'I wish I could recall the actual moment I decided to stop cheating ... I sincerely thought that Joseph not only understood that, but that he would follow suit. It didn't happen'
By Laurie Gough
Amanda Boyden’s I Got The Dog is a gripping, buoyant memoir of survival, recounting the detonation of her two-decade marriage to Canadian writer Joseph Boyden, destroyed by infidelity and another woman’s pregnancy, a brutal rape in her 20s, her close friendship with Gord Downie, and how she got through it all. The American novelist (Babylon Rolling, Pretty Little Dirty) lives in New Orleans with her chihuahua. I Got the Dog: A Memoir of Rising is now out in Canada.
Q: One of the themes that runs through your memoir is the idea of second chances. The first time you jumped from a plane, the primary chute failed, and then, alarmingly, the second one also malfunctioned, opening just enough to get you to the ground in one piece. The next time you tried skydiving, the same thing happened. Yet you write you’d skydive again. Didn’t you already have your second chance? You’ve shown in your book that you have a penchant for living on the edge. Would you describe yourself as fearless?
A: Second chances. I do feel as though I’ve been given many, and when I manage to muster any objectivity about them, I come away with only gratitude. Certainly it has sometimes felt like I survived a firing squad, maybe never more so than this last brutal shot from Joseph, but now, as my psychic sister reminds me, I am so much the better for being free — and to be fully and only myself. After Joseph had climbed up the writing ladder in Canada and France, he often found himself surrounded by fawning fans. If I happened to be there, he would introduce me, and occasionally a fan would say — I kid you not — ‘It must be wonderful to be Joseph’s wife. Do you ask him to read to you in bed at night?’ Joseph would have to explain, ‘My wife is a writer too.’ Well, now I have a second chance in life to carve out my own identity fully and solely, to get out from under the ungainly hat I’d been forced to wear as The Wife of the Famous Author. I relish it. I can see the sky fully without it for the first time in decades.
Q:In your late 20s you were violently raped and left for dead. The way you describe it is so visceral. Brutal as it was, the attack was a turning point for you. You realized you’d been given a second chance — you didn’t die. You were going to change your life and become a writer. Do you still see the attack that way now, as having catapulted your life forward?
A: I’m a Buddhist. A bit of a lapsed one at the moment, but I honestly look for the lessons in pain. I think, well, I survived this and this and this. Now what did I learn from it? The rape was horrific and life-altering. But damn if it didn’t function as a wake-up call for me. This violent, disgusting act propelled me forward with a speed I would never have found without it. Maybe just as importantly, though, is what I knew I wanted to say to other survivors of rape. I wanted to say, ‘I’m here, and I’m alive, and yes, you might carry this experience around with you all the rest of your days, but you too made it through.’ We’re stronger talking about what happened. Maybe each time people share their own rape experiences we get stronger as a whole. We get a tiny bit better as human beings.
The rape was horrific and life-altering. But damn if it didn't function as a wake-up call
Q:You freely admit that in the early stages of your 25 years with Joseph Boyden, both of you had affairs. But after 9/11 something for you changed and you decided you were done with extramarital dalliances. But he wasn’t, according to your book. You write about the many times he betrayed you with other women in the marriage, but you learned in 2017 he’d impregnated another woman and was leaving you and New Orleans to start a new family in Canada in his 50s.
A: I indeed admit to affairs early in our marriage. I’d be a hypocrite if I did not. I wish I could recall the actual moment I decided to stop cheating, but I can’t conjure it. I just knew in my gut that enough was enough. I sincerely thought that Joseph not only understood that, but that he would follow suit. It didn’t happen. Very recently it came to my attention that one of my former graduate students I’d considered a friend had a two-year affair with Joseph. Then she let me know that she was only one of many. I don’t actually know if I’d fallen into some sort of complacency where Joseph was concerned — like many couples who’ve been together for decades, we only had sex once every three or four weeks — but maybe I should have seen the cheating on the wall. He never quit.
Q:You mention in the book that you and your sister watched the film The Wife, where the famous author’s wife was the actual real writer. Your own novels and this memoir, like his books, are beautifully written. How much of an editing or writing hand did you have with his novels?
A: That’s funny. I sometimes think the only reason Joseph wanted to marry me was for my writing ability. But seriously, Joseph’s gone on record countless times about my being his first and best editor. I don’t think that’s a surprise. Was I instrumental in helping to shape his novels and stories? Did he always get first billing on the Maclean’s pieces we co-wrote? Did I read every single sentence of everything he ever put out into the world because he asked me to, because he leaned on me? Did I make global comments and suggest plot twists and help with character development? Yes. And in a bizarre twist of fate, that former graduate student who had the affair with Joseph admitted that she believed I’d actually written his works. That is patently untrue. He wrote. I made suggestions and line-by-line edits. I told him in the first draft of The Orenda that he was going to kill off the wrong character. I told him in the first draft of Three Day Road that the structure was completely off. I’m not going to quantify just how much of an influence I was on his pages because I can’t. It’s hard to say. But he sat at his laptop across the table from me and wrote his own sentences. Then he’d read them to me after maybe a page or two, and I’d make suggestions. I often asked for the same in return, but I wasn’t the famous one or the one who stood to make the most money from my writing. He often only had praise for what I shared with him, so it’s unlikely that his hand is quite so obvious in my work.
Q:The year that Gord Downie, your long-time friend, was dying of brain cancer, he asked you to write him 43 poems. I had the sense that his request might have been a gift to you as much as your gift to him. Is there something to that?
A: Gord was an amazing human being, and off the stage as humble and quiet-spoken as it gets. Honestly? I think he asked me to write him poems as a means for me to create something all my own. I sense he understood what it felt like to be consumed, or maybe subsumed, by my husband. He wanted me to give him something. But really? He wanted to give me the gift of work, the gift of a mission.
Laurie Gough is the author of Kite Strings of the Southern Cross, Kiss the Sunset Pig, and Stolen Child.