Leesa Cross-Smith's new novel explores the intricacies of love and self-discovery

Leesa Cross-Smith's new novel "Half-Blown Rose" is out now. (Photo courtesy of Leesa Cross-Smith)

A woman named Vincent is at the center of “Half-Blown Rose,” the latest novel by Leesa Cross-Smith. She’s also the author of “This Close to Okay,” and her earlier novel “So We Can Glow” was listed as one of NPR’s Best Books of 2020. Cross-Smith joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about her new story’s protagonist named after Vincent Van Gogh, and how she discovers her resilience after a major betrayal.

Vincent’s cataclysmic moment that begins her new life:

“The man she’d been married to for 25 years – his name was Cillian – he’s a writer, and he wrote a bestselling novel or ‘slash’ auto-fiction. He doesn’t quite want to say whether it’s all true or not, but [he is] divulging secrets that he’s kept from her their entire marriage,” said Cross-Smith. “So she reads it and decides that she’s going to leave him, at least for now, and she doesn’t want to see him for a year. So she leaves and goes to Paris.”

“I’ve included snippets of Cillian’s work in there, so the reader can actually see what was making her so angry. So ‘Half-Blown Rose’ is something that’s really special to Vincent. She has a little tattoo on her shoulder that says ‘half-blown rose.’ I took the title from ‘Jane Eyre,’” Cross-Smith explained. “In it, Charlotte Bronte writes, ‘He gathered a half-blown rose, the first on the bush, and offered it to me.’ And I just thought it was so beautiful… So he’s taken that phrase from her and decided to name his book that too, on top of also divulging the secrets in the book.”

A title with layered meaning:

“What I liked so much about using the title [is] that it’s just so beautiful to me, but also because of the meaning behind it – a half-blown rose in between a bud or a full-blown rose, or something on the cusp of something else, something that’s going to turn into something else,” Cross-Smith mused. “I talk often about liminal spaces, spaces that aren’t meant to last, and a ‘half-blown rose’ is not meant to stay half-blown. It’s going to turn into something else, and so the entire book is really written around that theme.”

A protagonist with ample space to evolve: 

“I was so excited to write about a super-privileged Black woman who really can spend her days doing whatever she wants,” said Cross-Smith. “She makes jewelry. She has plenty of money. Her parents have amassed a pretty large fortune, so she’s really privileged; she can do whatever she wants. I mentioned a couple of times in the book that Vincent is a ‘flaneuse,’ which is the female version of a ‘flaneur,’ which is a person who can kind of just lay around all day and walk around all day… I needed her to hang out all day, so I could get the things done in the book that I needed to get done.”

“I do think so much about her indulging without guilt. Paris makes it easier for her to be so far away, completely immersed in another city, and all new friends and different music and different food – and she’s seeing everything differently now. And so that alone really helps her forget what, a lot of the time… what Cillian has done. So [I’m] giving her that distance and putting her in this beautiful spot where she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life.”

“Half-Blown Rose” by Leesa Cross-Smith is out now and available here.