About six years ago, Claire Dederer realized she had a problem. The problem had to do with sex. It had to do with desire. It had to do with being a middle-aged wife and mother and needing and wanting to be seen and known by new people in a new way, maybe even by people she didn’t particularly like or love or respect all that much. Her problem had something to do with sex but didn’t stop there. It assaulted her notions of what it meant to be a grown-up woman in the world and wanting to have romantic encounters with men who were not her husband. She loved her husband. Obviously, she loved her children, her family, the life they had built together. And at the same time, a part of her wanted to step outside the boundary of the polite, middle-class domestic life they’d drawn around themselves. Or, to put it more crudely, she wanted to fuck around.
At the time of her realization, Dederer had worked for many years as a critic, first in film and then in books. She never planned to be a memoirist, but found herself splicing more and more personal history into whatever review she happened to be working on. After getting married, having kids, and moving to an island in Puget Sound off the coast of Seattle, she became fascinated by the obsessive parenting culture rampant in parts of the Pacific Northwest, and began writing a memoir that would merge the cultural history of the place with her personal history as a child of a complicated separation.