ARCHIVE: Novelist Gets Under the Marital Hood

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Journalist, novelist and proud blogger Debra Galant parks it at NovelTeas on Bridge Avenue this Saturday for an event keyed to her new book CARS FROM A MARRIAGE. (Photo by Frances Pelzman Liscio)

By TOM CHESEK (First published on RedBankGreen July 8, 2010)

When the 2010 Liberty Hose Red Bank Firefighter 8th Annual Car Show takes over downtown Red Bank’s White Street parking lot this Sunday, classic car-noisseurs know just what to expect — from the bodacious Dagmars of a Chevy Bel Air and the perky nacelles of a Mercury Turnpike Cruiser to the more equine musculature of 60s ponycar projects like your Mustangs, Camaros and ‘Cudas.

A day earlier and a few blocks west at NovelTeas Authors Aromas & Gifts, all eyes will be on a Galant — not the long-running bestseller of the Mitsubishi product line, but Debbie Galant, a woman who’s been as much a part of the suburban landscape as the sensibly sporty sedan with whom she shares a name.

The self-described author, mogul, mother, wife — a transplant from Virginia to north Jersey’s verdant green — is parking it at Kim Widener’s book salon/ tea room/ gift boutique for something of a literary “car show,” an event that’s keyed to the recent publication of Cars from a Marriage, an “auto-biography” that “explores marriage through the lens of the various cars that the couple owns during their 20 years together.”

It’s the third novel (Rattled and Fear and Yoga in New Jersey are the others) for the former New York Times columnist; a regular contributor to national magazines who’s best known around the ‘green as the founder and editor of Montclair-based Baristanet — an acclaimed and award-winning news website that’s been an inspiration to many a placeblogging hyperlocal, including, ahem, redbankgreen.

And now, the light goes green on seven questions for Debra Galant…

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You do realize that you have the same name as a popular motor vehicle, right?

Yes, but I am absolutely not a car person myself. Cars for me have always been a point A-to-point-B delivery system, although we all have our opinions about them. I’m surprised that I could even come up with the name of the car I drive.

And that is?

Well, it’s a little embarrassing, but my main car is a Plymouth Voyager Minivan — something that made more sense several years ago. I’m actually embarrassed with the big dent it’s got; we asked one of those gypsy repair guys that operate out of parking lots to work on it, and he made it a hundred times worse. My parents are going to be giving me their car, which is an Audi, and I’m looking forward to it.

Car person or no, you seem to have tapped into something here that resonates for people in New Jersey, which is probably second only to California as a drive-centric place.

The last two chapters of Cars from a Marriage actually take place out in California! I got a lot of background for the big climax on a trip through Big Sur. It’s one of the more amazing trips you can take by car; especially southbound, where you feel like you’re at the edge of the world.

So the novel isn’t confined to New Jersey?

I think of the book as more of a story cycle than a novel. It takes place between 1981 and 2001; it skips ahead and it changes point of view — every other chapter is narrated by the wife or the husband. And the cars themselves are secondary. It’s just that every chapter has something to do with driving.

As it relates to some incident or milestone in their marriage?

There’s a psychological thing at the heart of it — marriage is about two people, and “auto” means self, the one, the individual. It takes just one person to steer a car, but when you’re in a marriage, it’s like having a backseat driver through life.

I’ve seen the word “auto-biography” used to promote the book, but it’s not necessarily drawn from your own marriage, is it?

It’s a work of fiction, but the inspiration for the characters should be obvious to any of our friends. The wife in the book is named Ivy, and she’s terrified of driving at first — whereas her husband likes to speed. Which is similar to how my husband used to be, ten years ago.

One more before we go. What would be the perfect ride for you, to fit your current lifestyle?

I did a Q&A with Cars.com, and I told them that my perfect car would be ‘Mini Cooper on the outside, Minivan on the inside!’

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