Review and Q&A with Susan Shapiro Barash aka Susannah Marren, author of A Palm Beach Scandal (St. Martin’s Griffin)

Three generations of women at a family vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island find their strength and determination put to the test in Jamie Brenner’s new novel, Blush (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). The locale is stunning and the appeal of Hollander Estates is seductive; beyond that is the inside scoop on the Hollander family itself. 

From the start, Brenner’s novel invites readers of all ages into the drama. Vivian, the matriarch, has a secret now threatened to be exposed. Her daughter, Leah, is struggling with her marriage while her own daughter, Sadie, is dealing with the ups and downs of her love life and experiences as a young woman. Added to the mix are a few men, including Vivian’s husband, her son and Leah’s husband. How mother, daughter, and granddaughter deal with these characters is notable and offers us lessons to be learned.

The entire family is tossed together at the lush vineyard on the eve of a pending and necessary sale. Readers are transported to a world where the women are worthy of acrobatic feats of heart and will, and they rise to the occasion.

After reading this ideal summer read, I had a few questions for the author.

Q: You are known for choosing enticing locations for your novels. What made you choose the North Fork and how did you go about researching it? 

A: The idea for setting Blush on the North Fork started when I was in Sag Harbor researching my novel Drawing Home. I had dinner at a restaurant and the wine they served was the same name as the restaurant, Wolffer, and I discovered it was a family-owned winery on Long Island. Since I write about families this immediately sparked my curiosity and I began casually looking into the Wolffer vineyard. They have a rosé called “Summer in a Bottle” and I just loved that! Then, about a year later, I met the CEO of another North Fork winery called Bedell Cellars. I knew I wanted to write a book in this setting, and began researching at Bedell in the winter of 2019.

Q: How did you create the characters for this novel, and did you have them in mind before you began to plot the story? 

A: These characters came to me more quickly than in any other book I’ve written and I just love them. The first character I had in mind was Vivian, the matriarch. My older characters are my favorites to write, and I saw a photo of the actress Constance Towers and was like, okay, that’s the grandmother in Blush. At the same time, my teenage daughter Bronwen was talking a lot about the writers Julia Kristeva and Susan Sontag, and I thought that when I was her age I was reading Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz. So I had the idea for the character Sadie, who is a bit of an intellectual snob who is having a creative and personal moment of crisis. Then the middle generation, Leah — Sadie’s mother — is the balance between Vivian and Sadie. They all bring different perspectives to the reading of the 1980s novels. 

Q: The detail about wine and the wine industry is an added element. How did you learn about it in such detail?

A: I read a lot of books, the most helpful of which was the memoir The Vineyard by Louisa Thomas Hargrave. She and her husband were North Fork pioneers who started the first vineyard out there in 1971. I also took wine and cheese classes at Murray’s Cheese in New York City, where the winemaker from Bedell Cellars, Rich Olsen-Harbich gave me an incredible education. The way he spoke about wine gave me the vocabulary and understanding to really integrate wine and wine-making into this story about home and family.

Q: If this were a movie or a series, how would you cast the characters? 

A: I’m terrible at casting because I always think of actors who I loved in things maybe ten years ago. So I could see Meryl Streep circa “It’s Complicated” for Leah, but now she’s the wrong age. I’ve recently become a huge fan of Jean Smart so she would be my first choice for Vivian. I have no idea who to cast for Sadie because I don’t think I know any actors in their 20s at this point! But this is how I describe Sadie in the book: “Sadie, on the other hand, did not resemble a Disney princess. She might be cast in a movie about a family’s perilous flight from the Ukraine in the 1800s, which was something that had actually occurred in her ancestry. Sadie had curly dark hair and brown eyes and was not tall. She did, however, have her mother’s dramatic eyelashes and a version of her father’s high cheekbones, as well as an aquiline nose that she felt gave her face a certain strength of character.”

Q: You reference certain writers throughout the story and your dedication is to Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins. Tell us about what they mean to you and why.

A: I discovered these books at a young age: middle school. They scandalized me but also pulled back the curtain to aspects of life I’d just never considered before. The heroines whispered truths about life and love and womanhood that, as a whole, have influenced me more than any real person. Anne Tyler said, “I read because I want to live more than one life in more than one place.” For me, I’ve read because I wanted more than one mother, more than one best friend. Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz wrote daring stories about bold women who did naughty things, women who sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed but were all going for something. This was simply not messaging I was getting in my suburban upbringing circa 1985.

Q: What is your next novel about, if you can share a few tidbits?

A: My next novel is Gilt, coming summer 2022, and is the story of the cast-out granddaughter of a jewelry dynasty who comes back to claim what should be hers.


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Buy this book!

Jamie Brenner grew up in suburban Philadelphia on a steady diet of Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz novels (more on that below).  She studied literature at The George Washington University before moving to New York City to work at HarperCollins Publishers, then later Barnes&Noble.com and Vogue.com before returning to books and becoming an author.  Her novel The Forever Summer is a national bestseller. People Magazine calls her latest novel, Summer Longing, “a delightful escape wherever you are.” Her new novel, Blush, is publishing on June 22, 2021. Jamie divides her time between Provincetown and Philadelphia.