One of our Best Books of January is a novel that many of us fell in love with and then pressed into the hands of someone else. This Is How It Always Is explores the unconditional love of family and how we, as parents, find ourselves faced with situations for which we are wholly unprepared. There is much that is universal here, but it's also the story of a family with a transgender child, something author Laurie Frankel is very familiar with. In the exclusive piece below, Frankel gives us some insight into This Is How It Always Isand her decision to tell this story through fiction instead of memoir.
What everyone keeps asking me is this:
Why did you write a novel instead of a memoir?
Which is a perfectly fair question "” my novel is about a family with a transgender child, and my own child is also a transgender child "” but writing a memoir never even crossed my mind.
For one thing, my life is pretty boring. I am grateful to be able to make up all sorts of harrowing, horrible, improbable twists and turns. And I am even more grateful not to have to go through any of them myself.
For another, I'm a novelist. I believe that novels are the truest books of all. The fact that we make them up doesn't make them less true. Being limited to telling only what actually happened, not being allowed to make things up because it makes a better, truer story, seems uncomfortably constraining and unnecessarily restrictive to me. Like pantyhose.
But mostly, it's a metaphor. My novel is not about my kid but all our kids, not about my experience as a parent but the experience of parenting. Most kids aren't transgender, but most kids face challenges their parents aren't expecting or prepared for or certain how to make better. Most kids fit in in some ways and deviate in others. Most parents are occasionally sure about what they're doing but much more often just guessing, crossing fingers, and hoping hard for the best. Families are complicated. Secrets are complicated. Love should be simple, but love is pretty complicated. That's what this novel is about.
That said, all novels, however fantastical, are at least a little bit based on their author's life, and some certainly have more overlap than others. Some of the research for this novel was definitely obviated by my lived experience. But the opposite was also true: I learned a lot about my life from writing this book. There were bits my editor didn't follow that it hadn't occurred to me to explain because I was too close, not to the story but to the situation. There were chapters my agent complained were too farfetched to believe, but they were things that had actually happened to me and my family. It's true that, particulars aside, there's so much about parenting that's the same for everyone. It's also true "” and I realized it again and again writing this book "” that some particulars are particular indeed.
For my kid's part, she's delighted to have a book written even in small part about her. She feels she is very important and fascinating. She can't imagine why, in fact, I'd write a book about anything else. She's also proud of being transgender and sees already, though she's still little, why her story is an important one to share. I don't know where her story's headed, but I hope it has less drama and heartache than the novel does. On the other hand, I hope the family in the novel and their unconditional, battled-for love prove to be as close to memoir for her as possible. You know, in case she ever decides to write a memoir.