Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Aidan Donnelley Rowley.
Ms. Rowley is the author of the newly released novel “The Ramblers” (William Morrow). She is the author of a previous work of fiction, “Life After Yes,” and creator of the Happier Hour Literary Salons. Born and raised in New York City, Ms. Rowley graduated from Yale University and later received her law degree from Columbia University, practicing as a litigation associate before turning her attention to writing full-time. She currently makes her home in Manhattan with her husband and three daughters.
Early response to “The Ramblers” has been enthusiastic. Library Journal awarded the title a starred review, noting: “Rowley once again captures the bright dialog, urban and romantic insecurities, and stylish lifestyle of a group of appealing upper-echelon mid-30s Manhattanites who defy the jaded stereotypes and will have readers rooting for them as they stumble their way to happiness. Irresistible.” Further, Dani Shapiro, author of “Devotion” and “Still Writing,” praised: “In this spirited, compulsively-readable, sophisticated tale of entangled urban lives, Aidan Donnelley Rowley has written a love letter to New York, full of sparkling innocence and its ensuing heartache. THE RAMBLERS is a pure delight.”
From the publisher:
For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Claire Messud, and Emma Straub, a gorgeous and absorbing novel of a trio of confused souls struggling to find themselves and the way forward in their lives, set against the spectacular backdrop of contemporary New York City.
Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.
Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.
Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit.
Now, Aidan Donnelley Rowley offers readers a (virtually) guided tour of “The Ramblers” …
John Valeri: What first inspired you to write “The Ramblers” – and what is the significance of this title?
Aidan Donnelley Rowley: I wanted to write a book that explores time, and specifically the idea that so much can happen very quickly. Time moves in mysterious ways and doesn’t always feel linear; sometimes we need to go back in order to move forward in our lives. The title – which came to me as a thunderbolt well into the writing of the manuscript – is a reference to the Ramble – a brilliant pocket of wilderness in Central Park – which is central to the story, but also refers to the three characters in the book who are rambling along in their lives, eager to find meaning and happiness. A straight, efficient line isn’t always best.
JV: The book is set against the backdrop of contemporary Manhattan. How can setting both enhance a narrative and become its own character within the story? Also, what do you most love about the city?
ADR: Place is so important. It informs who we are and the lives we lead and the moments we have that change us. In “The Ramblers,” New York City is not just the setting, but operates to fuel the narrative. A bench in Central Park brings two very different souls together; two college classmates play tipsy tourist and bound around the city one fateful night; a doctor and a banker marry in a prestigious midtown hotel where the bride’s parents married decades before. I love so many things about New York City, too many to articulate, but here are a few: the simultaneous anonymity and intimacy it affords; the 24/7 pulse and creative energy; the sense that people come here to dream big.
JV: Your characters find themselves contemplating their lives during Thanksgiving week. What about this holiday lends itself particularly well to such introspection – and to social commentary on our perceptions of privilege?
ADR: As we all know, Thanksgiving can be a particularly fraught time. We often gather with family and each family has its own dysfunctions which tend to flare in moments of excess food, booze and expectation. I think there’s also a lot of pressure during this time to reflect on our treasures, to find and feel gratitude in spades for the lives we have, lives which invariably contain seeds of uncertainty and unhappiness. And I believe all holidays can serve to highlight disparities in wealth and privilege; the way we celebrate often says so much about who we are and what values we have.
JV: In your opinion, how can having multiple protagonists foster character development – and in what ways do your characters serve as counter-points to one another?
ADR: I chose to write about three characters – and their intersecting lives – for this very reason, namely that we get a much deeper sense of each character by seeing her or him through the eyes of the others. Our sense of self and how we see the world is always necessarily – and interestingly – subjective, but by bringing in other viewpoints, new lenses, the reader can get a much more layered, and ultimately objective, account of who these three people really are.
JV: To what do you credit the eventual fulfillment of your (unconscious) desire to write – and what advice would you give to others who are seeking that same outlet?
ADR: Ultimately, and perhaps oddly, it was working at a big Manhattan law firm that caused me to pursue my long-held dream. I didn’t work there for long – just a year and a half after graduating law school – but I realized, and swiftly, that I was far more interested in the people in my orbit – my colleagues and clients – than I was in the proper practice of law. I’d scribble stories, fictional and real, and tuck them away and then one Friday afternoon, as I was reviewing a huge stack of mind-numbing documents, it hit me that I wanted to write, that I’d always wanted to write. I gave notice the following Monday. (Thank goodness for youthful impulsivity!)
JV: Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?
ADR: I’m at work on my third novel, which is the story of a strange and very mysterious friendship between a ninety something artist and a twenty-something fashion model in Manhattan in 1980. It’s been great fun to research.
With thanks to Aidan Donnelley Rowley for her generosity of time and thought and to Sarah Burningham, founder of Little Bird Publicity, for helping to facilitate this interview.