A Beach Read Set in What New Yorkers Consider the Country

Author Lea Geller on gossiping anonymously, raising chickens in the Bronx and the books currently on her nightstand

| 14 Jun 2021 | 11:51

If you’re searching for a New York-centric beach read with a fun and (somewhat) relatable twist, look no further than Lea Geller’s novel, “The Truth and Other Hidden Things.” It follows the spunky and snarky Bells Walker, who was living on the Upper West Side with her husband and two children when she finds herself pregnant at the age of 42. At the very same time, her husband is told he would not be receiving tenure at the Manhattan university he’s teaching at, so the family must pack up and move to Dutchess County, where their patriarch’s new college gig is.

After Bells, who was writing for a free newspaper in the city, is denied the chance to contribute to the newspaper there, she decides to start an anonymous blog about all the scandalous events happening up in the country, which involve many New York City transplants who relocated there over time. And she does not hold back in giving her urban take on everything rural — from kombucha at coffee shops and goat-milk soap at farm stands to parents engaging in college entrance exam scandals and sleeping with their yoga teachers.

Like her protagonist, Geller is also a lawyer-turned-author, who began blogging while home raising her children. She had five kids in eight years, and her early work focused on her honest commentary on her “misfires” while parenting, like not wanting to bake with her children. “I don’t understand how that’s pleasant for anyone,” she quipped.

A native of England and now a resident of Riverdale, when she is not working on her third novel (while her kids are at school), she is teaching English to middle-schoolers and tending to the 13 chickens that are in her yard. “It’s very instant gratification. You feed them and you get something from them every day,” she said. “It’s not like parenting.”

What was your writing process like for this novel?

I work in the hours when my children are in school, so generally between 8:30 and 3:30. I’m not a serious outliner; I make lists of things I would like to include in the sections, like scenes I think I need to have happen. And I have a legal pad where I keep track of ideas and thoughts and how often certain characters need to recur and that sort of thing. It took me, I would say, about a year, year and a half. It’s hard to know. It came out exactly two years after my last book. I was not writing in the pandemic; I was editing this in the pandemic.

Besides Bells’ career, what other things in the novel are based upon your life?

I’ll say what I wish was based on my life. Like, I definitely do have fever dreams about unexpected pregnancy. Even though I’m 48 and have older kids, that piece of it ... I wouldn’t be unhappy if that happened. So that’s not something that’s like my life, but it’s somewhere where I let my mind go sometimes. I think that she and I really share our approach to not so much parenting, but the college craziness. I feel like there were so many books about slacker moms, those lazy wine o’clock moms who it’s a badge of honor that they never really do anything and they’re late for everything. Bells isn’t really like that; she has intentionally taken herself out of what she considers a purposeless rat race for her kids. And I feel a lot of the way that she does about that. And I think that, in terms of wanting to raise happy and healthy kids in this sort of college-crazy environment — wherever that is, be it the Upper West Side or the Hudson Valley or Westchester — I feel her, as my kids would say, when it comes to that.

The gossipy anonymous letters reminded me of “Bridgerton.” Did you watch that?

I watched it after. Yes, I did. It’s funny, I wrote a little article about what it had in common with “Bridgerton” and “Gossip Girl.” I mean, I think all fiction is kind of gossip in a sense. Like you’re basically kind of gossiping anonymously when you write fiction, even if you’re not writing about people that you know, to some degree ... And, you know, there is something fun and liberating about being able to say whatever the hell you want with zero repercussions.

I know you answered this question in other interviews, but if this was made into a movie, who would you want to play the leads?

Well, it’s funny, I have all these ideas for who I would want to play the lead, but they’re all like 30 years ago. I had Harry as a John Krasinski, someone sort of goofy, attractive and intellectual. And Maya Rudolph ... physical humor, she has the hair. Bells is always talking about how big her hair is. That’s the smart, funny energy I think she’d have.

When did you decide to start blogging about parenting?

I used to journal as a kid. I journaled up until I think I started having kids. And I had five kids in eight years, and I stopped. I didn’t even baby-book. I have pathetic little baby books, but I was never one of those people. Maybe for my first, I clipped his hair. And it wasn’t very me, to be honest. And I didn’t have the time, at least I didn’t make the time. I started a blog when I was pregnant with my fourth, I think, and all these crazy things were happening and everyone was like, “You have to write these funny stories down.” And so I did and it kind of turned into a journal of parenting ... My 19-year-old was just saying, “You know, I’ve been reading the blog lately and wow, you really put up with a lot.”

In the book, Bells reads the comments she receives on her blog. What are some comments you’ve gotten that stood out?

The overwhelming comments I got were really more like, “You’re saying what everyone’s thinking. It is very difficult. It is very unforgiving. I do feel bad.” ‘Cause there are these blogs that are very sort of rosy. She kind of makes fun of that too. Mine wasn’t depressing. It was always funny. It was never one of those parenting blogs that really expose the underbelly of parenting. It wasn’t so much about the kids, but about all of my misfires parenting. And I think a lot of people felt like, “Oh, I get this.” And so a lot of those comments. And sometimes I would get snarky comments judging me for not enjoying having dinner with my kids particularly ... I don’t want to have dinner with you, I’ve been with you all day. The comments were like “What kind of mother are you?” And I’d be like, “Well, I guess this kind.”

I also read that you own chickens.

My God, it’s gotten so out of hand. I’m up to 13 chickens. I live in Riverdale. There is a yard; we have yards up here ... They’re lovely. I’m a little obsessed with them.

What books are on your nightstand now?

“A Special Place for Women” by Laura Hankin, I’m reading that next. I just read “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Then a nonfiction by Louis Menand about culture in America. I kind of mix it up. Also, I do like a good celebrity memoir, so I think I also have Andrew McCarthy’s book on my nightstand.

I interviewed Andrew for this column for his book “The Longest Way Home!” In your acknowledgements, you thank the writing community. What can you tell us about how other writers support your work?

I mean, often it’s just a matter of reposting something that you’ve written ... to writing a blurb for your book or offering to do a Q&A with you in the middle of the pandemic when everyone’s got kids at home.