Books on PAPERMAG: Ann Leary's Outtakes from a Marriage

Rebecca Carroll

When I finished reading the novel Outtakes From a Marriage by Ann Leary, I thought, (after having read her 2004 memoir, An Innocent, a Broad), Now here’s a gal I can relate to: she writes in a bitchy, bright, hilarious and conversational voice (consistent in both her nonfiction as well as her fiction), her cultural and socio-economic observations are spot-on (self-aware and utterly un-precious), she’s a mom, and she’s married to one of the funniest men on the planet (Denis Leary, of whom I have been a fan forever). And so, when I see this eight-foot-tall, knockout blonde walking toward me as I approach the café where we’re set to meet -- legs for days, dark sunglasses, perfect silky glam hair tossing dutifully this way and that, as only white-girl hair can -- I think, really? Come on. And I felt so sad for a minute, because I’d really wanted to love her and now I’d have to hate her.

“I never look like this,” she says after we sit down at a booth in the back. “I had my makeup put on like four times today. You could scrape it off.” Ann then tells me that she’s just come from doing a couple of on-air promotional appearances for her book, which comes as only somewhat of a consolation since it doesn’t even look like she’s wearing that much makeup, and I remember that her website is called “Ann Leary: Wicked Good Life” -- Yeah? Ya think? Do you really need to rub that in?

But 15 minutes into our conversation we are insta-girlfriends, chatting about writing and family and gossip and memoir vs. fiction -- and when she inscribed her book to me, “For Rebecca, my new best friend,” I thought, you’re damn straight.

Outtakes From a Marriage tells the story of a couple who meet and get married very young (like Ann and Denis), later the husband, Joe Ferraro, becomes a famous actor, while the wife, Julia, remains a stay-at-home mom, for the most part (also like Ann and Denis). After Julia inadvertently hears a highly suspect voicemail message meant for Joe, things get wonky, and there is Botox involved. It’s a truly excellent read -- characters you care about, language that sings, situations you can relate to, and absurdities that might really happen to you if you were suddenly asked what you’re wearing to the Golden Globes.

Rebecca Carroll: The experiences you write about [in Outtakes] read as so truthful -- you have to have gone through similar stuff.
Ann Leary: Yeah, definitely. The novel is fiction, none of the events that happened in the book happened to us, but I definitely drew on our experiences.

RC: I noticed a nice overlap in your books -- in the novel, there’s a scene where Julia and Joe are walking the red carpet and everyone is calling Joe’s name and Julia says, ‘How does everyone know your name?’ Joe says, ‘I’ve been trying to tell you, I’m really fucking famous!’ Denis said that to you when he first got famous, right? You wrote that in your memoir.
AL: Yeah, when Dennis hit it was really kind of quick. He was doing stand-up and really late-night gigs. And then we went to London and [my son] Jack was born. So when we came back, he decided to do this show off-Broadway that he had done at the Edinburgh festival, which had done really well there.

RC: No Cure for Cancer?
AL: Right. But I didn’t think it was going to go over so well here. I had a baby and I was pregnant with another one, because for some reason we decided to have babies before we could afford them. Anyway, I was home all the time. And one day we’re walking down the street, and somebody yells out ‘Denis!’ from a car, and I was waving thinking it was somebody we knew from college. When we went to our first premiere all these photographers were like, ‘Denis we want your picture!’ And I was like, Are you kidding me? Who are you? And he said, ‘I’m fucking famous, I’m telling you. When will you understand?’

RC: I love that you wrote an excellent, solid memoir and then you’re like, ‘OK, I’m going to write a novel and the voice is going to be the same.’ It’s not like suddenly you decided you were one of the Bronte sisters.
AL: People ask me why I didn’t write another memoir. I’m 45 years old, I mean, I had one interesting thing happen in my life, and I wrote about it. I had a baby overseas -- I was kind of held hostage by the National Health Service in Britain.

RC: You could probably find a lot of things to write about in conjunction with the fact that you’re married to a celebrity.
AL: There’s something liberating about writing fiction because, honestly, I like to elaborate. I love to tell a great story.

RC: So now you’ve told a really great story. Seriously, talk to me about this world of celebrity -- the $2000 bags, the Botox, the Dolce & Gabbana gowns? How do you stay grounded?
AL: I think because Dennis and I were very young together, when he finally did make it we were mature enough to have a sense of irony -- like, this is funny, this is really what people do. In [Outtakes], I open with that scene -- the husband walking into a restaurant and the energy of the room and [how] it’s all focused on him and the way he reacts to the attention. I’ve seen it not just with my husband, but with our friends who are also famous. It’s just the way people react to celebrity. It’s fascinating to me.

RC: We do love celebrity culture, don’t we?
AL: There’s a study on laboratory monkeys where they gave monkeys the choice of watching the dominant monkey in their group -- oh and [the monkeys] were all thirsty, they got them all thirsty -- and they could choose one lever that would give them their favorite juice to drink and the other would give them a video of their favorite dominant monkey. And repeatedly, they pulled the lever to watch the video of this dominant monkey over and over again. There’s something very primitive about the way we’re wired that makes us have the need to adore certain people in our culture. The celebrities are the dominant monkeys.

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