drama

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In her third novel, Accidents of Marriage (Atria Books, 2015), Randy Susan Meyers weaves a compelling tale of domestic abuse and traumatic brain injury as told through the very different perspectives of three family members—two parents and their teenage daughter. Meyers stands at the center of marital distress, surveys the scene, assesses the damage, and recounts it with unflinching honesty and clarity. Meyers is also the author of two previously bestselling novels, The Comfort of Lies (2014) and The Murderer’s Daughters (2011).

randy susan meyers
Randy Susan Meyers

Recently, BookTrib caught up with the author of Accidents of Marriage, a gut-punching family drama that tackles a slew of complicated issues.

BOOKTRIB: One of the many strengths of Accidents of Marriage is your ability to successfully create multiple compelling characters with distinctly different voices and personalities. How did you decide to write Accidents of Marriage from each family member’s perspective rather than just one?

Randy Susan Meyers: Everyone’s the star of their own show, and we all have stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions. I find these different takes on a family, or any constellation of people, endlessly fascinating. So, I guess I write different points of view to satisfy my own curiosity and passion. I also enjoy falling into the life of others. My third-person points-of-view are very close in; I feel as though I become each character.

BT: What impact has working with families who have dealt with domestic violence had on your new novel?

RSM: This novel carries pieces from the work I did with batterers, from being a bartender, from friends and from family, and from the worst pieces of my own life.

So many of our marriages are marred by giving in to rage, to explosions of temper. So many of us know by the sound of the key in the lock, the way our spouse says hello, how our night will be. It feels like we can measure their moods by the very molecules dancing in the air around them.

Accidents of Marriage is based on every relationship I’ve ever had and the marriages of every friend I know. Sometimes it’s the husband, sometimes it’s the wife—occasionally it’s both. There is a continuum, from unchecked rage to offloading moods with a huff and a puff. But at sometime in every relationship, a wife, a husband, is forced to bite hard on their tongue when their spouse uses the marriage as a convenient place to dump their anger, disappointment or frustration.

In too many cases, this paradigm becomes the norm, and families become hostages of temper. I’ve been in relationships like this, at times staying much too long. After I began working with batterers, I began to question my own choices and face my own truths. All of this went into my inspiration mix. 

BT: What compelled you to write about traumatic brain injury, and how did you go about realistically recreating that experience on the page?

RSM: I’m mystified by and marvel at all stories of conquering a hurdle, whether they be about mountains or medical emergencies. That was woven into my wanting Accidents of Marriage to contain concrete examples of how bad behavior engenders collateral damage way beyond our imaginings. People who rage rarely imagine the possible consequences. Plus, I’ve always worried about car accidents and trauma of all kind. What better way to face it than live it in print?

An amalgam of motivations led me to traumatic brain injury as a topic. I am drawn to all stories medical. In another life (the one where I was better at math and science), I’d be a doctor. That’s my fantasy profession; this is my first novel where there isn’t a doctor as a main character.

BT: Unlikable male characters pop up in each of your three novels. Does personal experience underlie the fascination?

RSM: I believe any writer who denies personal experience coloring their work is probably lying. Emotional resonance from many men, many experiences, color my work. That said, speaking about the particular men or relationships would be unkind.

BT: What do you want readers to take away from Accidents of Marriage?

RSM: Most of all, I hope folks have a great page-turning reading journey. When I write, it’s all about the story. It’s only afterward that I see my obsessions and passions playing out once again.

What am I ardent about? Folks feeling safe in their homes and children not bearing the sins of their parents. I also think we need to examine our obsessions—recognizing how an obsessive love might in fact point to a bad end. We all go through beginnings of glitter, but it’s the guy who brings you chicken soup who will nourish you through a lifetime.

Also, we are all capable of change, if we choose to use our will. While there are cycles of violence in families, it does not condemn anyone to, nor should anyone use it as an excuse for, using violence, or feeling they must stay in a violent circumstance.

Finally, I love exploring how we do or don’t face the truth. Ultimately, the bravery of facing the worst in our lives is the only way to take the path to a better place.

For further discussion of Accidents of Marriage and Meyer’s work, visit the archive of her recent live chat:

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Click to watch.

Angela Palm's forthcoming essay collection, Riverine, is the recipient of the 2014 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. The book will be published by Graywolf Press in spring 2016. Her first book, an anthology of literature called Please Do Not Remove, was published by Wind Ridge Books (2014). Angela's work also appears in apt, Hippocampus, Paper Darts, Midwestern Gothic, Sundog Lit, Prick of the Spindle, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. Angela's essay, “The Devolution of Cake,” and her short story, “Mrs. Greenwood’s Jelly,” were both nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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