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February 21, 2012

THE POSSIBILITY OF YOU and Book Clubs, by Pamela Redmond

Posted by Katherine

possibility-of-you.JPGpamelaredmond.jpgPamela Redmond is the author of eighteen books including New York Times bestseller How Not to Act OldYounger and The Man I Should Have Married. She is also the coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books and the related website She is a columnist for Glamour and writes frequently for such publications as The Daily Beast and More magazine among many others. Her new book The Possibility of You (February 21st) tells the three intertwined stories of women facing pregnancy at different points in America's history. Here she talks a little about her own family history --- the inspiration for the book.


The whole time I was writing The Possibility of You I was having conversations in my head: with my grandmother, with my mother, with my daughter, and with my female friends, both current and long passed out of my life.


“Is this the way it was for you?,” I’d imagine asking them.  “Did you experience this, feel that?  Did you worry, celebrate, confess, keep it all secret?”


The idea for the book was prompted by finding the details of my grandmother Bridget’s arrival in America on the Ellis Island website.  There, in black and white, was the date --- May 1, 1911, six weeks after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  And the name of the ship she traveled on from Ireland, along with her height and her hair color and the name of the person who would guarantee her livelihood in America.


Beyond that, I knew nothing about my grandmother’s life as a young woman, even though she lived with us until she died when I was 13.  Sometimes I’d ask her about her life in New York “in the olden days,” but she’d answer only in monosyllables: She had worked as a nanny for rich people and then she had left to get married and then her husband died.


What her life in service was like, who those rich people were, whether she was happy to get married and how her husband died --- those questions all went unanswered.  Irish women of her generation --- and most women of her generation --- didn’t talk much about the intimate details of their lives.  And I suppose that I wasn’t that interested.


I wish, like many of us, that I could go back and ask my grandmother all these questions, not to create her character more accurately but so I can know her better.  I’d like to understand what her life was like as a young working woman, as a woman falling in love, getting pregnant, becoming a mother, struggling with her marriage.  We went through so many of the same things, separated by decades and generations.  And now my daughter is going through them all again. 


Is it the same for all of us?  Or does history make it different?  How did my grandmother’s choices affect me, and how do mine affect my daughter?


Even after meditating on these questions for the five years it took me to write The Possibility of You, some things remain mysteries.  How is it, for instance, that patterns you’re not even aware of repeat themselves across the generations?  Why do some daughters struggle to be as unlike their mothers as possible, and end up being so much the same?  What power to shape us resides in the blood, and what in the heart?


I wish I could be at the meetings of every single book group that reads The Possibility of You, because I believe the answers to these questions are as various as the women who’ve experienced them --- and yet universal at the same time.  I’d love to hear how the issues that impact Bridget played out in the families of the readers, how the decisions my older readers made as young women are the same or different from those that their daughters are making today and how younger women see their choices compared with those of their mothers and grandmothers.