Elizabeth Musser: A Compelling Look at 1930s Atlanta Society
With her acclaimed bestseller The Swan House, Elizabeth Musser proved to readers and critics
she’d mastered the art of Southern fiction. Now, inspired by the diaries from her grandmother’s
high school years in the early '30s, Elizabeth again offers up the perfect blend of warmth and
soul that readers have come to love with The Sweetest Things.
Following two schoolgirls as they navigate the storms of loss and coming-of-age during the
Depression, The Sweetest Thing turns an insightful eye to elite Atlanta society. Will the girls,
opposites in everyway, be able to rely on each other to survive the tumultuous change happening
around and inside them?
With her endearing characters and poignant storytelling, Atlanta native Elizabeth Musser vividly
re-creates the charm of her beloved city amid the poverty and plenty that shaped the 1930s.
1. What inspired you to write The Sweetest Thing?
When we moved my dear grandmother (now 97) from her apartment to a full-care floor in her retirement home in Atlanta, my parents found Grandmom’s diaries from 1928-1932. I was, of course, eager to take a look. The diaries sealed the fate of my next novel: I’d write about 1930s Atlanta—and specifically the life of two girls attending
Washington Seminary, the real-life girls’ school my grandmother attended, which eventually became The Westminster Schools, the school I attended.
As I researched that era and heard stories of how both the wealthy and the
disadvantaged survived the Great Depression, I found my characters asking questions that I have asked—and heard asked—time and again: Does God provide in the midst of difficult circumstances?
2. Can you tell us about the main characters in your novel?
I decided to try something new to me: writing the story using two first person POVs—in this case, the two teenage girls, Perri and Dobbs, who attend an elite girls’ school in Atlanta. With this boundary in place, I knew I needed to develop strong individual voices—so I researched each girl’s personality using Myers-Briggs and taped those traits up in my office, to help keep me on track. I decided I would never repeat the same scene from both perspectives, but let each POV scene build on the one before so as not to bog down the story.
My readers often comment that my characters seem “real.” In The Sweetest Thing, I’ve created two very likeable, albeit completely opposite in personality, young women who are determined to survive, no matter what. How they go about “surviving” is the plot of the story. The Sweetest Thing is about friendships and the influence they can have on us. Near the end of the novel, both Perri and Dobbs find themselves doing things that resemble the other person’s actions or thoughts, adopting the habits, expressions, even beliefs, of the other, although at first they were diametrically opposed to each other. I think the reader will enjoy the twists and turns not only in these girls’ outer lives, but their inner lives, as well.
3. What is the underlying theme of The Sweetest Thing?
As is often the case with my novels, this one has several themes. First and foremost, I tackled the theme of survival and God’s provision. I wanted my characters to struggle with a question I’ve contemplated for many years: Does God provide for the individual in the midst of life’s difficult circumstances, and if so, how does He do it?
Another important theme is how people are constantly trying to fill themselves on something—be it wealth, entertainment, politics, friendship—and are never quite
Other themes include: the powerful influence of friendships in an individual’s life, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor in the midst of the Great Depression, the
influence of society on the choices of the individual, and what a “crisis of faith” looks like.
4. You live in France. How does that affect your books?
I like to challenge my readers in my stories. I have been challenged in so many ways by living overseas, and I think Americans need to have their eyes opened to different cultures. So some of the issues I raise will hopefully cause my readers to think about their belief systems and what is actually truth. Living in France has definitely
broadened my perspective and made me want to communicate the importance of getting outside our comfort zone and getting to know other cultures. In my writing, there are always issues about race and culture.
5. You have thirty seconds to explain your book to a potential reader; what would you tell them?
Have you ever asked God “why”? Have you ever wondered if good can come out of bad? Have you ever been in a place where you are simply trying to survive? Have you ever found yourself drawn to a friend in a quick
spontaneous way and known that she would become a soul mate, even though you’d only known her for a few days? Join me in the story of Perri and Dobbs, two remarkable young women, opposites in every way, who are thrown together in 1930s elitist Atlanta in the midst of great national and personal turmoil and are forced to ask these questions and search for answers. I guarantee you’ll fall in love with the characters, and you might even find a few answers to questions you’ve been asking yourself!