I first became aware of Carole Radziwill at brunch seven years ago, when a close friend of mine, someone not prone to hyperbole or tardiness, showed up 40 minutes late to the restaurant because he couldn’t run out the door without finishing What Remains, the book he’d been reading. My friends and I looked at one another and bit: “OK, tell us everything.” And he did.
What Remains (Scribner) is Radziwill’s searing account of her life after the shockingly premature death of her husband, Anthony Radziwill (nephew of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), from cancer, at the age of 40. No less an authority on authors than Oprah Winfrey called Radziwill’s memoir “stunning,” because it is. But it’s also sad, compelling and beautifully written. So I remembered the name Carole Radziwill.
Imagine my surprise at learning that this literary princess (she really is) had been tapped by Bravo TV to become one of the, um, notorious Real Housewives Of New York City. I couldn’t wait to see what would transpire and, boy, Radziwill didn’t disappoint. Seeming to float just above the ridiculous and perpetual bitch fest that is mistaken for friendship on this particular reality television program, Radziwill was at once hilarious and dismayed and functioned as a Greek chorus, standing in for us, the rapt audience. If you haven’t checked out the show, Radziwill’s bemused and lethal interactions with Countess LuAnn de Lesseps are the stuff of legend. Radziwill’s overtly sarcastic aside to the Countess who was relentlessly one-upping her, “I played football in high school,” should be on T-shirts. High comedy, indeed. But the best news was that the single Radziwill had completed her first novel, The Widow’s Guide To Sex & Dating (Henry Holt & Co.), coming out in September. With the messy business of her own life and television set aside for the moment, Radziwill—who grew up in a commune in upstate New York and was a former journalist at ABC News—was able to let her creative mind wander and conjure up characters from her deliciously warped and entertaining imagination. Be ready to love this Carole Radziwill.
Bit of advice: Don’t keep your brunch bunch of hungry, smart, quick-witted friends waiting while you finish Radziwill’s addictive latest book. Believe me, it can happen to anyone.
Tell me about your childhood.
Growing up in my grandparents’ house near Woodstock, NY was something my brother described as “lawless,” where I think of it as “unfettered,” and it made me curious about the world. It was a great childhood, and it exposed me to so many great characters.
Is there one word that describes that horrible month when you lost not only your husband to cancer, but also your best friend, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy; her husband, John Kennedy Jr.; and her sister Lauren Bessette—who were also friends—in a tragic plane crash? It seems genuinely unbearable.
Looking back on it now, it seems surreal, but the fact is, I was numb for a very long time after that.
When did you first realize you wanted to put pen to paper?
At ABC News, I grew up fast and learned how to tell stories, how a story should unfold. I learned the concept of “the economy of words.”
How much of The Widow’s Guide To Sex & Dating, is about your experiences as a young widow?
The protagonist, Claire, is smarter than I will ever be, but, in a sense, all the characters in the novel are a part of me—they all came from me. Funny thing, the character I believe is my sort of alter ego is actually Charlie, Claire’s husband—go figure. [Laughs]
Luxury is living your authentic life. It’s a luxury that I don’t have to do what I don’t want to do.
What surprised you the most about joining The Real Housewives Of New York City this past season?
I think there’s a general lack of self- awareness by some of the women.
You know your “I played football in high school” line became an instant Housewives classic.
That’s funny. Well, yes, exactly. I was just playing around with [Countess LuAnn de Lesseps], and she just didn’t get it. I always play around. Here’s the thing: On the show, I like to stay engaged, but I come to it without any judgment whatsoever.
How about Aviva Drescher’s epic WTF meltdown in St. Barts?
Well, [Long pause] that was certainly unexpected. [Laughs]
In five years, Carole Radziwill is…
Taking more bubble baths. Oh, I’m not kidding, Richard! [Laughs]