Feature Book By Liz Freeland

Shrug

Shrug

 

Martha Goldenthal isn't your typical 1960s Berkeley radical. Her rebellion isn’t sex, drugs, or rock ’n’ roll―it’s doing well at Berkeley High and planning for college. Her father, Jules, is a raging batterer who, because of his own insecurities, hates academia. Not that her off-the-rails mother, Willa, is much better. Meanwhile, Jules’s classical record store, located directly across the street from the UC Berkeley campus, is ground zero for riots and tear gas. No wonder Martha has a nervous tic―a shrug of the shoulder.

Preoccupied with the family situation and barely able to concentrate, Martha plods along in school and somehow manages to achieve. But then her parents’ hideous divorce, the loss of her father’s record store and livelihood, a heartless eviction from her family home, and an unlikely custody case wind up putting Martha in Jules’s care. Can she stand up to her father and do the one thing she’s sure she must―go to college?

With its running “soundtrack” of classical recordings and rock music and its vivid scenes of Berkeley at its most turbulent, Shrug is the absorbing, harrowing, and ultimately uplifting story of one young woman’s journey toward independence.

 

 

 

 

About the Author Lisa Braver Moss

Liz Freeland

Lisa Braver Moss is a writer specializing in family issues, health, Judaism and humor. Her essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Tikkun, Parents, Lilith, and many other publications. She is the author of the novel The Measure of His Grief (Notim Press, 2010). Her second novel, Shrug, is slated for publication in August, 2019 by She Writes Press.

Lisa's nonfiction book credits include Celebrating Family: Our Lifelong Bonds with Parents and Siblings (Wildcat Canyon Press, 1999) and, as co-author, The Mother's Companion: A Comforting Guide to the Early Years of Motherhood (Council Oak Books, 2001). She is co-author, with Rebecca Wald, of Celebrating Brit Shalom (Notim Press, 2015), the first-ever book of ceremonies and music for Jewish families seeking alternatives to circumcision.

Born in Berkeley, California, Lisa still lives in the area with her husband, with whom she has two grown sons.

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Lisa Braver Moss

Q: “Shrug” is partly based on your own experiences growing up with an unstable home life in Berkeley, California, during the 1960s. How did you make decisions about what to fictionalize? Why didn’t you opt to write a memoir, and what value do you think fiction storytelling adds to this narrative?

A: I felt liberated once I realized I was writing a novel. I think in writing my own story as a memoir, I would have felt more constrained or distracted by what actually took place, and the researching of those details may well have derailed me from the difficult task of writing a complete, satisfying read. I would’ve felt more daunted and more vulnerable. That said, fiction writing is no stroll in the park! For example, it required a lot of research about period details that I didn’t remember.

At one point, I mentioned to an editor friend, “This is fiction, not a memoir.” He laughed, and I asked him what was funny. “Memoir IS fiction!” he said, meaning that choices about tone, content, and perspective in a memoir are all subjective decisions rather than objective ones. Nonetheless, writing the story as fiction felt freeing; I loved setting the scenes and I love to write dialogue. But maybe the most concrete reason that it’s a novel and not a memoir is that the book kind of fell into place once I “got” the teenage voice.

Q: Some authors share their personal stories with traumatic experiences, including childhood domestic violence, through the written word and find that the process is liberating in a way. Was this your experience? How did you manage potentially triggering content?

A: There were certainly parts that were very painful to write, such as the scenes of the father’s violence and those of the mother’s cruelty and maddening self-centeredness. I think I was able to manage this because I was so focused on precision in my writing. There were times when I was crying while writing, but in general my drive to “get it right” overrode the pain of the content.

The liberating thing about writing the story was that it forced me to have compassion for Martha; without this, I discovered, it was impossible to make her a sympathetic character. A pretty big consideration. So I had to adopt a loving attitude toward Martha and, by extension, toward myself. “Yes, this young woman really does deserve to be heard” was my inner motto. It was a way of retroactively loving my younger self. This helped me love my current self in a deeper way.


So, in terms of the painful content, I recognized that being able to be precise about it was key, and that helped me observe the writing adage “the more specific, the more universal.” I was ruthless about cutting out any specifics that didn’t keep the story moving or show something about character. But in general I chose my words and phrases with care as I tried to convey the scary, complex, confusing situation the main character is in.


It was liberating to write the book, sure. But have I completely broken free of the abuse I grew up with? Well, that’s a life’s work.

Q: Martha, the lead character in “Shrug,” seems to stand more on the sidelines of 1960s chaos and rebellion -- was this also true of your personal experience during that period? Did you feel like you were on the outside?

A: I definitely stood on the sidelines during that period, mostly because I felt so overwhelmed by the things I was coping with. At the time, taking part in protests and peace rallies would have felt almost phony to me. How could I rally for peace in Vietnam when in my own life, in my own home, there was an abject lack thereof? Also, as I said, my being on the sidelines had to do with my feeling completely snowed by what I was dealing with – I had no bandwidth for any other moral battle.

EC:

To cope with stress stemming from her family life, Martha focuses on music, academic pursuits and the unwavering support of her friends rather than turning to destructive behaviors, drugs or alcohol. Why is that the path she takes?

LF: Also, no DNA.  It frees me up, so the police have to use only clues to figure out the who done it.  Although, it was an era when some technology cases were using blood types to help in the investigation.  A lot of the research I do is trying to figure when things started to happen in terms of forensics. 

EC: How would you describe the victim, Guy?

LF: He has a frat boy type of personality and is cowardly.  I do think he was open-minded to reach out and fall for someone who was Jewish and different than he was.  He is part of the autocratic class and she was a working girl.  But he was not brave enough to take her home to mother. The world at that time was segregated.  Jews were hard working, but because of the religious reason they were not accepted.

EC: Even famous people like Irving Berlin was not fully accepted?

LF: He was respected and rich but not fully accepted.  He fell in love with a Christian woman.  Her parents tried to separate them, so they stayed apart for years.  This was very typical.

EC: How would you describe Louise?

LF: Only twenty, so very young. Resilient because she had a lot of setbacks and suppresses what happened to her.  She is forthright and speaks her mind. She is brave even when she fears something.

EC: You touch on the corruption of the time?

LF: I put in the quote about politicians, policemen, and functionaries could be bought. The corruption was a cancer on the system.  It was a town where anything went. This is when the progressive era was starting to clean things up.  They tried to turn the ship around and enact laws. 

EC: Your next book?

LF: Louise is now working in the police department.  She is looking into the death of a prostitute that is connected to German sabotage/espionage operations.  Since World War I just started it has war and a police investigation.

EC: THANK YOU!!

 

 

 

  

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