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Why women go for ladiesí men

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Posted 27 September 2000 - 11:52 AM

Why women go for ladiesí men

Interview by Candace Dempsey

Heartthrob Nash Harvey loves and leaves women ó daily. Heís a handsome devil and not nearly as successful as he pretends to be. In fact, heís pretending all the time. But Nash, the antihero of Elinor Lipmanís charming new novel, The Ladiesí Man, is downright irresistible, in bed and out.

Lipmanís hilarious book begins when Nash, a failed composer of nightmare ad jingles, pays a surprise visit to Adele Dobbin, a glamorous single woman he abandoned 30 years before on the eve of their engagement party. He discovers her living, after the deaths of both parents, with two never-married sisters in Boston. Will Nash shake things up? Well, can a ladiesí man spin good lines?

Here Lipman, author of the hot-selling The Inn at Lake Devine and other books, talks about everything from why ladiesí men are so tempting to why women should consider ďdating down.Ē

Are ladiesí men and bad boys the same thing?
No. Ladiesí man is a dated term and used purposely by me. I feel that the situation of sisters living together and lovingly supporting each other because the parents died is a throwback to a previous generation. Even Richard, their brother, who has the earmarks of a ladiesí man, has something courtly about him ó and, of course, he loves his sisters.

Bad boys donít really have a place in this particular book. Definitely in my early books they did, especially The Way Men Act. There the narrator describes Conrad as someone with whom she has a ďhorizontal relationship.Ē

Isnít Nash Harvey a bad boy?
Itís not so much that heís bad. I would describe him as having romantic attention-deficit disorder. Heís a chronic charmer and where that leads is to bedding these women, whereas I think bad boys, from the outset, might dispense with the wining and dining.

Have you known many ladiesí men?
No, but people think I must have. They particularly hope there has been at least one good juicy Nash Harvey in my life. And Iím embarrassed to say how easily he came to me as a character and that I really enjoyed being inside the head of this silver-tongued seducer. Itís much more fun to do the bad character than the good character. Itís part of my job. If I were an actor, I would like to play the difficult people. The brats. The prima donnas.

Do women tell you about the Nash Harveys in their lives?
Iím much more likely to hear from people who say, ĎOh, my mother was one of three sisters and they all lived togetherí or ĎI lived with three aunts.í There are lots of sisters out there, Iíve discovered, whoíve formed their own parentless, functional families.

What other stories do women tell you?
The broken-engagement story. Recently I heard about a woman in Massachusetts, and the man came back 30 years later and they married. I donít want to say the exact town. Many women have had an old boyfriend who came back.

What happens when the old boyfriend returns? Itís a common female fantasy.
The ones I hear about are generally where the relationship suffered a hiccup. My sisterís married to her high-school sweetheart. They broke up after the prom. My future brother-in-law decided in that male way that they were both going off to college and he didnít want to get serious. Of course my sister had the last laugh because he came back and theyíve been married for 30 years.

Are women hung up on handsome men?
Absolutely not. If you ask a man what heís looking for in a blind date, the first thing heíll say is she has to be good-looking. And thatís way down the list of things that women put first. You often see less than attractive men with very attractive women and rarely the opposite. Women see beyond the pretty face ó or donít need it. There have actually been studies about this.
What women look for is intelligence and sense of humor and quality traits of character that have to do with goodness and kindness. It doesnít mean they always get that, of course. But if I polled my friends and said, ĎWhat are you looking for? I have a stable of men Iím going to farm out for blind dates,í I think good-looking would be about fourth on the list.

Hmm, I know lots of women who go for handsome men.
Thatís because you live on the West Coast (laughs). I live in Massachusetts. Itís different. When I talk to women, looks are way down the list.

Are men looking for different things?
When men and women are circling each other at college mixers ó if they still have them ó one could say that women want love and men want sex. A gross generalization. Iím no sociologist, but I think women hope for physical attraction, but itís not their ideal. Their ideal is bigger and broader and more idiosyncratic.

Yet colliding with a ladiesí man is a blessing for the three never-married Dobbins sisters.
Yes, and they are in their 40s and 50s, which gives it added poignancy. Life has passed them by to a certain extent. For whatever reason they havenít opened themselves to romance. I felt that Nash Harvey could not be the hero of this book, but he could be an agent for change, a catalyst. If he could do anything for these sisters, it might be to shake them up a bit. He could make them look outside their little lives and their little circle and just see what was on the periphery and say ĎMaybe I could do that, thereís nothing stopping me, maybe Iíll take that chance.í

One sister ó the college-educated shop owner Kathleen ó takes a chance by falling for the doorman of her building. Is Ďdating downí an option more women should consider?
Yes. I really enjoyed creating Lorenzo the doorman and then got very attached to him. As the god of this world I made Lorenzo exactly what I needed him to be, which was as smart, as warm and pleasant as one would want. But Kathleenís parents, if they had still been alive, would never have approved. The barriers would have been religious and ethnic and occupational and educational. So to Kathleen this romance represents jumping over hurdles and just acknowledging the person that Lorenzo is.

So have you cooked up a new novel?
Yes. Itís about a woman called back to the town where she grew up after her mother dies. She finds out some secrets about her motherís life, and she also has to confront all her old demons. She grew up on the edge of a golf course and she was the only girl on the boys' varsity golf team. She had a very unhappy adolescence and she knows everybody in town. In this case, itís been about 14 years since graduation from high school. The story is about loss ó but also resurrection.

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Posted 28 September 2000 - 10:26 AM

[This message has been edited by Gayane (edited October 02, 2000).]

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