A Conversation with Jessica Barry – Author of Freefall
Today I am back with a fantastic book recommendation – this book is one of the most awaited releases of 2019 and guess what? It’s OUT NOW! And before I present my review of the book, here is an exclusive conversation with Jessica Barry herself as she talks about plane crash and so many intriguing elements she had added to her plot of her debut novel! You do not want to miss this one, so real along and find the details of the book at the bottom of the page! Cheers!
Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS. She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London. She works in publishing. For more about Jessica Barry, please visit her on Twitter: @jessbarryauthor and on Instagram: @JessicaBarry9.
Q: There’s a plane crash, and lots of intrigue but in the end, what was the most critical element in Freefall you wanted to get just right?
Jessica: The mother/daughter relationship is central, particularly the way we have to relearn that relationship when we’re older. As kids – and I think this is particularly true for mothers and daughters – it feels like we know our mothers inside out, and they know us in the same way, but that bond breaks down as we get older and has to be essentially relearned as adults. It’s not just the act of seeing each other as flawed human beings – it’s more letting go of your idea of who that person is (or who you thought they were, or who you thought they could be) and accepting the reality instead.
Q: Going back to that crash, you have your main character, Allison, now in the Rockies, alone, on the run, having survived a terrible crash—and I loved the details of her grabbing her workout clothes and all the snack bars and water–what did you do to get the details right?
A: My Google history 100% looked like I was planning to live off the grid in a Montana bunker for a while.
I bought the SAS Survival Guide, plus a book about reading the natural world and navigating without the use of a compass. I read up on how to find water, and the symptoms of hypothermia, and how many calories a person can survive on a day (the answer is surprisingly few, but if you don’t have access to water, you’re screwed pretty quickly). I learned about hunter’s blinds and how to load a rifle and a whole bunch of other weird stuff that never made it into the novel.
Doing the research for this was totally fascinating, not least because I am completely un-outdoorsy. The closest my family ever came to camping was pitching a tent in our front yard one summer night at my behest. I was back in my bed by 10pm. I don’t understand the appeal at all, though I know lots of people (including friends of mine) who absolutely love it. Thankfully my husband hates it, too.
Q: You have the mother back at home researching her daughter—the Google search! Why did you decide to have her find out about her daughter through the eyes of the press?
A: It’s true, the mother, Maggie, feels fully-formed whereas her daughter Allison is mysterious to us—partially because of the way we meet her in the novel, but also because she is still in this constant state of evolving. I think that dynamic – of the fully-formed parent watching their grown-but-not-yet-formed child try to find their way in the world is a really interesting one. When your kid is small, you expect them to make mistakes and get things wrong, and you expect to be the one who’s there to pick them up and guide them. When your kid is an adult, that dynamic shifts – you hope that they’ve taken the lessons you’ve taught them and will apply them to their own lives, but of course everyone who’s ever been in their 20s knows that you’re not always going to make the best choices, and anyone who’s had a child who’s in their 20s knows that they’re (frustratingly) mostly beyond their reach at that point. You can offer advice, but there’s no guarantee it will be taken, and you have to watch them make mistakes without knowing that you can fix everything for them.
Q: Part of the plot revolves on Allison’s homing sense—even though she and Maggie have suffered a rift of two years, where she wants to go now is home. Why does the crash send her home finally?
A: I think there’s a kind of vain pride that comes with being in your twenties (and thirties, and maybe forever) where you don’t want to admit to your parents that you’ve made mistakes. I think this links in with the theme of going home in the book – when Allison is in trouble, she doesn’t reach out to her mother, not just because they’ve had this falling out, but because she doesn’t want to admit to her mother that she’s failed. She only wants to return home when she’s fixed things for herself and can give her mother something to be proud of. I think, in spite of what we might tell ourselves, we always want to make our parents proud, and we don’t want to let them down, even when we’re leading completely separate and independent lives from them.
Q: One of the critical backstories I think is the life Allison ends up in—blond, thinner than thin, engaged to a powerhouse man and suddenly without any kind of agency of her own—what were you thinking of when you gave her that trajectory?
