You know what’s better than a racy beach read? A racy beach read that makes you think. That’s what Holly Peterson aims to deliver in her new novel, It’s Hot in the Hamptons. There’s plenty of sex and snappy dialogue, but she hopes readers respond to the enduring themes of love and betrayal and a plot driven by class tensions.
“Women are smart and need to be entertained and amused, and I don’t think any of them actually want something that dumbs down a conversation or an analysis about life,” says Peterson, a former journalist. “My books are certainly a commentary on the clueless rich, but I have themes of betrayal, relationship parity, marriage strife, parental stress, disappointments that life isn’t turning out as we hoped…but I do hope my characters are learning new things and getting fresh perspectives along the way that the reader relates to and is educated by somehow.”
It’s Hot in the Hamptons—Peterson’s sixth book, following her best-selling debut, The Manny—follows two friends who contemplate revenge over their husbands’ affairs by having their own summer dalliances. NextTribe spoke to her as we head into these last few weeks of summer, when there’s still time to dig your toes into the sand as you dig into the escapades in the wealthy’s favorite summer playground.
Your books mostly take place in the homes and playgrounds of the uber-rich; where do you get your material?
I have grown up in Manhattan and was lucky enough to attend private schools and see so much of this myself from a young age. I’ve been a journalist at ABC News, Newsweek and other places for 30 years and I write what I call journalist fiction, so the fiction is real in terms of atmospheric details. I even fact-check my novels like I would a piece I’d write for any serious newspaper! When people say insane, out-of-touch things to me at dinners or parties, I write them all down in a notebook and use it for material. My favorite writer, Nora Ephron, used to say, “everything is copy!”
The novels have been described as social satire; would you agree with that? If so, what are you satirizing?
Yes, my writing is social satire. I am depicting and satirizing the ways of the wealthy and the tension of the class warfare that is roiling across America now. Rich people are often out of touch, socially trying for some kind of advancement always, desperately wanting to fit in and match up without any clue how unaware they appear of other people around them who have less or are struggling so much in life. The books I write aren’t meant to be mean spirited, just spot on actual society watching, like Sex and the City. I hope my readers laugh at and with the characters without malice, but with amusement and a lot of head shaking because it’s funny or too real.
You seem to like to have characters who aren’t part of the one percent. Why is that?
Well, character and scene tension is the lifeblood of any good writer.I can create more exciting scenes and scenarios if the classes are smashing up against each other in the ocean, on the sand, and in stores. Rich people at a party alone isn’t that interesting. Rich people at a party totally unaware of the serving staff or parking attendants becomes much more interesting. Now, sex between the classes and with people of different backgrounds amps up the tension and suspense even more, which is why there are always so many sexy sex scenes in my books. When people fall in bed, I never fade to black. I write step by step what is going on. Sex scenes are very very difficult to write without sounding like a Playboy playmate fantasy essay with corny words and phrases, but I try to depict in an exciting way that people finish and say, “okay, that was hot!”
Your current book, It’s Hot in the Hamptons, is centered on extramarital affairs in the Hamptons. It makes for a juicy read, but are you trying to say something about how the rich treat marriage?
I think people of all incomes have affairs, so the book is more a commentary on marriage, relationships, getting along, infidelity, sexual parity and sexual agency in general much more than simply rich people who stray. I do like to write my books in situations where rich people are being ridiculous for humor, so the affairs do take place in an affluent community, but not everyone having them is rich—in my book or in life for sure. I am certainly not pro-affair, but I wanted to focus on the times and situations in life where women actually have sexual agency in a world that would rather take it away. If a husband is having an affair, I was interested in writing about his wife who did the same in order for the man and the woman in the relationship to have some sort of sexual parity. Okay, you’re doing it buddy? Now she’s going to spend her summer doing the same thing—and let’s see where that takes us!