Tag Archives: Fiction

“Anything is Possible” by Elizabeth Strout

Pages:  272

Published: April 25, 2017

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

5 HUGE STARS!  AMAZING!  INCREDIBLE!  FULL OF KINDNESS, COMPASSION AND HUMANITY!

I have been looking forward to this book ever since I heard it was coming out.  It is a companion book to ‘My Name is Lucy Barton‘ which was published last year.  ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ largely involves conversation between Lucy Barton and her mother in the hospital where Lucy remains hospitalized with complications of appendicitis. It is what is unsaid that is so powerful in that book. The reader becomes aware of extreme poverty and abuse in Lucy’s childhood. Lucy and her siblings were mostly shunned by the other children of their town. However, Lucy has made it out of Amgash, Illinois. She is married though that marriage is failing. She is a writer. She is looking forward, but during this time with her mother, she is also looking back. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is so intriguing, but it leaves the reader with so many questions. So, I could not have been any happier upon hearing that this book was being published.

‘Anything is Possible,’ published about one year after ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is told in short stories focusing on different people’s lives in adulthood who had lived in the town Lucy had grown up in. It reminds me so much of ‘Olive Kitteridge’ in the manner in which it is written. Each short story could be published in it’s own right, however, the flow of these stories and their connections to each other make for an incredible read.

It is heartrendingly beautiful, so full of life and heartache. It is so full of humanity.. of the human experience. It describes feelings, emotions, nuances of relationships so well. You experience the pushes and pulls of family, town and the world on the individuals in these stories. Amgash is a small poor town in rural Illinois. There are not many opportunities for upward mobility if one ends up living in town. Those who escape lead vastly different lives, but their pasts continue to haunt them.

Each story is intense in it’s own right. Each tells of a realization of self or family that is immensely important and a turning point in that person or family’s life. Some of these stories had me sobbing, they were that emotional and real. They are all deeply affecting stories, each and every one. They were so compelling that I would not want to stop reading at night. Despite wanting to keep moving ahead, I could have read the same sentence over and over and extracted more meaning from it each time. Each sentence was so loaded and powerful.

But, really what is most special about the book is the message or maybe the many messages. This book tells us that loving imperfectly is ok. Loving imperfectly can be lovely. It tells us that no one is alone, there are always others with shared similar experiences. It demonstrates how a simple small act of compassion can have such a huge impact and effect on the lives of others. It teaches us that feeling pain is actually a gift, for were we not to feel pain, that would be the real tragedy. This novel is about reconnecting with the past and making amends before death. It is about recognizing heroes and heroines, masked in normal everyday clothing. And of course, Elizabeth Strout does all this so eloquently and lovingly. This is a must read.. definitely my favorite book this year!

 

Elizabeth Strout’s website

Review by Heller McAlpin for NPR

Review by Anthony Domestico in the Boston Globe

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is the meaning of the title?
  2. Discuss the relationship of this book to ‘My Name is Lucy Barton.’ Do you think this book was a necessary counterpart?  Is this book worthy of standing alone, aside from reading ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’?
  3. Was there a particular character in these stories you most enjoyed or related to?  Who and why?
  4. Discuss the effects of extreme poverty and abuse on various characters in this novel?  How was Pete affected? Lucy?
  5. Discuss Lucy Barton’s father?  How did his past affect the way he treated his children?  How are Pet and his father similar?
  6. Discuss the secret Tommy keeps from his wife after the fire.  What happens when Tommy shares this secret with his wife?
  7. Discuss the theme of sexual inability or lack of sexual desire as relates to childhood experiences.  (Pete, Patty, Siggy)
  8. Discuss the pain that Charlie and Siggy share.  Do you think this is what attracts Patty to each of them?
  9. Discuss Linda Nicely’s complicity in Jay’s escapades.  Why is she complicit?  Why does she stay with him?
  10. Discuss the effect of compassion on someone who is not expecting it:  Patty towards Lila Lane and Karen-Lucie towards Linda Nicely.
  11. Discuss the “Hit-Thumb Theory” (the spaciousness of calm before the crash and crush of real pain) and how it relates to this novel.
  12. Compare and contrast Mary Mumford’s life in Italy as and aging woman to what it would have been in Amgash.  What is it that causes Angelina to finally recognize the heroine in her mother?
  13. Dotty owns a B&B and gets to know the guests in different ways.  Why does she feel used by Shelby and her husband yet endeared to Charlie?
  14. Annie feels a closeness with and upon understanding her father better.  Explain this.

