What if you were living a seemingly perfect life in Astoria, with an amazing husband and a 3-week-old baby, when you found out that your husband was living a double life? What if, as betrayal after betrayal came to light, you discovered the unthinkable: your husband fit the textbook definition of a psychopath?
Former Astoria resident Jen Waite lived this story, and now, she’s sharing it with others: her memoir, “A Beautiful, Terrible Thing,” was released by an imprint of Penguin Random House on July 11. It’s been compared to fictional thrillers “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty — in Waite’s memoir, much like in these popular novels, lies and secrets hide behind fairy tale lives.
“A Beautiful, Terrible Thing” is structured like a thriller novel, too, alternating between “before” sections that read like a love story and “after” sections that are more of a nightmare.
And much of it takes place right here in Astoria.
Waite moved to New York City right after college and spent a couple years moving from neighborhood to neighborhood before landing in Astoria in 2009.
“Astoria just felt like home,” Waite said. “Everywhere else I had lived [in NYC], I felt like I was living with a bunch of other transplants, but it’s just really nice to have that sense of community [in Astoria]. Half of my neighbors were older people who had lived there their whole lives and were raising families there. I felt more at home in Astoria than anywhere else in the city.”
While working as an actress and model, she got a job near her apartment as a waitress at a burger place by Kaufman Astoria Studios (in this article, as in Waite’s memoir, names have been changed, and the names of businesses are not mentioned). There, she met a great group of friends — and her future husband, Marco, her coworker from Argentina.
Waite spent “every second thinking about Marco” after they started seeing each other, and she remembers thinking, “Yes! Yes, this is what real, sing-it-from-the-rooftops, heart-melting love feels like.”
She met Marco’s precocious 7-year-old son, Seb; Marco won the approval of Waite’s family; and the couple got engaged, then married, eventually earning Marco his green card.
Soon, Waite and her parents invested significant amounts of money in a small gastropub Waite and Marco were opening up in Astoria, in a business partnership with another couple. Later, in their Astoria apartment, the couple found out that Waite was pregnant.
Her “before” life ended three weeks after her daughter’s birth when she found an email indicating that Marco had a girlfriend. In the “after” section, the lies snowball.
As Waite’s marriage unraveled, she tried to hang on to her life in Astoria but eventually moved to her hometown in Maine. (As for the lies, infidelity and betrayals Waite discovered, we’ll leave you to read the memoir and find out for yourself.) She recently bought a house in Maine and is working in insurance. Her daughter is now 2 ½ years old.
Waite came back to Astoria for the book’s launch party, which was held at Astoria Bookshop, with a crowd full of Waite’s friends and colleagues, and lots of local bookworms.
“Astoria Bookshop was a really obvious choice from the beginning because half of the memoir takes place in Astoria,” Waite said. “There are a lot of Astoria landmarks in the book, [though] the names are changed. That’s where I lived for the majority of time in New York and it’s still where I think of as ‘home’ when I go back to New York.”
Being in Astoria “felt bitter” back when everything was falling apart, she said, “but now that it’s been two years and I feel more resolved about everything, it still feels like home.”
Plus, since the book’s editor, Kate Napolitano, and Waite’s literary agent, Myrsini Stephanides, both live in the neighborhood, Astoria Bookshelf was the perfect choice for the launch.
Waite is no longer pursuing acting and modeling — “that wasn’t the right path for me,” she explained — so writing the memoir was a creative outlet for her. More than that, though, it was therapeutic: “Writing helped me to process it and understand what was happening,” she said.
While the writing process helped her heal, she said that sharing the memoir with the world has been “very, very difficult … a really humbling, exciting but scary process.”
But it’s all worth it because women and men in similar situations have been able to connect with her story.
“I’ve received hundreds of incredible messages from a lot of people, mostly women, who have been through similar experiences,” she said. “They’ve actually said in these messages, ‘This book saved my life.’ Getting a message like that is very powerful, and the fact that people are connecting with it so deeply and it’s resonating with them and helping them is so amazing.”
Waite has considered pursuing a graduate degree to become a licensed therapist, and she hasn’t ruled out penning another book.
“I’d really love to write a thriller novel,” she said. “From writing the memoir I realized that I figured out how to set up the structure of a psychological thriller, so if I could get the right story in my head, I would love to try a novel next time.”
For now, though, Waite said she is enjoying a “lull” after her book finally came out.
“I’m just back to my day-to-day life now, so it’s funny because we just got reviewed in The New York Times, which is amazing, but at the same time I’m just at an insurance company, taking care of my daughter on a day-to-day basis,” Waite said. “For now, it’s a little bit of down time, which is really, really nice. I’m enjoying that right now.”
JEN WAITE’S FAVORITE READS
Waite shared some of her favorite novels and memoirs with QNS:
“I know this much is true” – Wally Lamb
“On Beauty” – Zadie Smith
“Fingersmith” – Sarah Waters
“The First Bad Man” – Miranda July
“The Vegetarian” – Han Kang
“Operating Instructions” – Anne Lamott
“Brain on Fire” – Susannah Cahalan
“Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” – David Sedaris