You know those books that get you hooked to the point where you can’t put them down? That is “Plus One.” I didn’t want to stop reading this book from the moment I started, and I battled through a cluster headache to finish it because I just HAD to know how it ended.
“Plus One” is the story of Alex, the husband of television writer Figgy, who quits his job and has to deal with the strains in the marriage from her long hours and his fear of her — or himself — straying, as well as how to handle being the householder.
That role is something that’s becoming more common but is still seen by society as threatening to the husband, said author Christopher Noxon, whose wife, Jenji Kohan, created the hit TV shows “Weeds” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
“It’s true,” Noxon said. “I’ve seen that in my life a lot. When Jenji hit it, there was concern among my relatives and friends. There’s this expectation that the success of women is threatening to men.”
Dealing with the mental aspect of staying home with the kids, as well as how society views men who do so, is what Noxon wanted to explore in his book. It’s something he said can feel oppressive.
“It’s suffocating and isolating and can be a form of oppression,” Noxon said. “I wish I was the kind of guy who could say, ‘That’s enough. I just want to take care of my kids.’ I just hope that men are able to deal with these issues in a very honest and forthright way. I feel like there’s even pressure to deny that it’s an issue at all.”
Although the book isn’t literally based on Noxon’s life, it does contain pieces of real life. For example, he has experienced the discomfort and uneasiness that comes with being a male householder. In the character of Alex, Noxon created a more isolated version of himself.
“Unlike Alex, I really do have an outside life,” he said. “He’s isolated, and he goes crazy. The joke is that I tried to have my midlife crisis on the page so I wouldn’t have to have it in real life. I thought, ‘What would happen if? What would happen if?’ ”
And he said it was important to get his wife to sign off on the book before it went to print.
“I get two questions more than any about the book,” he said. “The first is ‘How much is true?’ and the second is ‘Does your wife hate you?’ The answer to both of those questions is a little. I told her if anything feels too close or too private, just mark it, and it will come out. We don’t have to have a debate. I don’t have to negotiate. My marriage is more important than this book. She didn’t mark anything. She said, ‘I love it.’
“Then we got close to publication, and she started to freak out. She worried that while nothing in the book is literal, there are pieces and scraps and inspirations that are literally true. She worried that people would think it was a thinly veiled autobiography. We talked about it endlessly, and it was hard to get her on board. In the end, the Audiobook came out, and when she heard another voice reading it and was reintroduced to the superfictional world I had created, she become much more comfortable again.”
Noxon knew where the story was going to end from the beginning, but he did have to figure out what the book’s central question was going to be.
“If I’m writing a story about a family and a relationship and a marriage, in ugly Hollywood terms, what are the stakes?” he said. “What is the central question? It is ‘Are they going to stay together?’ I wanted that tension to feel really real and not fake. I had to sort of push the question of whether they would stay together to the most extreme place I could take it. I feel like the real, true meaning of what suspense is is a question. I’m writing about families and relationships with no spies and none of the things that make fiction enjoyable.”
Noxon’s newest project is a graphic memoir called “Prick,” based on his experience converting to Judaism. That’s the book he’ll be talking about when he visits the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Friday, Nov. 18.
Noxon said it took 18 years of marriage for him to get up the courage to go through with the conversion process, which, for a circumcised man, requires a blood-drawing prick to symbolize the bris. Although he wasn’t Jewish, his wife was, and she insisted their children be raised with her religion.
“I thought it would be great for my kids to be raised in a tradition that obviously had such value and would give them something else to rebel against besides their father,” Noxon said. “I remained on the sidelines.”
Noxon was involved in the preparations and plans for his children’s b’nai mitzvah celebrations, but he was unable to participate in the ceremonies. That’s what ultimately made him want to convert.
“The more I got involved, the more I felt I found my people,” Noxon said. “Then I guess I just finally resolved that I wanted to make it official. After my daughter’s bat mitzvah, I decided I needed to declare allegiance. I felt like I had a green card that allowed me to work, but I didn’t have the full rights and citizenship.”