What Chicagoan, trudging through the city in the dead of winter (or early spring), hasn't wished to be somewhere warmer?
The vast majority quickly realize that responsibilities tether them here and continue trying to wake up their faces rendered numb by the freezing wind.
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John, one of the main characters in Thea Goodman's first book, "The Sunshine When She's Gone," has a similar desire to flee the "inescapable" cold of New York City in January. Unlike most people, however, John actually leaves. On a whim, he gets in a cab, drives to the airport and hops a plane to Barbados. He takes his 6-month-old baby, Clara, with him.
Without telling the baby's mother — his wife, Veronica.
"I was very interested in (their) new relationship to a child," said Goodman, 44, over tea at Café 57 in Hyde Park, the author's adopted neighborhood. She is originally from Manhattan. "I have always wanted to explore intimacy and its travails, and this is a very intimate relationship that seemed really rich and complicated."
Goodman examines the small family's relationships by describing their weekend apart. For John, the days consist of befriending locals, worrying about Clara's health and mulling over what to feed her when he can't find the ingredients to make the herb-infused goat milk that she drinks state-side. Back in New York, Veronica relishes a quiet morning of sleep, enjoys catching up with friends and has a tense tryst with an ex-boyfriend.
Although the two spend most of the book distracted by the freedom of being away from each other, it is in their time alone that they realize they'd rather be together.
"I wanted to explore what our generation is doing when we have kids and how are we doing it," Goodman said. "How do you live when you've been given this gift, a tremendous gift, but it is a complicated one that compromises your own desires and freedoms? How do you continue your path of self-hood while giving to others, too?"
When readers meet John and Veronica, they are exhausted. Like most young parents, they haven't slept a full night in months, and most of their days have focused on Clara. In some ways, Goodman said, John and Veronica can't be held accountable for their "infantile" actions — cheating, running away to Barbados — because of their lack of sleep.
"Being sleep-deprived is a state of absurdity," said Goodman, a mother of two. "You can't think in a functional way."
Goodman, herself, may have been a little sleep-deprived when she thought up this story. She was nursing her newborn daughter when the "bizarre plot" came to her. For a couple years she thought about it, considering characters and details. In 2007, when her daughter was 2, she finally put finger to keyboard. It took her two years to write a draft.
During the following year, as she worked on polishing and refining the manuscript, she gave birth to her son.
"I got to repeat a lot of the experiences of new parenthood all over again," she said. "And I was able to bring those experiences to my revision."
Around the same time that Goodman's agent started shopping the book, Barbara Jones, executive editor at Henry Holt and Co., began looking to acquire "fiction at the crossroads of literary and book club fiction." "The Sunshine When She's Gone" fit that niche, she said.
Jones thought the emotions in the book would resonate with anyone who has been in a committed relationship — and particularly with parents. It "hit a funny bone, a nerve in my memory of having babies," said Jones, a mother of three.
Author Emily Gray Tedrowe, a member of a writing group Goodman attends, also connected to the book's descriptions of the challenges of parenthood.
"I found Thea's depiction of parenting an infant so dead-on, from the exhaustion to the routines to the moments of quiet joy," she said.
Although the characters' nonchalance about their situation teeters on absurdity, it's offset by how fully realized the characters' inner lives are. While at Sarah Lawrence College, Goodman studied psychology and worked in that field before deciding to pursue a writing career.
"She is amazing at getting the interior psychological life of characters down onto the page," said Gina Frangello, an author and fellow writing group member. "I think a lot of work out there maintains a formal distance from people's lives or paints in broad strokes, and I think that Thea is extremely gifted at (writing about) the surprising nuances and deeply personal things that people think about and that motivate them."
Despite her novel's plot, Goodman's husband can rest easy. She doesn't have plans to steal away with their children. "I have spent lots of time with my kids alone, but I like it better when my husband is around," she said with a laugh.
If she did, though, he shouldn't look in Barbados: The Caribbean "can be a bit more challenging for kids than one might imagine," she said. "I would go someplace a little more practical or convenient."
Courtney Crowder covers the Chicago literary scene.Copyright © 2015, CT Now