The disappearance of a young girl and its effect on the strained relationship of her parents is the setting of Little Green, the new novel by bestselling author Tish Cohen.
The story is largely set in a lakeside cabin in Lake Placid. In the stress and heartbreak of looking for their lost daughter Gracie, the fault lines in Elise and Matt’s marriage crack open.
“This story centres around Matt, Elise and (Matt’s friend) Cass,” Cohen said in a recent interview. “They think they know who they are and all of them are wrong. It’s also a story about Matt’s belief that he came from a family that was so strong. Matt was proud to have come from what was considered by many to be the ‘first family of the Adirondacks’… Matt held his family history almost smugly. He doesn’t even admit it to himself, but he held it over Elise’s head.”
Elise strives to be in the Olympics, and her intense training for months in the world of horse-show competitions takes her away from her husband and daughter. Matt has made huge sacrifices in his career to be Gracie’s primary caregiver, in accordance with an arrangement Elise and Matt had struck, but which is no longer working. Their finances and relationship are strained, and their entire marriage comes under the microscope when their daughter goes missing.
Cohen’s inspiration in writing Little Green (HarperCollins) was the Madeleine McCann tragedy. The three-year-old disappeared in May 2007 from her bed in a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, a resort in the Algarve region of Portugal.
“It was so fascinating to me because of the questions of whether the parents were at fault. I followed it so closely, especially the parents’ reaction. I wondered what would have happened in the relationship and how the two of them would fare throughout,” said Cohen.
The prologue takes the reader back to New Jersey in 2006, where, “Any little interruption could have changed the timing: a slice of bread in the toaster too long, a stalled van on the 287, a song on the radio you just had to hear to the end.”
“The entire story can be traced back to that moment, to the misconceptions Matt has, and the judgments he didn’t realize he had, but was hanging on to. By the end of the book he realized he had completely misjudged Elise,” said Cohen.
Cohen worked on Little Green for three years consulting with a family and child therapist and she worked closely with her friend Belinda Trussel a Canadian Olympian equestrian.
“I used to compete in dressage and secretly wished I would go to the Olympics one day. I’m crazy about horses. If you go back to Elise’s history, you learn what it was that makes her need to stand out and what makes her want to be number one in the world. What makes her want to win Olympic gold and make sacrifices along the way which she believes, and I believe, is actually teaching invaluable lessons to her child about going forward in life and not holding back and doing what you love and making it all work,” said Cohen.
The title of the book comes from a Joni Mitchell song.
“Little Green is the song that Joni wrote for the daughter she gave up for adoption. I thought it was a beautiful song and it spoke to little Gracie who had a froggy voice. At the beginning of the book Elise believes that they call Gracie “Little Green” because of her little froggy voice. It isn’t until she meets Cass, and learns that Cass and Matt had shared a love of Mitchell from way back in the days of Woodstock. Elise feels betrayed. There is so much in the tangle that makes up a relationship and there is something beautiful in figuring that all out,” Cohen said.
Cohen’s first novel, Town House, was a regional finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. She recently sold an original TV series to ABC/Corus Entertainment, and her short film Russet Season premiered at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival last summer.