“Woman No. 17” by Edan Lepucki

Pages:  320

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!  

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the significance of the title.  Would you have given the novel a different title?
  2. What scene resonated with you most in a positive or negative way?
  3. How do the “roles” of the various characters influence their various interactions?
  4. Were there moments you disagreed with the choices of the characters?  What would you have done differently?
  5. What past influences are shaping the actions of the characters?
  6. Do you think the ending was appropriate?  How would you like to see the ending go?
  7. What is the importance of art and perception in the novel?
  8. Did you relate to either of the main characters?  If so, which one and why?
  9. 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?

Edan Lepucki’s website

Review by Kaleigh Maeby at Book Stalker Blog

“The Refugees” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Pages: 224

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

“I wrote this book for the ghosts, who, because they are outside of time, are the only one with time.” – prologue

What a timely book!  With the public debate about immigration in the forefront of everyone’s mind, with the executive and judicial branches of government battling out the legality of banning people from certain countries, the timing is perfect!   America’s history has been built upon accepting refugees from various countries. Between 1975 and 1995 over 480,000 people had immigrated to the United States.  Of the “boat people,” it is estimated that at least a third died.  This is exquisitely written, profoundly moving compilation of short stories, each one touching on the theme of immigration from Vietnam.

Viet Thanh Nguyen says he is writing these stories for the ghosts.  The first story in this book is most directly to that point.  The narrator is a ghost writer, telling other people’s stories not coming to terms with her own story until the ghost of her brother comes to visit her.   At that moment she confronts the trauma of her past.  Her brother risked his life to try to hide her as a boy when pirates raided their boat.  He was killed for it.  She was gang rapider front of her parents.  Her parents lamented her brother’s death, but never mentioned what had happened to her.  She carried the burden of her own trauma as well as of her brother’s death.  She was made to feel it was her fault.  She finally realizes she died too.  She is a ghost of the past and can write her own story.

The writing is incredible.  The stories themselves are beautiful, emotion-laden, with excellent character development and complexity.  The true nature behind the characters are revealed in unexpected ways.  The tension created by the juxtaposition of vietnamese culture in affluent America (as well as the converse) are explored.  These stories are not simply an exploration of Vietnamese culture and the refugee experience, but transcend that with the stories evoking so much truth about humanity that simply involve refugees as characters.

Rather than detail each short story, I highly recommend reading this brilliantly written grouping of 8 stories.  It is brief book, but packs a powerful punch.  These are stories that will move you and stay with you.  They are simply amazing!  

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who are the ghosts in each story?  Why is it important to remember them?
  2. What does the term refugee mean?  How does it compare to expat or immigrant?
  3. Why does the father name his first and second set of children the same names in “The Fatherland”?  Discuss this.
  4. Nguyen also quotes James Fenton from the German Requiem in the prologue:  “It is not your memories which haunt you.  It is not what you have written down.  It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.  What you must go on forgetting all your life.”  How does this quote resonate with the stories contained in the book?  How do forgotten memories haunt characters within these stories?
  5. Liem, in  “The Other Man,” sees his mirror image and does not recognize himself.  Why?
  6. What does this statement mean in “The Americans”:  “Smiling at your relatives never got you far, but smiling at strangers and acquaintances sometimes did.”  Why does Claire feel more at home in Vietnam than she did in America?

Joyce Carol Oates’ Review published in the New Yorker

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s website

Review posted by fellow blogger, The Shrinkette

 

 

“The Tempest” by William Shakespeare

 

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Pages: 211

First Published: 1611

 

 

 

 

As part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, I needed to read a play and what better play to read than “The Tempest” having recently read and adored Margaret Atwood’s retelling in “Hag-Seed.”  I have an even greater appreciation of “Hag-Seed” having read the original again.  It had been more than twenty years since I’ve read Shakespeare.  I found it simultaneously difficult to navigate the Old English and thematically extremely relevant to modern day.  There is so much complexity within this brief play, that it is no wonder that people study Shakespeare to such lengths!

