Q&A with Ann Garvin, author of ‘I Thought You Said This Would Work’
Garvin's fourth novel, due out from Lake Union Publishing on May 1, is about "broken bonds, messy histories and the power of forgiveness."
The title of Ann Garvin’s forthcoming novel, “I Thought You Said This Would Work,” sums up the story’s tension in a single sentence. You’ve got three women who’d been best friends and roommates in college until something happened — precisely what she did to upset Holly is a bit of a mystery to our narrator, widowed single mother Samantha. But 25 years later, Samantha and Holly remain tethered through their love for Katie, who is currently hospitalized with a recurrence of cancer and needs her two best friends to make up long enough to endure a cross-country road trip to rescue her beloved 100-pound diabetic dog from her wayward ex-husband. And so begins a romp through messy pasts and misunderstandings, baggage-laden friendships, motherhood, dating in adulthood, the digital age, rescue animals, D-list celebrities, sleep disorders and other adventures along the way. “I Thought You Said This Would Work,” due out from Lake Union Publishing on May 1, is Garvin’s long-awaited fourth novel, as she explained in a new profile in the May 2021 issue of Madison Magazine. But we had a few more questions.
This is your fourth novel. If your books were children, how would you describe this one in relation to the others?
This novel is, at the same time, the silliest and most mature. She’s figured out when to sit still compared to my third book, “I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around.” Meaning, she doesn’t rush away from the hard stuff quite as quickly. She’s having more fun than “On Maggie’s Watch,” which was filled with the anxiety of the firstborn. And she’s more solid in her balance between funny and sad than my second book, “The Dog Year.” Each child has its charms but I think “I Thought You Said This Would Work” has a really lovely mix of all of them.
“I Thought You Said This Would Work” is about two feuding former best friends who must join forces on a road trip to rescue a dog for their mutual third best friend who is dying of cancer. Where was the seed of this story born, and what questions did you set out to answer?
I was having dinner with two friends who became friends because of their relationship with me. They are both strong-minded and sure of themselves. I had this flash of what might happen if they were on a road trip together without me. The thought made me laugh out loud while eating my salad. My friends are not Holly or Samantha from the book, but they gave me the inspiration. Additionally, I was interested in the idea self-worth within relationships and friendships. How all of our relationships hinge on how we see ourselves and, if that worth is a little wobbly, it can mess with our friendships in ways we wouldn’t expect.
The star of this book is a rescue dog named Peanut. Not only do you have a dog named Peanut in your real life, but this isn’t the first book you’ve centered around dogs. What is it about dogs, and why give fictional Peanut your real-life bestie’s name?
I picked Peanut-from-the-book’s name in a wild moment of zero imagination. I put it in as a place-keeper and then realized it was a good name for a huge dog and left it. But I also suspect I wanted an homage to my little guy who is 75% perfect dog and 25% legitimately impossible. He is a noisy fanatic about other dogs — and other dogs are everywhere. What is it about dogs? Their unfailing devotion to their owners who have limited crucial conversation skills seems like something humans don’t deserve. I can’t not write about them. They are the perfect human foil.
Is the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah based on a real place and have you been there?
Yes. It’s the most amazing place on earth. Hundreds of animals and hundreds of humans all together taking care of each other. I spent three nights in on-site cabins and was able to volunteer, roam and meet the founders. It’s a place where love is always on display and gives you hope for humanity.
Early on in the book, a fourth woman is introduced into this decades-old best friendship triangle. Where did the character of Summer come from, and how did her sort of Hollywood persona/pseudo-guru/otherworldliness play off your characters as you knew them?
I don’t actually know the answer to this. I had Samantha waking up in the airplane on the way to California and, boom—Summer appeared next to her, commenting on her every move. I loved that she said everything anyone might say upon meeting Samantha and Holly. Like a skinny, tanned Greek Chorus providing a narrative over everyone’s actions. She was a gift from the story gods.
This book often vacillates between funny and sad, which is your specialty. Your characters often say or do the outlandish things we all wish we could or would. What do you admire (or cringe at) in each of your main characters?
Summer is such a minx and knows exactly what she’s doing when she messes with Samantha and Holly. I wish she loved herself as much as she cares for and challenges others.
Samantha is such a nervous nut. So afraid to be seen despite knowing she is at her best when she is solidly herself. That’s why you see glimpses of her throughout the trip and cheer when she stands up for herself.
Holly is that woman who uses toughness as a shield to keep herself sweet inside for the people she loves. You don’t get to see it often but when you do, you want to be one of those someone’s she loves.
The book’s narrator, Samantha, is dealing with her upcoming empty nest as her only daughter goes off to college, a relationship we only see through texts. She’s also dabbling in potentially dating, a fledgling relationship that also plays out through texts. Both feel aptly fitting to me in our current world. Were digital relationships on your mind before writing this book, or did that just come about naturally because of the road trip structure?
One of my daughters is in Minneapolis and our relationship feels mostly digital lately—and yet is still extremely close. People disparage screen time, and I get it, but I have wonderful relationships with many people over the airwaves. It’s the fabric of our lives now. It’s a challenge in writing to get it right for many reasons—people tend to keep their texts painfully brief. But there is a wonder to it as well. If not for the texts, we would never get to see some book relationships in real time, they’d be left only for backstory. It adds a 3D nature to our stories that is confounding but also layered.
Without giving anything away, do you have anything to say about the ending of the book — or the title — as it relates to life? Did you always know where this story was heading, or did you come to it naturally?
I always know where a story is heading even if I am still deciphering its meaning as I write it. The title came to me early on, when I was figuring out how to get these two frenemies on a road trip. I didn’t realize the depths of importance of the title until I wrote the ending.
Finally, the question I ask of all authors: How can we best support your work and the work of other authors right now? What may people not realize about the state of publishing?
Authors need people to request their books to be shelved at libraries and bookstores, if they’re interested in seeing more from a particular storyteller. Online sellers are as important to authors as bookstores and libraries. Often people forget that books are a business and if authors don’t sell books, then that author will have tremendous difficulty getting other chances to publish. Reviews also help authors in the most wonderful of ways.
Read a profile of Ann Garvin in the May 2021 issue of Madison Magazine.
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