The real shocker in Mary Monroe‘s new novel She Had It Coming isn’t that a high-school girl murders a man on prom night. That’s right there on the first page for all to see, and the victim is her monster of a stepfather. Rather, the shocker — and the moral quandary it spurs — is that sixteen years later, the killer’s best friend is secretly married to two different men at the same time … and wants to stay that way.
Bigamy is the latest bold venture for Monroe, whose nine previous novels explore other dangerous liaisons. In Sheep’s Clothing, a woman steals a bitchy co-worker’s credit card — but gets more than she bargained for. In The Upper Room, a woman steals a friend’s stillborn baby. Red Light Wives‘ six heroines are prostitutes. “I’ve read books that were so forgettable I forgot most of the details the next day,” says the Oakland author, who will be at Barnes & Noble in Jack London Square (98 Broadway, Oakland) on August 26. To make her novels memorable, “I write about ordinary people” who “manage to get themselves into some bizarre situations. … What happens to my characters can happen to anybody.” Many of Monroe’s characters commit desperate acts after having been brutalized. “I was once a victim of sexual, physical, and mental abuse,” Monroe says. “I still have a lot of unresolved issues, but for now, writing about them is very therapeutic.” The third child of Alabama sharecroppers, she was “the first and only member of my family to finish high school. I never attended college or any writing classes. I taught myself how to write” — and was a deft-enough teacher and student to win the 2001 Oakland Pen Award for Best Fiction of the Year and the 2004 Best Southern Author Award.
She Had It Coming was inspired by a Court TV program about a male bigamist: “I immediately imagined a somewhat naive young woman in a similar situation.” Red Light Wives is arguably Monroe’s bravest book. “With all of the emphasis on sex in every culture on this planet, prostitution will be around until the very end,” says the author, who received grateful emails “from former and current hookers. Most of them thanked me for making them seem more human and not just a bunch of drug addicts and floozies like a lot of people think they are. I once lived in a neighborhood where hookers strolled in front of our house and I got to know most of them quite well. I was a teenager at the time and already selling gritty stories — such as ‘I Married My Rapist’ and ‘A Homosexual Preacher Stole My Husband’ — to those risqué ‘true confession’ magazines. Therefore, the hookers knew that I had a very open mind. Each one had some confessions to tell, but no voice. I took it upon myself to speak for them.” 7 p.m. BarnesandNoble.com