Author and journalist Holly Peterson explores the relationships of realistic, modern women in her new novel.
In some ways, writer Holly Peterson’s 1970s childhood was not markedly different than that of her peers: playing jacks on her father’s desk and escaping Washington for winter sledding with her siblings at a secluded cabin. What makes Peterson’s experience rather singular, however, was her provenance. Her father, Peter George Peterson, was a one-time United States Secretary of Commerce under President Nixon. The desk on which she played jacks? It was from the White House. As for the cabin, you may recognize it by its more formal name: Camp David. “We’d stay in log cabins there while my father negotiated a lot of important deals, like trade pacts with the Soviet Union,” Peterson shares. “I remember that time vividly.”
In fact, most of Peterson’s formative years were an especially tumultuous period in the nation’s capital. “It was the hotheaded times of liberal Washington with a very conservative Republican administration,” Peterson says. “There was so much tension over where you stood politically and whose side you were on.” Even so, she remembers with fondness the sophisticated dinner parties that brought together elite members of the media with high-ranking government officials. “There was a lot more intermingling between the press and the administration,” Peterson recalls of her parents’ social life. “It was very chic, and the right thing to do was to invite members of different political parties to your house and mingle.”
With such a cosmopolitan childhood, it is little wonder that Peterson became a journalist herself after graduating from Brown University. But following high profile jobs at ABC News and Newsweek, the pull to write her own stories became too alluring to ignore. “[Writing] allows me to wake up at 4 am and work, and still do everything on my schedule,” the mother of three teenagers reveals.
Her first book, The Manny (2007), chronicled the life of Manhattan’s one percent, and Peterson is quick to add that the premise is hardly fantasy. “I consider my novel writing to be accurate, journalistic social satire,” she says. “When you’re a journalist and you delve into fiction, I think it would be a betrayal of the craft of writing if you were to write something that you knew wouldn’t actually happen.”
Similarly, her new novel, The Idea of Him, is drawn both from her own experiences as well as that of her milieu. “This book focuses on more of a meritocracy class,” Peterson says. “That’s a world I know from my father, who started in a Greek diner in Nebraska and made it all on his own.” The protagonist of Peterson’s new work is Allie Crawford, a public relations executive suffocating in a loveless marriage while trying to juggle a career and two small children. “There’s a lot that I wanted to say about women and relationships,” Peterson says. “Many of us fall for the idea of someone and not the reality. And what happens next is really the most interesting,” she adds with a grin.
Peterson may have been gifted with a privileged childhood, but her success as both a journalist and author proves it is foremost her father’s tenacity that she has inherited.