A: Allison moulds herself into this platonic ideal of wealthy womanhood – always thinner, always blonder – and then slowly sheds all of this during her time in the mountains, culminating in her shaving her head. This idea that, in order to become the person she needs to be to save herself and her mother, she has to divorce herself from the person she became to please men (and to make money through an economy of objectification – whether that was during her time as an escort or as the fiancé of a wealthy man). I think there’s an interesting generational thing to explore here – she’s in her early 30s, so would have come of age during the late 90s/early 00s when being a “strong woman” was often associated with embracing overt sexualisation. It was a culture that told us it was empowering to be sexy and to embrace being objectified, because it meant we were in control. I think we’re all now seeing that that wasn’t entirely the case, and that those were lessons that we’re now having to unlearn.
Q: Allison’s fiancé turns out to have made his own series of mistakes—a drug trial gone terribly wrong, a cover-up, and more. What did you know about the pharmaceutical industry beforehand and why did you decide to weave that into the plot?
A: I’ve been sort of obsessed with the pharma industry for a while, though that obsession was originally focussed on the opioid epidemic. I knew that I wanted to explore the idea of corruption in that industry, and the concept that these people who are meant to make us healthy are sometimes (often?) out to make money above all else. From there, I explored a few different avenues, but I was particularly interested in female health issues. Female-specific health issues are often underfunded and under-researched, and there’s also an unfortunate tendency to dismiss the medical concerns of women, not least when they focus around childbirth and its aftermath (but also things like endometriosis and menopause). That dismissal can sometimes manifest itself in painting the woman as “hysterical.” As soon as I put those two things together, I could immediately imagine some exec somewhere deciding that he could monetise something like postpartum depression (without worrying about whether or not the drug was actually treating the problem) and bank on any side effects being overlooked as female hysteria.
Q: What drew you to the idea to make this a thriller, and not a straight forward story of a mother and a daughter reconciling?
A: In most psychological suspense novels, the protagonists (usually female) are portrayed as weak and unreliable, whereas the protagonist in a thriller is associated with strength. I wanted to write a book where the women, at their core and despite the mistakes they’ve made in the past, are strong, and where they save themselves.
The men in the book are all kind of disposable. It’s the women who count.
Q: Is there a playlist for Freefall? Were there things you were listening to at the time you were writing it, things you think Allison might have on her phone?
A: The song that played over and over in my head when I was writing it was Elvis Costello’s “Alison.” It started up in my head pretty much as soon as I had the idea, so much so that one of the main characters ended up being named after it (though with a different spelling). I know it’s a song written to an old lover but in my head it was Maggie’s voice singing to her lost daughter. An early draft of the book was actually called ‘My Aim is True’ (which is a terrible title for a book, it turns out).
By Jessica Barry
Harper/ HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN 13: 9780062874832
$27.99/ $34.99 Can.; Hardcover; 368 pages
On-sale: January 8, 2019
When her fiancé’s luxury aircraft goes down in the Colorado Rockies, only Allison Carpenter emerges from the wreckage. The danger is far from over, though. Allison cannot afford to reflect on the events that have led to this moment or to wait for rescue. Not if she intends to stay alive. Injured, afraid, and in possession of dangerous secrets, she must navigate the harsh terrain to evade the murderous adversaries who want her dead.
At her Maine home, widowed Maggie Carpenter receives devastating news about the loss of her daughter, Allison, whom everyone presumes dead. Haunted by guilt over their two-year estrangement, Maggie gets another shock when she sees media reports on the tragedy. Ally appears unrecognizable, having transformed from a pretty girl next door into a sleek blonde bombshell. What else doesn’t she know about this enigmatic stranger? Galvanized by regret, she vows to unravel the mystery.
Crosscutting between Allison’s inescapable memories and Maggie’s tireless investigation, the alternating narratives cohere into a revealing portrait of desperation, reinvention, and ambition. Before the ill-fated flight, Allison had been one half of a La Jolla golden couple, cocooned in the glittering orbit of her future husband. Blissfully happy with Ben Gardner, a drug industry hotshot peddling a revolutionary panacea for postpartum depression, she slid into the role of decorative partner and never looked back.
But what really lurked beneath the picture-perfect façade? As a shadowy tangle of moral ambiguities, dirty dealings, and fatal consequences comes to light, the fallout ignites an explosive reckoning that will imperil the resilient Carpenter women and put their bond to the ultimate test.Amazon