For young wife and mother Alex Pearl, the post-Nixon 1970s offers pot parties, tie-dyed fashions and the lure of an open marriage her husband proposes for them.
She is a painter, stifled but loyal, and when she realizes just how far her husband’s eye has begun to wander, she finds herself faced with what marriage and family actually mean, and whether an open lifestyle mimicking communal living could be for her.
In her newest effort, “Split-Level: A Novel,” author Sande Boritz Berger explores love and fidelity, a sexual revolution in the New Jersey suburbs that shakes up the life of a shy woman coming to terms with her own identity.
“Sande Boritz Berger provides a breathtaking look at spousal relationships, gaslighting, emotional abuse, and the women’s movement — a #MeToo lens turned back on a past era, rife with complicated change,” according to a press release.
Following the release of her novel on May 7, the Bridgehampton part-timer recently dished on the inspiration behind “Split-Level, this story’s place in the Women’s Movement today, and her own professional journey.
What inspired you to explore the 1970s suburbs as the setting of your newest novel?
Sande Boritz Berger: The post-Nixon era was a time of great change, a shake-up of sorts when people who took their government and maybe even lives for granted and then everything shifted, which created instability and mistrust. During the period of transition it felt as though people were walking on sand. The changes affected families, marriages, jobs and our country’s future.
What similarities and differences do you see Alex’s struggles as a woman in the ’70s and the struggles of women today?
Boritz Berger: The differences are strong mostly because of the support women now feel with other women — making us more cohesive and less fearful to ask for what we want and to express what we can not accept: the unacceptable. Also, women are filling the jobs once had mostly by men. Today, there are more female lawyers, doctors, professors and government officials than ever before. In the ’70s, we were mostly dreamers, I think — waiting to have our special moment of self-fulfillment. Guilt was involved, especially if we had children. Many of us had mothers who had sacrificed their own dreams, we might have asked: “What gives me the right to go off and do my own thing?”
Why did you choose the title ‘Split-Level’?
Boritz Berger: To me, having grown up in the suburbs of Long Island, I felt the split-level-style home symbolized suburbia and the similar home structure that both divided and brought together family members. And the word “split” is often used when couples and relationships go through a breakup.
What inspired your career switch from scriptwriting and video producing to writing novels?
Boritz Berger: The truth is, I’d always written, even when I was a producer for 20 years. I’d take workshops hoping to improve my craft, to publish, et cetera. As I got older, the realization that I had these stories to tell began to take up a lot of space in my brain. So, I closed my company and entered an MFA program where, luckily, I was exposed to amazing writers who encouraged me to write.
What do you hope readers take away from your novel ‘Split-Level’?
Boritz Berger: I hope they will see that marriage is and has always been challenging, as there is so much juggling and, for women especially, much gets put on hold — sometimes for many years, sometimes forever. Also, that love and marriage is not a panacea for happiness. As women we have to make our own happiness. It never comes and taps you on the shoulder.
For more information, visit sandeboritzberger.com.