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Leffler's second novel 'The Goodbye Cousins' further explores family ties

| Sunday, July 5, 2009

Maggie Leffler knows it's coming, knows it can't be avoided. Still, she can't help but let out a sigh. A certain two-word literary term and how it applies to her new novel, "The Goodbye Cousins," has to be spoken.

"Go ahead, say it," says Leffler, daring her interviewer to say those unseemly words.

Chick lit.

"I know, I know, " says Leffler, who resides in Cheswick. "It kills me, but yes, it's true."

Or is it• The term is used to define fiction marketed to young women in their 20s and 30s. Leffler's story, about a young woman returning to Pittsburgh after being kidnapped as a child by her mother and taken to Europe, kind of fits that designation.

But Leffler also writes in depth about issues, notably the role of family, that are similar to those covered by Anne Tyler in her books.

Could it be the cover that's problematic• It features the legs of two women from just below the knee down, a suitcase with a floral pattern between them. Not really the kind of come-on for readers of serious fiction.

"I'm not in control of the cover or anything to do with how the book is marketed," Leffler says. "I look at different authors' covers, and I do wonder who dreamt where they're going to land in the whole spectrum of fiction that's out there."

Leffler's second novel is a byproduct of her first book, "The Diagnosis of Love," which featured a pair of twins, Holly and Ben, attempting to find answers about their mother's death. In "The Goodbye Cousins" — in which Leffler is definitely expanding her familial reach — secondary characters come to the fore.

Diotima "Di" Linzer has just returned from her exile in Europe with her toddler, Max. Living in Shadyside with her cousin, Alecia, a news reporter for WTAE, she's jobless, wondering how to get a job with little in the way of skills. Alecia sets Di up as a broker to find nannies for rich people, but Di ends up taking a job she's supposed to be filling on a temporary basis.

"I worked so hard and so long on the first book," says Leffler, who also is a family physician and works three days a week at a practice in Tarentum. "It took seven years, and I had just gotten to know everyone so well. I wasn't ready to let them go."

Leffler admits the feedback she received from book clubs about the characters made it easier to revisit the lives of Alecia and Di.

"It is the greatest thing because they all live in my fantasy world," she says. "It's so exciting for me when it catches on and they become exciting for other people, too."

"The Goodbye Cousins" also explores what it means to be without parents. Linzer returns to Pittsburgh after her mother has died. She had not returned home for her father's funeral, and is searching for some semblance of a home she only knew as a child.

Leffler, who herself is an orphan, wanted to explore what it is like to be unmoored from a family.

"I think there's a vulnerability when you lose your parents," she says.

Leffler says writing has become more difficult with the birth of her second son, now age 1. Having a 4-year-old boy doesn't make things any easier. Gone are the days when Leffler could afford to write every night. But a third novel, with a new cast, is in progress. While her time to write is limited, Leffler finds it a bit easier to get in the flow of the story.

"I sort of get in a zone, and when I get in a zone, it's a good zone to be in," she says. "I'm in my other world, and I can stay there for awhile. It's not good when I'm about to go to sleep, because I could accidentally keep writing all night long. If I get in the zone during the day, it's much better for me."

Additional Information:

Capsule review

Nominally categorized as chick lit, 'The Goodbye Cousins' exceeds that genre's expectations. Smartly written and nimbly plotted, the novel illustrates author Maggie Leffler's grasp of family dynamics, along with a sharp sense of humor.

Additional Information:

Maggie Leffler book publication party

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Admission: Free

Where: Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont

Details: 412-828-4877, www.mysterylovers.com

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