The Psychology of Suburbia
Author Linda Erin Keenan discusses life in suburban America.
Wellesley resident Linda Erin Keenan is an expert on suburbia. She had to be to write her book, "Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia," which has been made into a half-hour show for ABC.
As such, she sees the suburbs as a mixed bag, a place where things aren’t always as they seem. Keenan, 41, even rejects the theory upon which the value of suburban living is based.
“I actually think city living is safer for kids,” she said in a phone interview. “They don’t drink and drive. They drink and walk.”
“Safer” could be a stretch, but Keenan makes a good point. She makes several in her book, and while suburban-onset malaise is a feeling many may feel, it’s not often discussed and written about even less, she contends.
Keenan said she wrote "Suburgatory" following a severe bout of postpartum depression beginning seven years ago in New York.
She had her son, Frank Mendes, in 2004 and had to leave her job as head writer for Anderson Cooper at CNN. She, with her husband, Steve Mendes, and son moved to White Plains, N.Y., followed by a move to Westboro, Mass., and finally to Wellesley in 2007.
“It was a huge mistake, a humongous mistake for me,” she said of the move to the ‘burbs.
Keenan said there was no work for her in the suburbs. Given the tenuous nature of the news business and her new toddler, she found herself grappling with a depression that refused to subside for three years.
She turned her frustrations into vignettes about suburban living: Atheist Mom So Lonely She Accepts Christ, Mom Literally Dragged Back to the Suburbs, and Mom Crushed to Learn Facebook Isn't Job, to name a few.
Then, through the insistence of a friend, she wrote a 70-page manuscript in 2009. Last year, Warner Bros. e-mailed Keenan's agent offering a book deal. The book had to be fastracked toward publication to coincide with the corresponding ABC show, which debuted last month.
Beginning in July, she wrote 4,000 words a day until the book was finished.
It was rigorous, but also therapeutic, she said. Afterall, Keenan is a seasoned writer, and she'd been ruminating on these stories for the better part of a decade.
She harkened back to her days as a CNN copywriter.
“The way I worked at CNN…I didn’t move,” she said. “If I could have pee'd in a cup I would have. I had a single-minded focus. I found that again with this book deal.”
Keenan said she could have seen herself raising her son in a New York City apartment, but ultimately, she and her husband chose the suburban lifestyle. One that Keenan continues to struggle with.
“I personally find it very boring just in general,” she said. “I’m probably more bored than others.”
She worries that her son will grow up thinking suburban life is the only life. This Albany, N.Y. native said she eventually learned of the suburban bubble when she attended Cornell, the inverse of how her son is growing up.
But it’s not all doom, gloom and picket fences. Keegan has forged strong friendships in Wellesley. She said while nothing in the book reflects the town directly, even if it did, people say her stories are spot on.
“People…who I thought were straight-laced, come up to me and are like, ‘Oh my god, thank god you wrote that book, this is exactly how I feel,’ “ she said.