This play takes place on an Island where the magician, Prospero, and his daughter Miranda have been living the last 12 years, since Prospero’s exile from his position as Duke of Milan.  The only other person on the Island during this time is Calaban, son of the evil witch, Sycorax, who used to live there as well.  Ariel is a fairy who does the bidding of Prospero.  Calaban is also enslaved to Prospero, having attempted to rape Miranda.  Prospero creates a tempest  which bring his enemies by shipwreck to his Island.  He scatters them across the Island such that Ferdinand the King’s son is separated from all others and will encounter Miranda, both falling in love with each other under Ariel’s spell.  Gonzalo, Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian are landed together.  During their time on the Island, Antonio and Sebastian plot against the king’s (Alonso’s) life, assuming that Ferdinand has perished.  Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano develop an alliance that intends to murder Prospero, so that they can take over the island.  Finally, all come together.  Prospero, with urging from Ariel, forgives all and all is calm.  Prospero, a thinly disguised Shakespeare, asks for applause to end his imprisonment.

There is much duality of humanity and the world represented within this play.  Themes of good versus evil, magical vs earthly, land versus sea, honest versus dishonest, free versus imprisoned, sober versus drunk pervade this play.  I loved the infusion of music, poetry and magic within this play.  There is obvious brilliance to the themes and the structure of the play.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and found many unique characteristics setting it apart from some of Shakespeare’s other works that I’ve read.  images-2

 

 

Study Questions and Essay Topics from Spark Notes

Discussion Questions from Schmoop

A teacher’s guide to The Tempest from Penguin Books

 

 

“Hag-Seed” by Margaret Atwood

 

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Pages:  256

 

Expected Publication Date:  October 11, 2016

 

 

 

“the island is a theatre.  Prospero is a director.  He’s putting on a play, within which there’s another play.  If his magic holds and his play is successful, he’ll get his heart’s desire.  But if he fails…”

This is a marvelous re-telling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”  It is a tale of prisons within prisons, of prisoners who do not realize they’re imprisoned, of vengeance and revenge.  The most beautiful part of this book is that it is prisoners who are putting on the play and their thoughts on the characters, plot and imagined future outcomes are all explored.  Margaret Atwood’s retelling, in effect, goes deeper than the original.  I, as the reader, was left amazed at how well all the intricacies of plot worked out to mirror the original work in such a way that it actually took the plot further, creating a doubling effect:  a play within a play (maybe within another play).  It feels genius as you read it, and further intensifies the prisons within prisons theme.

This is fourth installment of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which excellent writers are tackling retellings of Shakespeare’s literature.  “The Tempest” is the last written work of William Shakespeare, written in 1610-1611.  I plan to re-read “The Tempest” and rewrite this review (or at least rethink it).  I am that inspired by this novel.

There were a couple fairly major departures from the novel.  The largest being that, Miranda, Felix’s daughter in Atwood’s version has died at the age of 3, however Felix imagines he still sees her and she is there with him until the end of the novel when he is able to release her.  I actually think this brings an additional element of fantasy to the novel, a hint of madness to the sorcerer.  She actually becomes entwined into the role of the fairy as enacted in the prison.  It also allows for another level of imprisonment.

This version does not take place on an island, but Felix (Prospero) banishes himself to a remote area living in a shack with landlords that maybe never were.  It is all very mysterious.  He lives in seclusion for twelve years prior to taking the job at the prison where through a literacy program he and the inmates re-enact Shakespeare plays.  It is here at the correctional facility that “The Tempest” is re-enacted in more ways than one with the outcome that Felix desires, the overthrowing of Antonio who had taken away his theater directorship.

The work that Felix does at the correctional facility feels magical.  The relationship he develops with the inmates and the enthusiasm and interest they show for working on the plays seems incredible.  As quoted from Felix within the novel, “Maybe the island really is magic.  Maybe it’s a kind of mirror:  each one sees in it a reflection of his inner self.  Maybe it brings out who you really are.   Maybe it’s a place where you’re supposed to learn something.  But what is each one of these people supposed to learn?  And do they learn it?”  This seems to be exactly what is happening within Felix’s theater in the prison.

