Author’s novel was ‘Labor’ of love; basis for new film

Author Joyce Maynard and actor Josh Brolin, who stars in ‘Labor Day,’ a film based on Maynard’s novel.

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

Joyce Maynard, author of “Labor Day, was in St. Louis last week for preview screening of the new movie based on her novel, followed by a question and answer session. The film was directed by Jason Reitman (who shot the movie “Up in the Air” in St. Louis), and stars Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. 

“Labor Day,” which opens here Friday, tells an unconventional love story about a divorced woman (Winslet) with a young teenage son who lives a socially isolated life in a small New England town. She winds up sheltering a prison escapee (Brolin) in her home.

Maynard is the author of 13 books, both memoirs and novels. Her novel “To Die For” was also made into a film — directed by Gus Van Sant in 1995, and starring Nicole Kidman. 

Yet many know Maynard mostly through her connection to another author: J.D. Salinger. When she was 18, Maynard was a freshman at Yale University when she had a story published in the New York Times magazine. Salinger read the article and wrote to her. They exchanged letters. Eventually, she left college and moved in with him. The relationship ended some time later, when Salinger abruptly sent her away. 

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While in St. Louis, Maynard sat down with the Jewish Light for a wide-ranging discussion.

Tell me about your family. Your mother was Jewish and your father came from a Christian fundamentalist family?

I was raised with Jewish traditions but there was no community. My mother’s family was not religious but very culturally Jewish. 

They were in (Winnipeg) Canada and because there was such a break with my father over religion, we went to visit them in Canada without him every summer. And I thought Canada was like Israel. 

Was “Labor Day” inspired by something in your own experience?

No. I’ll tell you the part that is my life: I have been a single parent, raising three children in a small New England town.

The part that’s me is not just the Kate Winslet character. I’m in all the characters — pieces of me. I think any novels you read, you will know something about that person from reading … John Irving, John Updike, Alice Munroe. Our obsessions, our inner life, are in our writing. 

What are your impressions of the film?

I’ve seen the movie three times now and I still see new things. I was very happy with the film. It is very true to the novel, although my hope is that people will still read the novel. If they see the film and then read the novel, they will get another layer.

How closely did you work with director Jason Reitman? 

Jason (Reitman) called me up right after he read the novel and he said, “I wept when I read this novel and I knew I wanted to make a movie.” 

The last thing a director wants is a writer leaning over his shoulder. And I appreciate that. Jason needed to make his film but he was so respectful of me and the book. He called me a lot. 

Pie making plays a central role in the film, and I heard you taught your techniques to Josh Brolin. How was that?

I suffered through it — no, it was great, of course. It was the first day of filming, and before anything had happened. Josh and Kate had just met each other. He was just a darling guy.

How often do people still bring up your relationship with Salinger?

It happens every day, for all my life. The phenomenon that is interesting: You can be 60 years old, have published 13 books, 12 of which have absolutely nothing to do with that topic and one of which is still not all about that … I’ve raised children, created a family, had many, many life experiences, and the big thing about me is the important man I slept with when I was 18.

I was on a TV show this morning, with one of your St. Louis television personalities, and a picture of J.D. Salinger flashes on the screen. And I said, “Really, do we have to go there?”