Reviews of Shari Goldhagen's debut novel, Family and Other Accidents, have been so positive that she might not have to return to stalking celebrities for a living. She's done that kind of work for a number of magazines, including the National Enquirer and Celebrity Living.
"It was fun when I was younger," Goldhagen's says by phone from her New York apartment. "But now it's kind of boring. I started doing this because I thought I could get this really great book out of it, but it's almost too bizarre to even write about."
A Cincinnati native who grew up in the Blue Ash area, Goldhagen turned her attention away from stalking to writing fiction — the end result being a layered novel that examines the relationship between two brothers over a 25-year period.
Goldhagen's clear, distinct language creates an unsentimental but indelible depiction of the brothers. Jack and Connor Reed are left only with each other after their parents die prematurely via unrelated deaths.
Brother Jack, 25, returns to Cleveland to take care of 15-year-old Connor. They eventually marry strong, determined women who turn out to be heroes.
But Goldhagen doesn't necessarily see it that way.
"I think the women seem more in control of things, they're stronger," she says. "But the book is really about Jack and Connor."
We follow their lives through the years — Connor learning how to drive, Jack moving up the corporate ladder in his late father's law firm, Connor agonizing over whether to have sex with his girlfriend or Jack bedding yet another paralegal from his office.
It's clear the brothers love one another, but they don't know how to express it. Jack's wife, Mona, can't cut away his long-buried feelings about his parents. Conner's wife, Laine, is also long-suffering as her husband has an affair then develops a life-threatening illness. Each woman helps the likable but deeply-flawed brothers stay connected and shows them what being a family is really about.
"I started writing this as a short story when I was in college for one of my literary classes," Goldhagen says. "Actually, it's the chapter in the book where Jack and Mona are out in a boat and things are going very badly. After I wrote it, I couldn't get the characters out of my head. I started wondering what their lives would be like outside of that one story. What kind of life would these people have?"
Are the characters based on people in her real life?
"On the surface, not so much," she says. "But I think it would be ridiculous for any writer to say their words are a complete fabrication. There's a chapter in the book when a dog dies and I thought of my own family when our dog died, and it was a horrible, horrible thing.
"Of course, I knew to draw on that. And there's another section where Jack is fantasizing about killing his girlfriend. I had a boyfriend once tell me he had this weird moment once when he wanted to bash my head into a table. It's kind of a strange thing to hear, but I knew it would find its way into my fiction."
Family and Other Accidents is getting a lot of attention. There's even talk in gossip columns that the movie rights have been sold to a person Goldhagen used to stalk: Jennifer Aniston.
"That's probably a bit premature," Goldhagen says. "I have a film agent and she's working on the deal, but you know how these gossip columns work: They hear a hint of something and all of a sudden it's fact. I think we'll have to wait for a long time before any movie comes out."
Shari Goldhagen reads from and discusses her book 7 p.m. Thursday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.