Crazy family dynamics, overbearing mother, cheating husband, recipe for disaster or inspiration for character growth? Happily it’s the later for Jody Horowitz, the protagonist of Mindy Pollack-Fusi’s new novel, “The Narcissist’s Daughter: A Meshugenah Love Story”
Set in and around Boston and its suburbs, the story follows it protagonist through the breakup of her marriage to the hopeful acceptance of her new boyfriend by her extended family. Yiddish words are sprinkled throughout the book and there’s a short glossary in the back explaining the terms.
With only her faithful dog, her best friend Ruthie, and her encouraging bubbe (grandmother) for moral support, Jody picks herself up, dusts herself off and attempts to remake herself. Along the way she contends with a self centered mother who is more concerned with saving face than her daughter’s happiness, a sister who has embraced the idea that money can buy you happiness, and a consortium of competitive family members who may not approve of a new boyfriend who is not Jewish.
The underlying message is that you can’t change other people. “We can only work on ourselves and accept others,” said Ms. Pollack-Fusi, who owns homes in Falmouth and in Bedford.
A writer her whole life with a long career in public relations and journalism, “The Narcissist’s Daughter,” released this spring, is Ms. Pollack-Fusi’s first novel. The book is loosely autobiographical.
“I left a family reunion in 2000 and I started to draft the novel. It was a way to vent and to learn about myself through the characters I was creating.”
While it started as autobiographical, Ms. Pollack-Fusi said that as the novel progressed she edited out the real and “it became more and more fictional.”
Almost two decades in the making, the book got a boost five years ago, when Ms. Pollack-Fusi was gifted her parent’s house in East Falmouth.
“I would come down here and disappear and work on the book. It became my retreat,” she said.
Ms. Pollack-Fusi said she doesn’t like strict discipline when writing. “I don’t like to say ‘every day at such and such a time I’ll do this.’ I would write when I felt I had total quiet and I could be absorbed in my characters for as long as I needed to me. Once I start writing I might not leave my desk for four or five hours. It’s almost like a form of meditation.”
Prior to heading to her Cape house to write, Ms. Pollack-Fusi found the novel taking a back seat to her regular work in PR. “I loved my work. I would find that I was doing my work and not working on my novel. I would try and take myself on little retreats, the local library, even to the dining room table instead of my office if I couldn’t get out of my house.”
In addition to her work in PR, Ms. Pollack-Fusi has written a number of essays that have been in publications including The Boston Globe and “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Ms. Pollack-Fusi is also the creator of The Place for Words, where she offers myriad services related to business and creative writing. Through her coaching she has helped a number of other people finish their own novels and received a grant to publish a book of stories by herself and her students called “Twenty-One Stories.”
Over the course of working on the book Ms. Pollack-Fusi took classes and workshops at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, the Boston Center for Adults Education and Grub Street along with various conferences. After taking classes and workshopping the novel she said she found that “the novel I finally released was probably 60 percent different that the original novel.”
A graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in magazine journalism, Ms. Pollack-Fusi said she’s always had a interest in reading and writing. “I tried to write the kind of book I love reading. Ones that are character driven, have a heart, and have a dog in them.” Ms. Pollack-Fusi counted Elizabeth Berg, Jeannette Walls, and Thrity Umrigar as some of her most influential authors.
“The books I love usually involve people in struggles, people with dysfunctional family dynamics and stories with a resolution that gives hope.”
Her ideal reader for the novel might be someone like the protagonist who is going through a life change or in need of a confidence boost, “but honestly it works for anybody at any age,” she said. “I would love it if the book gives people the hope that if they work on themselves and accept other people’s faults, then life can move forward in a new a positive way.”
Ms. Pollack-Fusi said that for her, one of the hardest parts of the project was knowing when the book was done. “You have to hit a point where you say, ‘I’ve put the time and effort into making it the best I can. Nothing in life is perfect. I’m ready to share my art.”
Now that the novel is complete, Ms. Pollack-Fusi said she has no plans to write another, although she said she does have two memoir drafts that she might turn into a novel if someone told her, “we need more characters like this.”
For would-be writers Mrs. Pollack-Fusi offers this advice. “Figure out what works for you. Figure out what it takes to carve out the time to get it done. Find a place where the Muse expects you. If you don’t, the Muse will go to someone else.”
She also offered this practical advice: “It’s important not to judge yourself on the first draft. Just write, write, write. Move forward. Write in whatever order you want. Workshop it. Get feedback.”
“The Narcissist’s Daughter” is available locally at Eight Cousins Bookstore in Falmouth.