This is a novel full of modern day wit, whimsy, vigor.  Margaret Atwood infuses rap, dance, old world swearing, and much self discovery into the prisoner’s re-enactment.  It is super fun to read, yet has its dark melancholic side in true Atwood form, and can be dissected in so many ways.  The prisoners each have their own interpretations of the characters and their expected outcomes, which is true of all great literature.    I highly recommend this to Shakespeare fans or just fans of great literature!  This is Atwood at her best!  images

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the theme of prisons and how it relates to the theme of the play/novel.
  2. How do you feel about the doubling effect this retelling has on the original?
  3. Discuss the modernization of the play within the prison setting with rewriting and song/rap and dance.  How is this true to the original and how does it differ?
  4. Discuss the role of magic and fantasy in the original “The Tempest” and in Atwood’s retelling.  How do drugs help in the retelling?
  5. Why do you think she titled the novel “Hag-Seed?”
  6. Discuss the role of Caliban?  In what way is Caliban, “this thing of darkness” in some sense Prospero’s?
  7. Felix tells his class that there were 9 prisons within Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”  How many prisons can you count within this novel?  Can you make a list of prisoner/prison/jailer?
  8. What is music used for within this novel?
  9. What is magic used for?
  10. Who are the monsters?
  11. Who wants revenge and why?

 

Review of Hag-Seed from “The Scotsman”

Margaret Atwood’s website

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

2213661Pages:  312

Published: September 30, 2008

Literary Awards:  Hugo Award for Best Novel (2009), Newbery Medal (2009), Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2009), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Children’s Literature (2009), Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year (2009), Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2009), Indies Choice Book Award for Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book (Fiction): (2009), Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (ALAN/NCTE) Nominee (2009), British Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009), Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction (2008), Carnegie Medal (2010), Elizabeth Burr / Worzalla Award (2009)

“It takes a graveyard to raise a child.”

I picked this up to listen to on a car trip with my children.  I think my young children were scared or turned off by the no frills triple murder with which the novel begins.  I, however, was enthralled and could not wait to listen to it each time I got into my car.   I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” previously and fell in love with his brilliant writing style then.   I was hoping to share that experience with my children…  Maybe in a few years.   Having this book read by the author himself was pure delight.  His English accent and the manner in which he was able to do different voices for the various characters really brought the story to life.  I realized after the fact that there are actually two versions of this audible book.  I listened to the one with Neil Gaiman as the sole narrator, but there is another one with a full cast of narrators.

The storyline itself is enchanting.  I was mesmerized!  I felt my skin prickle in anticipation of what was coming next.  The characters were fabulous.  The plot is complex, yet everything came full circle throughout the novel.  It is a huge puzzle in which all the pieces had just the right fit.  Every bit of this novel is delicious perfection.  It is a brilliant, magical, dreamy, fantastical world and everyone should read or listen to this.  As you can see from all the awards this novel has won, I am not alone in feeling this way!  images

 

Lit lovers Discussion Guide

Harper Collins Reading Group Guide

Reproducible Study Guide for the book – meant for teaching purposes

 

 

 

 

“Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler

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Pages: 368

Published:  May 24, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

“Appetite is not a symptom,.. It’s a state of being, and like most, has its attendant moral consequences.”

Sexy, racy, indulgent.. .an enlightening dive into life within a restaurant.  It felt authentic and raw, a full sensory & gustatory experience.. for which reason, I recommend this book be read accompanied by a glass of wine.  With all the drinking, drugging, and embarrassing mistakes made by the protagonist, you will need it.  She bares her soul and the soul of the restaurant industry.  I have not had the pleasure of working in a restaurant, but have had friends who have and this novel definitely sheds light on the subject.

