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A Novel Idea


She won a Knight fellowship, which allows journalists to spend a year at Yale Law School, a Soros Media Fellowship, and a Bunting fellowship at Radcliffe. While there, she met the poet Sophie Cabot Black, who let her live nearly rent-free for two years in her farmhouse in Connecticut, which was conveniently located near Jessica’s prison. She sublet her apartment and spent long spells at writers’ colonies, at other friends’ apartments, and, one summer, in a shack in a friend’s backyard in Martha’s Vineyard. “I got lots of work done there,” she recalls wryly.

She also drifted with Coco to various apartments around the Bronx, including a spell with her at a homeless shelter. “The transitions were very hard,” she notes. “I’d find myself having panic attacks in these idyllic rural places and beginning to process all the violence and desperation.”

But the hardest transition, she says, is now. “Recently, I’ve been waking up and thinking, I’m 38; what is my life now? This book was my life for twelve years. This book is my life,” she repeats, her voice quivering.

When we take a trip to the South Bronx, Foxy—Coco’s 48-year-old mother—greets LeBlanc like family. We drive Foxy to someone’s house to pick up some money, and then to a bleak public hospital to visit a sick relative. The car conversation veers between the violent fights between a young couple (and speculation about which one will go to jail) and another relative who was recently shot in the leg. Foxy asks her about New Year’s Eve plans, and then says, “I love you,” as she gets out of the car to leave.

“I love you, too,” replies LeBlanc.

“I never would have said that when I was working on the book,” she tells me. “I would have been too self-conscious, but now I feel I can.”

Does she really want to spend New Year’s Eve with them? I wonder. Wouldn’t she rather be with her friends?

“They are my friends,” she says. She peers at me uncertainly. “Does that seem weird?” She isn’t sure what allowed her to finally finish the book. “I guess I came to a point where I was ready,” she says. Perhaps it was Boy George’s saying to her one day, as she was interviewing him for the hundredth time, “Adrian, this is old shit—I’m in prison. Get a life!”

Does she think her long presence in her characters’ lives changed them?

“You’d have to ask them,” she demurs.

“I’ve never been interrogated by anyone like Adrian, except maybe the police,” Cesar laughs during a phone call from prison. “All her questions force you to really look in yourself. She was always saying we had wild, exciting lives and she had a boring life. But to me, she had an exciting life, and we had a sad life,” he says. “I’m anxious to read it,” he adds. “I think I can handle it—I hope so.”


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