Sande Boritz Berger’s New Novel ‘Split-Level’ Explores an Open Marriage in 1970s Suburbia

Sande Boritz Berger and her novel "Split-Level"
Sande Boritz Berger and her novel "Split-Level"

Part-time Bridgehampton resident and The Sweetness author Sande Boritz Berger just released her second novel Split-Level (She Writes Press) on May 7, and it’s already getting raves from readers and critics.

Told from the point of view of Alex Pearl, a young wife and mother in the ‘70s, the book looks at the thrills and consequences of attempting an open marriage. Alex is tested when she must make choices that define marriage, family, and being a woman in the post-Nixon era. Readers will discover whether or not Alex’s and her husband’s desires have the power to overturn the quiet New Jersey life they have built for their family.

Split-Level explores the ‘70s from a #MeToo perspective, showcasing the will of housewives to explore a world beyond suburbia. Boritz Berger says, “As women we have to make our own happiness. It never comes and taps you on the shoulder.”

Along with numerous positive reviews on Amazon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joyce Carol Oates says of Split-Level, “How impressive Split-Level is: wonderfully rich with details, fluent and fluid, with an inevitable-yet-unexpected ending, inspired throughout is its portrait of a woman whose essential life is an unconscious double-ness/split-ness.”

The book also received five stars from Foreward Reviews, which noted, “Sande Boritz Berger sets a 1970s Jersey housewife on a provocative collision course in Split-Level, a sharp portrait of female empowerment. Through sensitive insights, a woman finds an honest version of herself after realizing that her ideas on the nuclear family have made her erase vital parts of her identity.”

After two decades of scriptwriting and video producing for Fortune 500 companies, Berger went on to receive an MFA in writing and literature from Stony Brook Southampton College. There she was awarded the Deborah Hecht Memorial prize for fiction. Berger’s first novel, The Sweetness, tells the story of two Jewish girls during World War II whose lives connect despite living continents apart.

Raised on Long Island’s South Shore, Berger now divides her time between Manhattan and Bridgehampton.

Did growing up on Long Island influence your writing or writing interests?
I had just turned seven years old when my family left Brooklyn and moved to the South Shore of Long Island, specifically Merrick. Because I now lived so far from my grandparents and other beloved relatives, leisure time and weekends were filled with new activities. We fished, we drove to Jones Beach, we explored the woods around the corner, and there was always neighborhood drama to add to my constant thirst for information. And later, reporting. Yes, I’d say, the new life in suburbia gave me much fodder for stories and poems, which I am sure I wrote to keep from feeling lonely.

Who will this novel appeal to?
Split-Level and my protagonist’s journey to find purpose, love and that which defines who she really is, appeals to both women and men who can reflect back to the post-Watergate era, specifically the trends and lifestyles of suburbanites. There are many things about family life and culture today that are reminders of those crazy times.

Where do you do most of your writing?
I do most of my writing out of my home—certainly first drafts are inspired by random thoughts, daydreams, etcetera. Mostly, I love to write in cafes. Starbucks is a favorite, but when the work is finally connected as a first draft on my computer, I return home to where there are few distractions.

Is Split-Level in any way inspired by your own life experience?
When I was living the life of a young mother and wife, I was too myopic to see the problems that can grow in a marriage, and the danger signals. As I wrote more, and after entering an MFA program, I began to create the stories that were inspired by my life.

Did your approach to Split-Level differ greatly from the work you did on The Sweetness?
When writing my historical novel, The Sweetness, which takes place during WWII, I had to do a great deal of research. Yet the characters, were based loosely on family members. In Split-Level, I enjoyed the process of creating characters living in the 1970s.

Split-Level is available now at local bookstores and on Sande Boritz Berger is reading and signing the book at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor on Saturday, June 1 at 5 p.m.

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