“Sweetbitter” was written by Stephanie Danler drawing on her own experience as a backwaiter in NYC.  The protagonist in the novel, whose name you do not learn until half-way through is Tess.  She presents herself as naive, unpretentious, inexperienced and unworldly, but is out to prove herself to survive and achieve in the restaurant which is modeled after Union Square.  She comes under the wing of Simone, who is older, experienced, worldly and uncomfortably close to the bartender that Tess is fixated on.  Tess learns about terroir, and develops an appreciation of food and wine.  She gets swept up in the late night partying, which is part and parcel of working in the restaurant.  She becomes involved in a love triangle.  She makes ridiculous choices.  She is a character you root for, though.  Through her, you gain insight into the secret life of a restaurant, how it becomes all-encompassing, lending itself to late nights with drugs and alcohol, to relationships that lack depth, and self harm.

I felt transported to the time after college where there is so much to learn, to experience, where anything can happen, where so many relationships are fleeting.  I cannot imagine being Tess, alone and new to a city without any friends or family nearby, not returning home for the holidays.  My heart ached for her loneliness, her desperate yearning to fit in, her poor choices.  However, I also felt the energy and excitement of this time in life, the possibilities, the opportunities, the relationships.

I loved the book for the most part.  It’s an exciting and fun read.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the restaurant industry, who enjoys reading about food and wine, who’s looking for a spicy book to read.images-2

 

Wines & Spirits discussed during the book

Fernet – an Italian type of amaro, made from a number of herbs and spices with a base of grape-distilled spirits & colored with caramel coloring.  It is often served with coffee or espresso.

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Manzanilla – a variety of fino Sherry made around the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Cadiz Andalusia (Spain)

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Champagne – sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France.  The primary grapes used in its production are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meaner, but white Chardonnay is also used.

Beaujolais – generally made of the Gamay grape (a cross of Pinot Noir & the ancient white wine variety Gouais); light bodied red wine with high amounts of acidity.

Louis_Jadot_Cru_Beaujolais_in_glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sancerre -grown in the eastern part of the Loire valley; made from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir;  described to have flinty, citrusy and spicy notes.

bouteilles-sancerre

Pouilly-Fume – vineyards are in the Nievre (east of the Loire); made purely from Sauvignon Blanc, described as “smoky bouquet”

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Pouilly-Fuisse – from Burgundy region in south of France; grown from Chardonnay grapes;  Hints of oak and clay

Pouilly_fuisse_from_Macon

french-wine-regions-map-simplified

 

Discussion Questions:  Please see the back of the book for some great ones.  No need to add more.

Vanity Fair’s Interview with Stephanie Danler

New York Times Review of Sweetbitter

Reading Group Guide from Doubleday

“Eligible (The Austen Project #4) ” by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

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Published: April 15, 2016

Pages: 513

 

 

 

At first I was a little leery, thinking this was over the top, not very deep.. However, I found myself laughing out loud over and over again and reading late into the night, never wanting to put this book down.  I would literally be aching to read it while at work or with the kids during the day. It is highly addictive, highly inventive and utterly hilarious!!  I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much while reading a book.

So, the plot:  five sisters who grew up together in Cincinnati are reunited there again to support their parents when their father is recovering from heart surgery.  They are in their 20s and 30s, with the eldest two being 37 and 39.  Their mom,  the social climber, feels the need to try to marry them off well.  The social dynamics within the household and with various suitors is hilarious.  The sexual tension that develops between Liz (the 37-year old sister) and Fitzwilliam Darcy becomes a thread winding it’s way through the book to it’s conclusion.

It is a hugely fun read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys romantic comedy!  It’s been forever since I’ve read “Pride and Prejudice,”  but this story evokes similar tensions, comedy, and excitement about the outcome.images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Would this book be as good on it’s own without the comparison to “Pride and Prejudice?”
  2. Compare this novel to “Pride and Prejudice.”  Discuss relationships, setting, plot, comedic value.
  3. The book read mostly through the voice of Liz.  Did you find yourself identifying with her to any extent?
  4. Why do you think there have been so many adaptations to Jane Austen’s books?  What is it about them that lend them to retellings?

