Over 15 years ago, Lorraine Duffy Merkl came upon a quote in a newspaper article from a woman who was referencing her significant other. It said, “He came back just in time, because I was beginning to feel like the last single woman in New York.”
When she read those words, she immediately thought, “What a title for a book,” and jotted it down in the place she keeps words or phrases that she thinks she could use in future writing. “And I said, ‘Someday I should do something with that.’” And that day is finally here, because on May 17, her third novel, “The Last Single Woman in New York City,” will be published, right in time for beach read season.
It follows Sam, a jilted former soon-to-be bride, whose fiancé — whom she had been dating for close to a dozen years — leaves her a week prior to their wedding. As a result, the advertising executive throws herself into the new marketing campaign that she’s been asked to spearhead. Her job is to promote an upcoming reality show showcasing the life of influencer Hannah Randolph, bestselling author of “The Anti Wife,” who, as her book titles suggests, believes that society should do away with the antiquated construct of marriage. At the same time, it seems like every woman in the Bronx native-turned Upper East Sider’s life is either engaged, married or pregnant, so she begins to drink the marriage averse Kool-Aid that the future reality star is serving her legion of loyal fans.
As for whether or not the work is autobiographical, like her protagonist, Duffy Merkl is a Bronx native, who now lives on the Upper East Side and has worked in advertising. “You write what you know,” she said. “I was in advertising for a long time ... And that was my story too, I started out in the Bronx and I ended up in Manhattan and it’s like a different world.” However, unlike Sam, the novelist and essayist, who has written for Our Town, has been with her husband for 40 years and they have two children.
As for what she hopes readers will take away from the book, she said, her message would be that there are different ways for women to live their lives and to “think about what you want and craft your life so you end up getting what you want.”
How the idea come about for the Anti Wife?
The Anti Wife character came about from my outrage watching people who had gotten a monochrome of fame, whether it be a Real Housewife or an actor, producer, director, somebody who got some fame, wrote a book about it and then, next thing you know, they have this legion of fans. And up to that, I’m fine. Everybody needs to make a buck, so if you’re on a reality show and in one episode, you cook a meal and you think, “How can I capitalize on all my fans?” you write a recipe book. So I’m fine with that. But I think my outrage came from when there seemed to be a lot of lost people out there who are looking to be seen, to just have somebody to relate to them and that they can relate to, and they dive in deep with following these people and buying their books and wearing the T-shirts with their sayings on them and trying to then model their life after this person.
And then down the road, it turns out the person is not living the life that they profess. Like ... remember the woman who wrote “The Rules,” about how to get a man ... and then she ended up getting divorced. So you end up following these people, thinking they know what they’re talking about, and they really just found a niche to make some money. And that’s kind of what I based Hannah Randolph on.
Who would you like to play Sam in a movie adaptation?
I really like Anna Kendrick, although I don’t think she’s as tall. [Laughs] In the book, Sam is rather statuesque.
Tell us about your other novels, “Fat Chick” and “Back to Work She Goes.”
“Fat Chick” was very autobiographical because I’ve always struggled with yo-yo dieting. I’m thin, I’m fat, I’m thin, I’m fat, so that was a subject I really wanted to write about and it really hit home with a lot of people and that became an Amazon bestseller, at least as far as eBooks were concerned. We had one summer of 2012 when they were just flying off the shelves and my husband would come home from work and he’d be like, “How many did you sell today?” I mean it was a hundred a day. I was freaking out.
My other book was again, more autobiographical. It was about a mother who is trying to go back to work and in the meantime, she’s freelancing. And I used a lot of my own freelance experiences, like I go to show my portfolio to somebody. This creative director said to me, “So how do you get your work done with the refrigerator a few feet away and the TV on and the kids at home?” And I realized this man wasn’t going to hire me; he didn’t think I was dedicated. So I responded by saying, “Well, I don’t know, how do you get your work done with the treat cart a few feet away and somebody’s always playing something on the video and somebody’s coming in and asking you for something every five minutes?” It was like, “Yeah, thank you for coming.” I figured I might as well get a shot in.
When did you get the idea for this book?
It was a long time in the making. It started rather a long time ago, maybe around 2005. Donna Hanover had come out with a book after she and Rudy Giuliani divorced and her college or high school boyfriend or something looked her up and she wrote a book called “My Boyfriend’s Back.” I believe, it might have been The Post, they did an article about it and they did a sidebar and one of the women who that had happened to as well, like some man from the past came back, said, “He came back just in time because I was beginning to feel like the last single woman in New York.” And in the meantime, I wrote two other books and I started a freelance essay writing career and left advertising behind.
And in around 2015, I said, “I gotta write this book now.” The thing is my first go-around was very unsuccessful. I didn’t know what to do with it. I just had this character who was happily single until everybody around her started to get married. And every chapter was a different person in her life getting married and what that meant to her and by the end, I had all these, they were almost like diary entries, and it was just such a pile of nothing. It was so boring. It was so “who cares,” that I just put it aside and said, “This is a bust.”
I had read the biography of Harper Lee and how originally “To Kill a Mockingbird” was called “Atticus,” and it was a series of short stories about her dad. And when the editors at Lippincott got a hold of it, they saw that there was something there, but it wasn’t there yet. And the editors were really the ones who were instrumental in saying, “There’s gotta be a subplot with the kids ...” And I think having read that and then going on my rant about these Real Housewives, etcetera, who people were following blindly, that’s when I finally sat down and I wrote every day, all day for months and months and months and I couldn’t stop, the story just kept coming.