An 'ordinary' woman sounds off
Lisa Scottoline answers her phone. “Hello?” she says. “Hello?” At least, I think that’s what she says. Hard to tell with the multiple dogs barking hoarsely and frantically in the background.
She hangs up. I call back. “Hello?” she says, laughing. “Can you call my cell phone? I can’t hear you well on this phone.” I call her cell phone, joking about how glad I am to have her secret backup number. This sends her into peals of laughter.
“Yes, it’s my secret phone number,” she says drily. “If you know any single men age 55, please pass it along.”
Thus begins a raucous conversation with one of today’s most prolific and popular writers. In addition to her new collection of essays, My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space, in March Scottoline published her 17th suspense novel, Think Twice, which promptly hit the New York Times bestseller list.
For this dog-loving, Diet Coke-swilling single mom, no topic is taboo in conversation or in writing. Her essays—many of which are culled from her Philadelphia Inquirer column “Chick Wit”—explore the minutiae of middle age, from facial hair to watching her daughter move out of the nest and into the big city. That daughter, 24-year-old Francesca Scottoline Serritella, contributes several effervescent essays to the collection.
The new book’s subtitle, “The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman,” is Scottoline’s nod to the unsung women who she believes make the world go around.
“We live in a culture that is obsessed with Batman and Iron Man and superpowers, and that usually morphs into fiction with men with all kinds of abilities,” Scottoline says. “I always thought, where is that voice for women? Where is the ordinary woman who really does have superpowers? Anybody who has more than two dogs and more than two children, you have superpowers. Anybody who has a dog and a job has superpowers. Anyone with a successful marriage, you have superpowers. Anyone who makes dinner every night and manages not to make chicken every other night, you have superpowers. These are the stuff of everyday life. Instead of ignoring it, I wanted to highlight it and celebrate it.”
She doesn’t just celebrate everyday life—she jumps in and swims in it. No subject is too big (aging parents) or too small (clogged drains). Scottoline examines everything with a razor wit and a keen eye for how the little stuff can add up to a big life.
In perhaps her bravest essay in this collection (and that’s saying something for a woman with a book titled Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog), Scottoline writes about the horror of finding a gray chin hair.
“The truth is, unless you’re wincing just a little, you’re not writing about something that matters,” Scottoline says. “I want everything original and fresh and real. Cutesy, twee, trite: I don’t want to be any of that. I want it to be real and true.”
It’s this willingness to not just expose but flaunt her flaws that endears Scottoline to her readers. She readily admits that she is quite possibly an animal hoarder (two cats and four dogs—beloved dog Angie died this summer). She has a full toolbox of procrastination tools, including an unhealthy addiction to weather.com. (“It’s not a time waster,” she insists. “It’s an avoidance behavior, which is slightly different.”)
But if there is a central theme to My Nest Isn’t Empty, it’s that there’s value in finding peace with yourself, warts and all. In an essay titled “Unexpected,” Scottoline writes about spending one Christmas without her daughter Francesca:
“You should know that Daughter Francesca and I have spent every Christmas together ever since she was one, when Thing One and I divorced,” Scottoline writes. “She would spend Christmas Eve with him, and the day with me, and we were all happy about that, or at least as happy as anybody can be when their kid has to split herself in two.”
She and her best friend, Franca, headed to the movies to drown their sorrows in Diet Coke, Raisinets and Meryl Streep. Turns out an entire theater of women had the same idea. Scottoline realized in that moment, laughing with a room full of strangers at a chick flick on Christmas, that it was OK to be happy, in a different way.
“I’d love to have a man in my life or a marriage that lasted longer than the average hard-boiled egg, but this is real life,” Scottoline says. “I don’t want people who have that life, too, to feel ‘less than.’ I stand in for them.”
That’s not to say that her two divorces (from Thing One and Thing Two) have left her completely cold to the idea of marrying again. In a recent Inquirer column, she even wrote, “A half-glass of wine, and I’m off and running. A margarita and I might remarry.”
So . . . could a third time be the charm?
“The prerequisite is a date,” she laughs. “It ain’t easy to get a date at 55 when you have gray chin hair and you never leave the house.” (It should be mentioned here that photos of Scottoline sprinkled throughout the book reveal a vibrant, fit woman with laughing eyes and really good hair.)
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” she concludes coyly. “You never know. Men read BookPage, right?”