A Negative New York Times Review

A Positive New York Times Review

Curtis Sittenfeld’s website

“Rich and Pretty” by Rumaan Alam

 

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Pages: 304

Published:  June 7, 2016

 

 

 

 

A book written about a friendship between two women and how it changes, develops, pushes and pulls…  by a man.  Actually, he does a very good job portraying the intricacies of a female friendship.  It is a book many would describe as a “summer read,” a book that doesn’t really go anywhere.  Nothing extraordinary happens, but you feel the nuances of the friendship and relate to them.  It is a friendship between two girls who met when they were 11 years old and the novel follows their friendship into their 30s.  One of the girls is “rich” and the other is “pretty.”  These adjectives don’t define them, but definitely play a role in who they are and who they become.  The novel is a realistic look at how friendships look uneven at times and from many different angles, at how there are intrinsic and external factors that push and pull the friendship together and apart.  It shows how beautiful a thing friendship is when it is long-lasting with so many shared experiences that make two people feel like siblings, even when the two people on the surface may seem so different.

I feel like there is a whole class of books like this, some with much more depth than others.  This felt light and fluffy, leaving me wishing for more from the book.  I would give it 3-stars.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why does this friendship work?
  2. Who did you relate to more, Sarah or Lauren?  Why?
  3. Did you feel that their friendship was lopsided or equal?  How?  In what ways?
  4. What do you think the most important components of a friendship are?
  5. How do you think friendships are changing in this digital age?
  6. Do Sarah and Lauren seem closer to themselves or their families? Do you think this is typical?  Does this change with marriage and relationships?
  7. Describe an important friendship to you.  How much work do you put into your friendships now and in another time in your life?
  8. If you were to rank your priorities in your life, where would friendships rank?
  9. Were there any clues while reading this that the novel was written by a man?

Interview with the author done on NPR

Review on Rebl Nation Blog

 

 

 

 

“The Heart Goes Last” by Margaret Atwood

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Pages: 308

Published:  September 29, 2015

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2015)

 

 

 

“Then he’s unconscious.  Then he stops breathing.  The heart goes last.”

A wacked, absurd novel that becomes obvious satire as the novel continues.  As I read this book, I initially took it very seriously, trying to connect with the characters, understand motives, etc.  However, by the end with the organ harvesting, blue bears knitting by inmates for the pedophiles, sexbots, green man group, Elvises and Marilyns it became obvious that the book is entirely satirical and meant to be comical.  It also serves as a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for.”  Having someone who loves you only because she has had the laser treatment may not be so fulfilling and rewarding in the end.  Perhaps loving someone so completely is easier if you think you’ve had a brain surgery to make you do so.  This novel is very dark and makes you realize that the author believes we are heading as a society in a very unsavory direction.

I was so excited to embark on this novel after reading the premise:  a couple destitute in this futuristic world decides to sign up for “Consilience,”  a social experiment, where you spend alternate months in a prison and in a home with stable jobs within the confines of Positron.  Their relationship becomes strange and a whole lot of sex ensues, none of which is really sexy.  Their freedoms have been lost by joining this program and they have seemingly signed their own personalities away as well.  They become different, much more superficial in their needs and wants.  It’s almost as if having decisions made for them is appreciated, especially on Charmaine’s part.

I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood.  This is the 7th novel of hers that I’ve read and maybe my 6th or 7th favorite of them all.  She’s an excellent writer and this is humorous/chilling social commentary, but I just didn’t connect with it as well as I have some of her other novels.  I must give it images-2 even though it wasn’t one of my personal favorites of hers.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Charmaine continually alludes to her life preceding Grandma Win.  What do you think happened then?
  2. Why do you think Charmaine keeps quoting Grandma Win’s sayings?
  3. Why is Stan leery of getting involved with his brother, Conor, prior to entering Positron?
  4. What is the significance of the blue teddy bears?
  5. Why is it significant that Charmaine has an affair with one of their alternates?
  6. Why do you think Charmaine is willing to kill Stan?
  7. Why do you think Jocelyn coerces Stan to watch the tapes and have repeated sex with her?
  8. What do you think Jocelyn’s full agenda is?
  9. What kind of business do you think Jocelyn and Conor are in?
  10. Do you think Aurora and Phil are happy in the end?
  11. What do you make of Jocelyn’s information at the end to Charmaine for her one year wedding anniversary?  How do you think this will affect Stan and Charmaine’s marriage?
  12. How do you interpret the title?

New York Times Book Review

NPR’s Review of The Heart Goes Last