Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Format: E-book from netgalley
Joan Ashby, a talented writer, who at a young age vows not to let a husband or children get in the way of her art, ends up married, then pregnant. Joan falls in love with her first baby, not so much with second. Her first son has the gift of writing, but stops when he discovers at age 11 his mother is a brilliant writer and he compares himself to her and feels like a failure. He feels she has crushed his dreams. His father is a brilliant neuro-ocular surgeon traveling the world restoring people’s vision. His younger brother drops out of school at age 14 to design his own software program used throughout the world in hotels and is worth billions. The family dynamics and sibling rivalry conspire against him to make him feel small.
Joan ever intuitive when it comes to her children is able to sense when things are well and when things are awry. She understands her children far better than her husband. She understands their strengths and weaknesses. She gets swept up in motherhood and in helping her children build on their strengths and supporting them through difficult times.
Joan hides her writing. She keeps it a secret, not wanting to have to share what she is writing about with her husband. She feels like a prisoner in motherhood, only able to eek out stolen hours to write her newest novel that gets hidden in a box for two years before she is ready to have it published, because life (her family and their needs) get in the way. In the meantime, her book is published in its entirety, except for a gender change by her son, under a pseudonym and in two parts.
There are three parts to this novel. The first and third are told by a third person narrator, but the focus is mostly on Joan. The second section is recordings made by Joan’s son, Daniel, that he will eventually send to Joan as explanation for his actions. Interspersed within these pages are short stories written by Joan as well as the beginnings of another novel Joan is working on during part three. In addition, there are writing samples from Joan’s writing students.
Joan is so hurt by Daniel’s actions, publishing her novel without her knowing about it, that she flees to India, a country she has always wanted to visit and the place where Eric had retreated after sobering up and selling his company. In India, Joan is able to rediscover herself, realize her present day wants and needs, as well as forge a closer relationship with her younger son.
The writing is amazing. Each short story seems publishable on it’s own. The story of Paloma that Joan is writing in the third part was particularly intriguing to me. However, I felt like all of these stories within the actual novel detracted from what constituted this novel. It seemed like I was constantly readjusting to new stories within the original and back out again. For me, it was too much bulk. The writing is great though, and I never wanted to skim. I just wish the author had constructed this novel differently. I felt way too happy to be finished reading this book.
- How is Joan’s genius evident?
- Why does Joan hide her previous literary success from her children?
- Why does Joan feel she must keep her art a secret?
- Discuss how the short stories within the novel add/detract from the novel as a whole?
- What were your feelings about Joan’s trip to India? Do you feel that she did this to escape or to rebuild herself? Did you see strength or cowardice in this?
- Do you feel that Joan’s plight of giving up her career for so many years is something experienced broadly by women? Do you think Joan sees positives and negatives in her choices?
- Why do you think Joan was so annoyed by Martin’s line of questioning about what she was writing?
- Discuss the title and possible religious connotations of it.
- Why do you think Daniel feels justified in his actions?
- Discuss the character of Kumar. Could this be the same Kumar interacting with both Joan and Daniel?
- What are your thoughts about Joan’s marriage with Martin? Is Martin a good husband?