Good Luck with That: Q&A with Kristan
Kristan on Good Luck with That
Please tell us a bit about Good Luck With That.
Kristan: Good Luck With That is the story of three friends—Marley, Georgia and Emerson—who met as teenagers at Camp Copperbrook, a weight-loss camp for girls. They stay friends, especially Georgia and Marley, who end up living in the same building. Seventeen years after camp, they get a call from Emerson, who’s been hospitalized with complications related to extreme morbid obesity. Tragically, Emerson dies, but not before giving them the list they made at camp of the things they wanted to do when they lost weight, and makes them promise to fulfill it.
The list brings up those memories of what the teenaged girls thought adult life would be like…and reminds them of some of those old insecurities they haven’t put to rest just yet. Marley’s still haunted by the twin sister she lost when they were four, has always felt half of a whole. She loves taking care of people—she’s a personal chef—and shows her love through cooking. Georgia, an Ivy League educated lawyer-turned-nursery school teacher, Georgia hasn’t been able to shed the bad self-image she had as a child, growing up with a mother who was hyper-critical and an older brother who seemed to hate her…her size especially.
As both women mourn their friend and go through the list—deleting items, adding things, editing—they realize that Emerson knew a thing or two about letting fear and insecurity stand in the way of true happiness. For Georgia, there are unresolved issues with her ex-husband and her family. For Marley, it’s defining herself outside of her close-knit family and finding the man who will see her true self and, to paraphrase Mark Darcy, love her exactly as she is.
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
When I was writing Now That You Mention It, there was one passage that seemed to come out of my bone marrow—Nora, an overweight teen afflicted with acne, bad hair, a body that seems to be betraying her on every level, is obsessed with her sister’s effortless beauty. Nora goes on to shed her unhappiness, takes better care of herself and loses weight. She becomes a gastroenterologist (not a coincidence).
I was Nora as a teenager, and all those messages from society telling me I wasn’t the right shape and size hit home. At every major event in my life, there’s been a small, ugly voice telling me, “You should’ve lost weight for this.” I can’t even tell you how much I’ve spent on Spanx.
So I wanted to write a book about women who don’t lose weight, a book about self-acceptance in a society obsessed with being thin, a theme I’ve touched on before. This time, I wanted to take the ball and run with it—food, weight, self-esteem, from three different women with varying degrees of success. Marley is overweight and healthy; Georgia has yo-yo dieted all her life and is currently on the thinner side (and suffering); Emerson’s weight has gotten to the point where she can’t leave the house or care for herself unassisted anymore.
I was working on the book when I heard an episode of This American Life called “Tell Me I’m Fat.” They had three guests: Lindy West, who talked about that same echo I’ve always heard—when she got thin, all the other pieces of her life would fall into place. Instead, she had a revelation—she was going to like her body as it was. Elna Baker had lost a lot of weight and found herself less happy with life in general, but obsessed with staying thin. Finally, Roxane Gay talked about the difficult realities of her size, and how she still wasn’t there with personal body acceptance.
It was amazing. I felt such a lightning bolt of recognition with these women, both because I’ve lived some of their experiences and because I was already writing characters who were as well. And it reinforced the idea that I wasn’t alone in how I thought about weight.
What makes this story special to you?
More than any other book I’ve written, this story is about the power of female friendship. Georgia and Marley are closer than sisters, love each other so fiercely and would do anything for the other. They call each other out on their crap, but in such a compassionate way, and they help each other see their qualities and value. That bond is reinforced by Emerson’s death. Both women wonder if they could’ve helped Emerson on some level…the old “if only I’d been there” kind of magical thinking. As they tick things off the somewhat ridiculous list, they start to realize those items said a lot more about the human condition than they first understood…and Emerson knew that.
The other thing that stands out about this story is that it’s unapologetically about self-acceptance, both on the physical end, which can be so hard, and understanding your unique worth as a human, which does not involve losing weight. The book is an honest, affirming story about what really matters in life, and how we can focus on those things better and leave the less important things where they belong.
Both Marley and Georgia have a romantic storyline, too. Georgia has never talked to her ex-husband about the failure of their brief marriage, and now Rafe is showing up in her life again. Marley has two guys in her life—her longtime crush, Camden, a perfect physical specimen, and Will, one of her clients, who lacks a lot in the social graces department. I love reunion stories, and I love opposites-attract stories, and I got to write both in this book.
Of Georgia, Marley, and Emerson, which character do you relate to the most?
There are great chunks of my soul in all three. Writing Emerson reminded me of my own complicated relationship with food. Like Georgia, I’ve been strangled with self-doubt about my worth, not just because of size, but because of some of the messages from my childhood. And like Marley, at the end of the day, I really like who I am, and know that kindness and empathy are so much more important than what size I’m wearing.
You address several serious issues in this book, and yet there are great moments of levity. How do you manage to keep this balance feeling authentic to the story and characters?
There’s not an easy answer for that…I think it’s just how I look at the world. Humor and pathos are different sides of the same coin, someone once said, and I believe it. I feel it, and I guess I write it, too. Family humor is especially fun for me. I mean, who doesn’t have wacky relatives? (Looks lovingly upon family photos.)
Given that the issues you discuss in the book—body image, trauma, societal prejudices—often spark controversy in discussion, what is the most important message you want to get across with the book?
You are enough. You are whole and wonderful and loved with—and because of—your flaws. Don’t let the inner demons win. And be compassionate. You never know how hard life might be for someone, why they do what they do, and what events led to where they are now.
You’ve written a number of New York Times bestsellers. What will make this book stand out to your fans?
I think every woman is going to see herself somewhere in this book. It’s an undeniable fact that our culture places a lot of importance on weight and appearance. Good Luck With That doesn’t dance around the issue of the pressure to look a certain way and be a certain weight. It can be really, really hard to get to a healthy, happy self image. This book brings a very strong message about being kind to ourselves, and what can happen if we fail on that front.
You wrote a character who dies from complications related to obesity, but the book has a very positive message. Can you talk about that?
While I firmly believe that we can be healthy at any size and shape, not everyone is. Everyone can start that journey, but food addiction and compulsive overeating are very real issues. I didn’t want to minimize or disrespect Emerson’s addiction by romanticizing her struggles. Not everyone beats their demons, and my books have always had elements of tragedy as well as positivity. Georgia and Marley are devastated by her death, and realize she’s given them a call to live their lives better.
That’s what’s so great about fiction. It makes us think and feel. We get to see characters and empathize with their stories, and relate to their struggles, whether they’re like our own or not.
What do you think the take-away for readers will be after they’ve finished Good Luck with That?
I think readers will walk away from the novel feeling empowered, affirmed and happy. And I think they’ll be smiling and maybe melting a little bit, too.
(A version of this interview appeared previously. Click here to read Dabney Grinnan’s interview with Kristan.)