Livingston native Elyssa Friedland has had a few run-ins with cyberspace that left her wondering if she’d be better off signing off. She’s explored the topic in a few non-fiction essays, but really got to let her imagination run wild in Love and Miss Communication, her first novel, published by William Morrow earlier this year.
Protagonist Evie Rosen is smart, a rising star at her prestigious law firm, and single at 34. She’s secretly jealous of friends who have more success than she in their personal lives, and not a little distressed that her bubbe is giving her a hard time. Everything begins to unravel when her Internet addiction catches up with her.
If Evie is not Friedland’s mirror image, she is something of an alter ego. Like Friedland, who is 33, she grew up in a Jewish home in the suburbs (Baltimore instead of New Jersey), went to Yale (check) followed by Columbia Law School (check), and then took a job at a prestigious law firm in New York City practicing corporate law (check) and working grueling hours (check). And while it takes plenty of drama to move Evie from law firm life into a more creative field, it comes as no surprise that Friedland left her law practice to pursue writing.
Love and Miss Communication is a page turner — or “a fun beach read,” as Friedland put it. And it is all about the way we live today, especially if “we” indicates ambitious, highly educated 30-something Jewish women, torn between professional aspirations and creating more traditional Jewish homes. There are no shuls or Friday night candles, but the book is more Jewish than Seinfeld.
“I write what I know, and I have a strong Jewish identity,” said Friedland, who grew up attending Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston and graduated from what was then called Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange (now Golda Och Academy). “I’m very culturally Jewish. We celebrate the holidays, and every philanthropy I give to is Jewish.”
She and her husband even “met cute” at an AIPAC dinner.
“That’s my life,” she said.
Friedland now lives in Manhattan, where she sends her children to Rodeph Shalom Day School and is a member of Fifth Avenue Synagogue.
In a telephone conversation from her home, Friedland discussed with NJ Jewish News the inspiration for the book, her goal in writing it, and some of the ways in which it does and doesn’t mirror her own life.
“I got married at 25. I was very young,” she said. “But if I was Evie’s age, 34 and single, my grandparents would have been very concerned, especially if I was always at work. I imagined what they would have been like.”
Friedland’s own parents are still happily married and living in Livingston in the house she grew up in (they are now members of Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston) while Evie’s father died young and her mother, Fran, has married a Protestant man and moved to Greenwich. While Friedland said intermarriage is an issue that “is important to me,” she added that she doesn’t see it as an issue for Fran. “She’s at a different stage of her life. She’s not having children,” she said.
Two real-life incidents, which appear in the book in slightly different guises, reflect her fascination with the impact of social media. She remembers a friend who had been fixed up with a woman named Rachel Cohen, but wouldn’t go out with her because her common name made it impossible for him to Google her. “I realized there is no such thing as a blind date anymore,” said Friedland.
In a separate incident, a colleague at her law firm commented on the AIPAC event where she had met her husband. She realized that the colleague had Googled her. “I was careful not to share personal things like that at the firm. It was in our wedding announcement,” she said. “Why did he look me up? For what purpose?
“I started thinking everyone looks up everyone,” she continued. “And we are proceeding in the wrong order. We shouldn’t find out that someone is divorced before we’ve even met at a restaurant for a first date.”
While Friedland, who no longer practices law, said she sometimes “misses the camaraderie” of law firm life, she doesn’t miss the work. Although writing is “very solitary,” she said, it is not boring.
Friedland is already planning her next book, which will also be a work of popular fiction.
When she writes, “I feel like I’m walking into another room, an imaginary room where I can write anything I want. It’s an other-worldly experience — it’s transcendent.”