Q & A

Questions for Meg Bortin about Desperate to Be a Housewife

You’re not famous, so why are you writing your autobiography?

I’m not. ‘Desperate to Be a Housewife’ is a memoir that takes a personal look at a specific time in the recent past when the rules of the game were shifting for women. It’s based on my life story, but it is not the story of my life.

But it’s about you, isn’t it?

Not entirely. While the story follows the adventures of Mona Venture, my alter ego, as she leaves home and goes out into the world, it’s the story not just of Mona but of many women who were searching for something after the cultural revolutions of the ‘60s.

Searching for what?

We were searching for a way to reconcile the expectations we grew up with – expectations of marriage and children – with the wild new freedoms we encountered upon leaving home. It wasn’t just the liberated sexual politics. Women were breaking free in so many ways. Career possibilities were exploding. We were were in the streets demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. We weren’t afraid. We were determined to carve out a kind of independence our mothers had never known. At the same time, many of us longed for the comfort of husband and family. But how to promise to obey a man and still remain true to yourself?

If the story is based on your life, why isn’t the heroine called Meg Bortin?

Good question. I like to joke that the names of everyone in the story have been changed to protect the guilty. But seriously, in the case of the heroine, I wanted to create some distance between the person I am today and who I was back in the ’70s and ’80s, when the story plays out. Some readers may also notice that Mona Venture translates from French as ‘my adventure’. So even though the heroine has a different name, she is, essentially, myself.

What happens to Mona?

She falls in love with a campus radical at the University of Wisconsin, follows him to the East Coast and, after their relationship founders, moves to Paris. She gets involved with a French intellectual and his circle of funny, edgy leftists who are trying to be true to the counterculture even while building careers. Mona becomes a journalist, moving on from Paris to London and then Moscow. All this time, with the biological clock ticking away, her misadventures with men play out against a backdrop of historic events, from Watergate to the demise of Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. There, as Communism crumbles, Mona is swept up in the quest of an entire nation to be free. 

How does the story end? Does Mona find happiness?

I’m not going to give away the ending. I’ll just say that Mona’s story matches what I call the flea-market theory of life: you always find what you’re not looking for.