Expected Publication Date: May 9, 2017
This book had me cringing, yet I was intrigued and felt compelled to read to the end. The setting is Los Angeles and a great many themes are explored throughout this novel. The two main characters, are at such transitional points in their life, making rash irresponsible decisions. These two women grew up with “bad mothers,” however end up becoming their mothers, either inadvertently or purposely in the pursuit of art. They are brought together in this novel as Lady has separated from her husband and is looking for a nanny. “S,” as Esther is calling herself in her play-act of being her mother, responds to nanny position and is hired on the spot, without even a reference check.
It is about mothering, the different ways a woman may parent different children. It is about bonds between mother and child and boundaries. It is about identity, as a mother, as a daughter, as an individual.
It is about relationships between women and how quickly they can change. The characters in this novel and their relationships with each other are incredibly well developed. The reader experiences the shifts in the relationship as life changes or new facts come to light.
It is about bad choices in relationships with men that seem exciting, yet leave the women with emptiness. It is about the possibility of good relationships with good men, that seem boring and easy to throw away. These women, Lady and Esther, through whose alternating voices the novel is rendered, seem destined to self-sabatoge. Esther, in becoming her mother, takes the color out of her hair, dresses in frumpy clothing, drinks herself into oblivion, and makes poor rash choices on many fronts. Lady plays with fire on several fronts. Most shockingly, she revisits the father of her oldest son (whose identity she is hiding from her son) not just once but repeatedly.
It is about art and the subtle shifts that can change the entire tone of the piece. The title of the book refers to a photograph taken by Lady’s sister-in-law, Kit Daniels. It was part of a series of photographs taken of ‘regular’ women caught off guard, with clutter in the backgrounds. Lady’s original photo had been altered for the publication, and the slight alteration made a tremendous difference in the way she presented. Certain other details were hidden as well.
In the end, this novel is about learning to accept yourself and the life given you, your strengths and weaknesses, not trying to copy or imitate others’, but to work with what life has handed to you.
Even though, I was annoyed with the characters and their alacrity for self-sabatoge, from which they all seemed saved at the end, I do think the novel was incredibly well executed. It is not a feel good beach read. It is much deeper and more complicated. The writing is excellent. The author develops many themes and there is significant complexity to the novel. It is intriguing and unique. It would make a great book club book!
- Discuss the significance of the title. Would you have given the novel a different title?
- What scene resonated with you most in a positive or negative way?
- How do the “roles” of the various characters influence their various interactions?
- Were there moments you disagreed with the choices of the characters? What would you have done differently?
- What past influences are shaping the actions of the characters?
- Do you think the ending was appropriate? How would you like to see the ending go?
- What is the importance of art and perception in the novel?
- Did you relate to either of the main characters? If so, which one and why?
- Discuss the significance of Lady and S each going by alternative names. What is the meaning of their given names and what are the meanings attached to the names they are going by in this novel?