By Leslie Lindsay
The all-American Dream to build the most perfect home comes crumbling down–and then up again–in this relatable tale about one woman’s obsession with home remodeling.
Suburban mom, Janie Margolis is feeling cramped in their small-ish home with three children and no garage. She wants bigger and better and she wants it now. AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT (SWP, October 2019) is all about that quest for the best. Janie starts watching HGTV shows and dreaming of the most perfect place. Finally, she convinces her husband, Wim, that it’s time to move. Together, they start house-hunting. They have a long list of ‘wants.’ Nothing and everything is right. Finally, a real estate agent shows them a house on the ‘perfect’ street, it’s a bit out of their price range and a little dated…but…the location is right.
Still, it’s not quite right. Wim and Janie make plans for a tear-down. After all, they have to have the American Dream, the house that’s ‘just right’ for their family. But soon, the details of building a home from the ground up become a bit overwhelming. Wim and Janie bicker and argue. Money becomes tight. Their list of wants is bordering on pretentious.
Along the way, we experience crushes on contractors, frenzied shopping expeditions, the erection of a cupola that looks a little too much like…well. Plus, kitchen design woes an in-law suite, in-home theater dreams and more.
“With wit and empathy, Lisa Tognola unpacks the all-American dream of the perfect house. Tognola had me turning pages to see whether Janie’s journey would end in happily-ever-after or the poorhouse.”
Award-winning author of Eleven Hours, a Best book of 2016 by NPR
Much of AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT reads like a memoir. And with good reason. In the acknowledgements section, the author mentions this story was inspired by real events.I felt like I was right there alongside these characters–a fly on the wall.
Ultimately, AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT is about what it’s like to be lured by temptation…to lose one’s financial security, and is there a difference between ‘fulfillment’ and ‘having it all?’
Please join me in welcoming Lisa Tognola to the author interview series.
Lisa, welcome! I am always so interested in beginnings; that seed of an idea that propels writers forward. What was haunting you when you set out to write AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT?
Thank you, Leslie! It’s great to be part of the author interview series. What was haunting me when I set out to write my book was that I’d been a stay-at-home mom for twelve years and while I loved it, it was frustrating that people who hadn’t ever parented full time often didn’t understand how challenging the job was. They’d ask, what do you do all day? It made me feel unproductive and unimportant, even though I think it’s the most important job in the world. I felt lost and maybe even unfulfilled. I’d lost myself in motherhood and was flailing. It wasn’t until my husband and I started building our house that I began to rekindle parts of my identity. Once I started writing, my house became my muse, and the creative release was exhilarating. When I popped awake, often between 4 and 6 am, writing was the first thing I thought about doing. I’d scurry downstairs to my writing chair and start tapping at the keys. Writing my book made me feel alive and awakened a part of me that had been hibernating. Honestly, I couldn’t not write the book. I had to write.
Like in AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT, we had an issue around the 2007 financial crisis. My husband’s job took us from Minnesota (kind of a relief) to Chicago. We put the house on the market. Got some nibbles. Then a buyer. And then…that deal fell through. On moving day. We had two babies. Our house was packed. We moved. We had to. And then. Two house payments. It took another two years for that Minnesota house to sell. Seems everyone has a story about that time. Can you expand on that?
That must have been a terribly trying time for you. It was a stressful period for so many of us. The lack of control over the timing of buying and selling a house had a major negative effect on houses as investments during the financial meltdown. Many people bought houses at the top of the market because that was the time that they needed a home for their families. But still others were stuck having to sell after the market collapse, due to a negative change in their own personal financial situations. That forced them to buy high, and sell low.
The question for Janie is, does she really “need” a new home for her family? It’s a question she and Wim grapple with, but in the end, her obsession with “keeping up with the everybody’s” propels her forward. Nothing will stop her. She realizes her mistake of “wanting it all” and ignoring reality only after it is too late and they hit rock bottom. This is the point when she says, “I longed to return to our pre-house-building life. Where our existence hadn’t revolved around an endless construction debacle. Where we hadn’t struggled to pay two mortgages. Where I hadn’t had to look under sofa cushions for spare change.” Eventually, Janie come face to face with her flaws and realizes she can no longer hide from her problems. She must dig herself out of a hole.
I want the reader to connect to Janie and Wim, who, like millions of other people in America, lost their financial bearings at the peak of the housing boom and were forced to deal with the crisis that followed. My hope is that the reader will be left feeling uncertain but hopeful about the future, because adaption, learning, and growth, enabled by imperfection, are what allow us to progress in life, to move forward, and to succeed.
