“My dad moved to Hawaii when I was eight,” Swan Huntley begins, “so I've spent a lot of time there. When I go now, I feel like a tourist/local. I'm not quite a local, but I'm not a tourist either. I thought that take on Hawaii would be an interesting thing to explore.” And with that in mind, like the volcanic islands themselves, the pieces of Huntley’s new novel, The Goddesses, began to take shape.
The Goddesses centers around Nancy, a middle-aged housewife and mother to twins Cam and Jad, who moves from San Diego to Kona, Hawaii with her husband Chuck largely in an effort to salvage their failing marriage. Unlike Chuck, who has his job, and the kids, who have their high school, Nancy isn’t presented with a built-in way of getting settled in their new home. So early one morning, she heads out to her first yoga class. There, on the grass overlooking the Pacific, she meets Ana, the local yoga instructor, and the seeds of a very unique friendship are sown.
“I knew I wanted to write about people in the spiritual world—I do a lot of yoga myself,” Huntley explains, “and then I began thinking a lot about friendship. I was thinking about how I am with different friends, how different people over the course of my life have affected me in so many ways. The character of Ana is in many ways based on a friend I had when I was younger.” Huntley was in high school then and her friend was a much older woman who liked yoga. “She was on a quest for meaning in her life—and, of course, we all are,” Huntley adds. “But there was also this side of her where it seemed that her being involved in yoga was this mask, a way of saying ‘I’m a good person, you can trust me.’ And really, this person was dangerous and sketchy and over the course of our friendship, well, much more was revealed.”
For Nancy, Ana offers more than just friendship and a sense of belonging—she was an entryway to a more spontaneous, more radical life. “That she met Ana at this time,” Huntley says, “just after moving to Kona, it makes her more open to this friendship than she might otherwise have been.” This vulnerability, heightened by her arrival in a new place, still touches a chord with Huntley.
“You have pinpointed my core life struggle, which is that I move all the time. The grass is always greener,” she adds with a laugh. “We all act on this idea to some degree—I just happen to be doing it very literally. I think there’s this belief that it's going to be better somewhere else. You know, the idea that if I can just go start over, everything will be great. But of course, wherever you go, there you are.”
Nancy and Ana become inseparable; they even decide to start going by Nan and Ana. The reasons are manifold—they are both lonely, they both had similarly difficult childhoods, and they even look alike—but what really brings them together is the fact that they are both searching for something, for a means to escape the current confines of their life, for a way to take control of their future.
“I think, as in my first book,” Huntley says, “the characters do change in the end, but not to an unbelievable degree. I mean, do we change—do we really change? I think I'm always asking that question. Do we change at a core level? Is that possible? In this book,” she adds,” I think the particular question is, Can we be free from our pasts, can we learn to forgive ourselves?”
James McDonald is a British-trained historian and a New York–based writer.