“Different People at Different Phases of Our Own Lives,” an Interview with Rowan Beaird


A bachelorette party got Rowan Beaird interested in divorce—her own party, actually. 

“I got back from my bachelorette party in Vegas, and my husband was like, ‘uh, you’ve been researching divorce a lot,’” Beaird said with a laugh. “And I was like ‘we’re fine! Just don’t look at my Google [search] history!’”

Though Beaird’s interest in divorce (and divorcées) did stem from her bachelorette party, it was not because she planned to separate from her now-husband. On a tour of Las Vegas’ Neon Museum, her guide said offhandedly, “Well, everybody knows Las Vegas is where you get married, and Reno is where you get divorced.” 

“No,” Beaird said, raising her hand to ask more. “I’ve never in my life [heard this].” 

The guide gave Beaird two major ways Nevada recovered from the Great Depression: gambling was legalized, and they changed their divorce laws—the caveat being you’d have to move there for six weeks if you wanted to separate from your spouse. As a result, Reno became the divorce capital of the world. And Rowan had a new research obsession.

Beaird’s debut novel follows Lois Saunders, newly separated and replanted in Reno, specifically residing at the Golden Yarrow. There, Lois meets other divorcées and grows into a person she never knew she could become. 

Though on the surface The Divorcées appears to be historical fiction, Beaird knows just how timely Lois’ story is. 

Ruby Rosenthal

You’ve written a lot of short stories—how did you know this particular story was supposed to be a novel?

Rowan Beaird

I’ve written short stories for many years; I think I wrote my first real short story when I was about 12 years old, and I never thought I was going to write a novel, it just felt like such an impossible task. When I came up with the idea for The Divorcées, I had initially sketched it out like a short story, and as I started to sketch that idea out, it just grew and grew and became unwieldy. I realized it was this vehicle to explore so many things that I care about as a writer, and really, as a human. Like, you know, the roles that we play, what we’re trying to figure out who we are, women’s friendship and desire. And all of a sudden, I was like, ‘this just can’t be contained by a short story, this is much bigger than that.’ So I decided to take the terrifying creative plunge and sketch out what it would be if it was a novel. I really wanted to stay in my comfort zone, but there is this energy that you feel all of a sudden, [when the work] just starts to expand. And that’s exciting, but terrifying—it’s many things at once.

Ruby Rosenthal

You said that this book explores all the things you really care about as a writer, what do you mean by that?

Rowan Beaird

I’m drawn to writing [because] it’s how I make sense of the world. I feel like writing is my place to ask, ‘What am I up thinking about at 2 a.m.?’ And how can I use this particular situation, these people to explore that in depth. 

With The Divorcées in particular, I’m really fascinated by the different roles that we play as humans. The different people we are at different phases of our own lives, and how we can finally come to know who our true selves are. That was a big theme that I wanted to explore in The Divorcées. And I thought, ‘Gosh, a divorce ranch where women from across the country are coming to crisis points in their own lives is the perfect place to explore that.’

Ruby Rosenthal

It seems like you were able to marry these ideas together really well. Did you go to Reno and see these ranches? Are any of them still around?

Rowan Beaird

You know, tragically, all of the ranches have basically been razed at this point. The one that I primarily based The Divorcées actually burned down in the late 1960s. I started writing this book in earnest in 2019, and I had this full Reno research trip planned, and then the pandemic happened. So I actually didn’t get to go to Reno until I had sold the book. I relied so much on movies set in Reno, books set in Reno, histories of the city, and insanely enough, YouTube videos—like I would just look up ‘video of person driving through Nevada.’ That would give me a good sense of like, ‘okay, this is what the roads look like, this is what the landscape looks like.’

The more that I immerse myself in this time period, and in these women’s lives, the more I saw the mirror of our current moment. Even though it is a novel set in 1950, it feels to me like Lois is a woman that could be alive today.

Ruby Rosenthal

In The Divorcées, it’s known pretty quickly that your main character, Lois, is a liar. Why did you decide to give her that trait?

Rowan Beaird

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Man, that’s a big question. I really wanted Lois to be somebody who was deeply uncomfortable in her own skin, and had an idea of what she wanted her life to be, but the only access she had to this idealized vision of life is through film and through fiction. It made sense that somebody that really can only imagine a life through films and fiction would fictionalize her own life, and come up with her own lies to try to be interesting. And I think that the only way that she can envision acceptance is through not telling the true story of herself. That’s why I wanted lying be such a big part of her personality, because I wanted that sense of destabilization to come through pretty instantly to the reader, and to understand that this is somebody who’s who’s desperately trying to find themselves, but is in many ways putting on a costume—be it through clothing, makeup, or through falsehoods—while they try to find themselves.

Ruby Rosenthal

Without giving too much away, the character of Lois’s friend Greer changes pretty drastically by the end of the novel. Was this planned from the start?

Rowan Beaird

I wanted the people at the ranch to present these different possible paths forward for Lois, and these different models of what a life could look like. I didn’t want to pass moral judgment and say to the reader, this one is inherently good and this one is inherently bad. I wanted the reader to be able to make their own decisions. You know, I think that Greer is a source of distraction in Lois’s life, but I also think she’s a great source of power. And so I wanted the reader to wrestle with this idea that somebody could be a liberatory force, but also a really dangerous force in someone’s life.

Ruby Rosenthal

What is it about the setting of The Divorcées that speaks to our current cultural moment?

Rowan Beaird

Even though this novel is set in 1951, I don’t think of it like a historical fiction novel, to me, it feels like a really modern story. As I was doing my research and reading about the real stories of the women that came to these ranches, I learned about what they were wrestling with, which is just that the this fear of the unknown, being at this major point of transition in their lives, and really not knowing what was going to come after that. That felt like such a deeply modern problem and crisis to me. 

We really like to believe we’ve come a long way since the 1950s when in reality, a lot of the rights and freedoms that we’ve taken for granted—a lot of the rights and freedoms that women in the 1950s were desperate for—are unfortunately being stripped away. I submitted this novel for publication a couple of weeks before the repeal of Roe v. Wade. There are politicians in several states over the past year who are drafting legislation to repeal no-fault divorce, because people are returning to this idea that divorce is bad for the moral fabric of our country. 

The more that I immerse myself in this time period, and in these women’s lives, the more I saw the mirror of our current moment. And so even though it is a novel set in 1950, it feels to me like Lois is a woman that could be alive today and Greer is a woman who could be alive today.

The Divorcées
by Rowan Beaird
Flatiron Books
Published March 19th, 2024


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