In 2007, we left an adorable 1920s home in Minnesota with tons of charm for something that was ‘better.’ This is a theme I see in AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT. We wanted wall-to-wall carpeting instead of wood floors (babies). The clawfoot tub was charming, but…not practical. Can you speak to this idea of wish fulfillment and personal fulfillment?
My book explores themes I think a lot of us can relate to: longing, desire, and image. This book is about Janie’s struggle with who she is in the world and how she appears in the world versus how she is really and whether there is a reconciliation with these things. When is it okay to stop trying to create a certain image? When can I just be who I am?
I’ve spent my life worried about what people think of me. I think many of us do. We want things because we want to feel good enough. At one point in the book, Janie says, “I think we’re ready for an upgrade.” She’s not just looking to upgrade her house, of course, but she’s either unaware of that or unwilling to admit that she’s looking for more emotional fulfillment in her life.
Her obsession over building a perfect house while simultaneously ignoring the consequences eventually force her to re-evaluate her life and her marriage. She eventually becomes more self-aware of a void she’s trying to fill. The person she is at the end understands her bigger need. She wanted a house, but she needed fulfillment. And a house alone won’t bring fulfillment. Genuine fulfillment comes from contributing to others—engaging in family life, charity work, spiritual life, being productive and making a difference in the world. Regarding your point about wish fulfillment: I think you can have wall-to-wall carpeting and a claw foot tub AND be emotionally fulfilled. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think it becomes a problem when we become too focused on material things and lose sight of what’s important. That is when we tread dangerous ground.
I’m curious about your process and structure in writing AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT. It’s not a memoir, but in some ways, reads like one. You chose to fictionalize names and some characteristics, but it’s also written in first person. Did you try to write in third person? How do you think the story would have been different?
It felt natural for me to write in first person because, like Janie, I’m a mom of three living in the suburbs, so it was easy for me to get into her character. I didn’t try to write in third person because I think first person gives a story a feeling of immediacy and being in the moment and feels more authentic.
Case in point, my book ends with Janie and Wim lying naked in their newly constructed, sawdusty bedroom atop a plywood table on two sawhorses, pondering their fate. Often after people read my book their first reaction is, did this really happen to you? By which they mean, did you really have sex on a sawhorse? I tell them that’s between me and my hairdresser. I think readers are curious about what’s true because when we read about a situation or feeling, it’s almost as if we’re experiencing and feeling it ourselves. But my job was to do the exploration and let the reader do the interpretation.
What can you tell us about the Decoration & Design Building in NYC? I nearly passed out from excitement when Janie and her interior decorator went there in AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT.
I have been to the D&D building and it is the mecca of interior design— an earthly paradise of furniture and fabric, textiles and porcelain—a place where you’re gobsmacked by magnificent crystal chandeliers, exotic rugs and python skins and exotic wallpapers that sizzle with color. Everything is wildly expensive and for all practical purposes, untouchable. But just browsing is fun!
Do you still think about moving?
All the time, but for different reasons than I used to. I think what makes a place “perfect” changes depending on where you are in your life. When my kids were younger, we wanted a good school system, access to the city and proximity to family (grandparents, cousins, etc). But now that my kids are older and scattered around the country and my husband and I are edging closer to retirement we are starting to value other things in life such as lower taxes and a slower paced life. Instead of wanting more, we are starting to want less. Less house, less yard, less taxes!
Lisa, thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
I’d like to share my hope for my book—that it might serve as a cautionary tale. The final message being: Live well—and always within your means. Live a fulfilled life. Janie and Wim went from living with a manageable mortgage in a house too small to living in a big house with a mortgage too big. They ended up more comfortable in a bigger house but more stressed by a bigger mortgage.
It may sound corny, but books do have the power to change lives and influence people and I hope people learn from my character’s mistakes.
For more information, to connect with Lisa Tognola via social media, or to purchase a copy of AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: LISA TOGNOLA is an author, freelance writer, social worker, wife, and mother of three who always dreamed of getting married and living in the perfect house—until she discovered that passion comes with a mortgage. A former humor columnist at The Alternative Press, based in New Jersey, she is now a contributor to More.com, Salon.com and Kveller. Her book reviews have appeared in Parade, Kirkus Reviews and SheReads. She has contributed essays to five anthologies in the Not Your Mother’s Books series as well as My Funny Valentine: America’s Most Hilarious Writers Take on Love, Romance, and Other Complications and My Funny Medical: Off the Charts Humor from an All-Star Cast. Tognola hails from California but now lives in New Jersey, where she spends most of her time fantasizing about sunny skies, palm trees, and In-N-Out Burger.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of SheWrites Press and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. For more like this, and other bookish news, please follow me at @leslielindsay on Instagram].