By Leah Golder.
We are thrilled to welcome Kat Rosenfield to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release You Must Remember This, out January 10th!
On Christmas Eve, eighty-five-year-old Miriam Gardiner walks onto the vast frozen river behind her home. As a younger woman, she used to steal out on winter nights to meet her lover, walking straight across the ice to their secret meeting place. She knows the way—but not the year. Miriam, her mind clouded by dementia, doesn’t hear the snap of thin ice until it’s too late.
Was it an accident? Suicide? Or worse: did someone urge the old woman onto the frozen river on purpose?
There are plenty of suspects; Miriam’s fractured and complicated family has gathered in their Bar Harbor mansion to celebrate what they already thought would likely be the matriarch’s last Christmas. The guests include Delphine, Miriam’s granddaughter, a frightened and insecure young woman who adored her grandmother, and Miriam’s live-in nurse, Adam, a handsome man from a working-class background, whom Delphine has been secretly dating. Then there’s Miriam’s children: Nicole, who hated being thrust into the role of caretaker; Diana, whose deadbeat husband has long been a family joke; and Richard, who always said they’d all be better off if Mother would just hurry up and die. But it’s Delphine who comes in for the greatest scrutiny when they learn the shocking news that Miriam’s will cut off her children, and left the entire estate to Delphine only.
As her relatives obsess over getting the will thrown out, Delphine begins to notice inconsistencies in their stories and is emboldened to start investigating…until the trail seems to lead her onto thin ice as well.
We are very happy to welcome Kat Rosenfield to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming novel You Must Remember This.
Hi Kat, thank you for your time and I just wanted to say I loved reading your book! It was so gripping and such a page-turner, I couldn’t put it down and devoured it. It is such a thrilling story that breaks your heart whilst also making you listen out for all the whispers in the wind and those shadows creeping in the dark. A beautifully eerie story that will haunt any reader this Christmas.
I love the Gothic descriptions that litter the narrative, in both characters and setting. Did any building or landscape particularly inspire your setting of The Whispers and its creepy but intriguing rooms?
The Whispers is a composite of a lot of different houses (most of which I’ve never actually been in!) First and foremost it’s inspired by the real-life mansions that were built in Bar Harbor back during its heyday as a playground for the rich and famous, many of which were destroyed in the first of 1947; I mostly had to rely on old postcards to get a sense of how they were built and what they looked like, although one place had actually survived long enough to have a listing on Zillow, which was useful! For the mazelike interior I drew upon the Lockwood-Mathews mansion in Norwalk CT, where I live; I’ve toured it a couple times and it’s incredible how easy it is to get lost in there. There’s also a little bit of Hill House in there, and a bit of Manderley — I love how the houses in Gothic stories become a character in and of themselves.
Your choice of setting the present action at Christmas is really interesting. That such heartbreak, death, and suspense occur at a time when families come together really transcends the reality of the holiday. Was this something you always intended with the story, or did it appear during the writing process?
I became fascinated by the idea of a tragic story set at Christmastime back in 2020, when I was visiting my own family for the holidays. My hometown was like a ghost town — all the stores closed, everyone hiding indoors — and I spent a lot of time walking my dog up and down the empty, misty streets, looking at the houses with their Christmas lights, wondering what kind of dramas were playing out inside. Were people taking pleasure in being together, or were they all drunk and furious and at each other’s throats?
I loved the split narrative of Miriam’s past which informed the present reality of Delphine. The two characters are connected in so many ways that exceed the grandmother/granddaughter dynamic. Was this a conscious choice before writing, that the two would speak to each other in such beautiful and tragic ways?
I always had a rough idea that Delphine and Miriam’s stories would exist in conversation with each other, but the extent to which their individual tragedies ran parallel to each other — and with the same house as a backdrop to both — really emerged in the writing.
At some points it felt like Delphine was following a very similar trajectory to Miriam, living at the Whispers with a man who is not all he seems. If she hadn’t found out the truth about Adam, helped by Shelly’s expert detective skills, and they did get married, what do you think her life look like now, seven years later?
I’d like to think she wouldn’t have married him; we can see in those last scenes, before she realizes the extent of his deception, that Delphine is already feeling uneasy about Adam, even if she doesn’t quite know why. If they did get married, though, I’d be very worried about Delphine surviving to see their seventh anniversary.
Thriller has to be my favourite genre, one that I find the most gripping and entertaining. Is it your favourite to write but also read? Are there any aspects that you wish were different or could borrow from another genre?
Thrillers have always been my favourite both to read and write, but that’s partly because they do so often include elements from other genres! You Must Remember This is technically a thriller, I think, but with elements of mystery, romance, and historical fiction mixed in.
Adam is the true villain of the story. His conniving conmanship was such a shock when the final chapters showed his true character, the complete opposite of what the reader is led to, and wants to, believe throughout the book. Was he a difficult character to write? And do you believe he really did all this out of love for Delphine, or did he always have an ulterior motive?
I don’t think Adam was capable of genuine selflessness, but I do think he might have been such a gifted con man that he started to buy his own bullshit. Did he love Delphine? Maybe, or maybe he just loved what a relationship with her represented, an opportunity to turn over a new leaf, to be a different person.
Delphine as a narrator is really interesting. You create a powerful connection between reader and narrator so that we, like the protagonist, are always left wanting to know more. I wonder though how Adam’s perspective would have changed the narrative, would his cunning ways have been more successful at tricking the reader and keeping the truth hidden? Or does the truth always find a way of revealing itself?
I actually did toy early on with the possibility of threading Adam’s perspective into the story (without necessarily telling the reader whose head they were in.) If I’d had an extra year to work on this book I might have been able to pull it off — it made things very complicated! — but I think I’m ultimately happier to have Miriam and Delphine’s stories live in conversation with each other, without another voice intruding.
Despite all the turmoil she experienced in such a short amount of time, Delphine’s courage and bravery in the final chapters are incredible. Her strength is truly remarkable. Was this always the ending you envisioned for Delphine, an almost heroic resolution? And was it important for you to show the deceived woman as somewhat triumphant in the book’s conclusion?
I wasn’t sure how things would end for Delphine until I knew for certain what had happened to Theo, and how much responsibility Miriam bore for his death — but once that piece of the puzzle fell into place, things couldn’t have ended for Delphine any other way. She is somewhat triumphant; she is also, I think, somewhat tormented. Like Miriam, she didn’t literally kill the man she loved, but he would be alive if not for her, and she’ll have to live with that.
Thank you so much for your time, Kat. I thoroughly enjoyed your dark and haunting thriller, and I am sure our readers will too!
Kat Rosenfield is a freelance pop culture and political writer and the Edgar-nominated author of AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE (2012) and INLAND (2014). A former reporter for MTV News, her work has appeared in outlets including Wired, Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Playboy, Reason, and Unherd.
Kat’s Instagram: @katrosenfield
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