Category Archives: Readers Write

Book Group Discussion Topics

Many readers write to ask for book group discussion questions. Here are a few suggestions.  I’d love to hear what your book group discovered in the text.

  1. Brenda and her friends lived through turbulent times — the anti-war, free love, civil rights and women’s movements of the 60s and 70s in America; Rose survived the Holocaust in Europe. How did history influence their choices and philosophies?
  2. Agnes never married but had many lovers, and Lynn seems to be on a similar path. Brenda’s marriage ended in divorce, after which she had several affairs. What has prevented these women from seeking or finding a permanent relationship?
  3. Brenda and her former lover, Charlie, engage in affectionate banter about the past. What do these scenes tell us about each of them? What is Charlie’s value to the plot?
  4. Brenda’s children, Jeff and Lynn, are unfailingly devoted to her. Why? What kind of mother is she? What kind of grandmother? How do these relationships differ from Brenda’s relationships with her own parents?
  5. A violent act propels this story in Chapter 1. What other acts of violence does Brenda contend with and how do they affect the outcome of the story? What is the significance of Brenda’s memory of visiting slaughterhouses as a child?
  6. How does Brenda contend with adversity as a child, as a wife and mother?
  7. Brenda gradually comes to believe she “will never be hardy or whole again.” What leads her eventually to decide to stop fighting? Does she reach that decision because of despair, or a need for self-determination?
  8. Is Brenda religious? Does she ever exhibit faith in a higher being as a path to recovery? Lenore turns to a minister when she is recovering from breast cancer. Is faith important for other characters in the book?
  9. In the newspaper interview with Holbrook Smatter, the man who raped and maimed Brenda, is motive revealed? What do we learn about him?
  10. Brenda’s career took her around the world. Was she an adventurer or a hard-working employee fulfilling the demands of her job? Did all that prepare her for the catastrophic event that she eventually had to contend with? Or did it weaken her and make her ill-prepared to fight?
  11. Some readers see a metaphorical allusion to aging and the loss of physical beauty in the story. How are Brenda and her friends coping with these facts of life?

Readers Write: On How We Cope

We are alone – the sole captains of our own ship

“People’s lives, their innermost feelings and motivations are largely unknown to others—even to their own families. Indeed, one’s innermost emotions are often inscrutable even to oneself, with answers buried in the unspoken histories and struggles of one’s dead parents. We are not necessarily lonely, but we are alone—the sole captains of our own ship. This existential fact is pitted against the role of random, accidental, and often cruel events which affect the voyage. Brenda Corrigan’s story illuminates the universal search of the individual to understand oneself and one’s relationship with others—especially one’s family. The novel poignantly describes the efforts of loving friends and family to affect the outcome of adverse events, but without success. In the end, only Brenda herself controls the outcome, along with the unrelenting hand of time and chance.”  — Barbara Robeson

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God graciously granted Brenda the desire of her heart

“Brenda fought a good fight, a long and tiring one and she fought it with the help, strength and support of her family and close friends. As a woman who believes in the power and presence of Jesus Christ in my life, I pray that if I were faced with the challenges, pain and discomfort that Brenda faced, that I would not only have the help and strength she had from her family and friends, but that ultimately my determination to live and continue the fight would come not from within me but from Him. On my own strength and might, I am unable to do this as I am human and have limitations. I am unable to save myself, or anyone else for that matter, from all that life sends my way. But with Christ, I have hope—not in my body that is temporary, not in my circumstances that are forever changing, but in Christ. I have hope that He is with me in the midst of my pain and my suffering, and I have hope that goes beyond this life, which is fleeting. It appeared that Brenda didn’t have that hope. She was tired and weary and wanted to be “done.” . . . Brenda didn’t choose to end her life by taking it. She ended it by giving up. I believe that God is the creator and sustainer of our lives, and that it is He who determines when we are born and when we will die. So I don’t know that Brenda could have given up her own life without God being the one who graciously granted her the desire of her heart.” — Lisa Vande Wege, Director of Women’s Ministries, Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church

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I have always refused to consider [this disease] a major part of my identity

“Oh, does the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee smell good in the morning, even if I cough and sneeze sometimes while drinking it. But the coughing and sneezing are a small price to pay for having what, for me, is the perfect welcome to a new day. And I surely did miss my morning brew during those endless months of recuperation following two surgeries and radiation therapy resulting in a loss of my ability to swallow that beloved morning “fix.” I consider myself an optimist . . . Although this disease is a definite part of my physical being, I have always refused to consider it a major part of my identity. It is not the core part of my psyche. That’s not to say that I am unrealistic. I just prefer to compartmentalize that aspect of my life and put that bundle of worries somewhere “over there” while I live as best I can. Of course, sporadic moments remind me each day of my post-surgical deficits and that this disease and I are inextricably intertwined.”

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 I said I would stop living passively

“I was diagnosed in December 1982, two months after my 40th birthday. I had a mastectomy (right) in early January 1983. Later that month with my women’s support group we were discussing what changes we would make in our lives in 1983. I said I would stop living passively, would have a new job, a new man and enough money for me and my children to live comfortably. And that all happened. The job opened the door to working for WHO. The man was a strong support for the several reconstruction surgeries and is still a good friend. It took a while to get permanently on a solid financial footing, but we made it. However, after living aggressively for so many years I found in 2000 that I needed to be softer, more compassionate, less judgmental. So that is what I am working on now.” — Julie Milstien

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The meaning of life is the most urgent of questions

“I felt that Brenda was rational and thoughtful even as she explored the tragedy and absurdity of her situation (we can’t know until we’ve walked in their shoes).” — Donna Greene

also from Donna:  “I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.”   — Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

 

 

Readers Write: On Violence

We are complex products of our past

“I finished your book yesterday and I found it to be of value … reminding us that change happens continuously and we are complex products of our past. Not every trauma has a happy ending, and there was a lot of growth with Brenda and her family and friends after her “accident.” Everyone became closer, more “real.” I commend you for writing about this hostile event to this woman. You also included another invasive event … those men who broke into her home. That was also realistic. I liked the portraits of her friends, the women and Charlie. You also dealt with child abuse, a sadly common problem in our country, that needs more discussion. Bad things don’t just happen in Afghanistan!”  — Cassie Tzur

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How grateful I am for my recovery

“Having grown up in an abusive home, I could relate so well to Brenda. Her lack of trust in and intimacy with family and friends reminded me of my life before recovery in Adult Children of Alcoholics. And her decision to not fight for rehabilitation rang true to me. The vision that came to me was a tall, apparently vibrant tree that was compromised internally so that when a windstorm arrived, it could no longer stand. Brenda’s family and friends saw the solid outside and only gradually came to accept her frail core that caused her to say “enough.” Your book reminded me how grateful I am for my recovery which included coming to believe in God and trusting Him to see me through tough times. And, I can be open and vulnerable, asking for help from loved ones, partly because I have addressed my past. Of course Brenda was more complex than just a victim, coming to terms with events in her life during her final months.”

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 An experience that terrifies all women

“A great read—such a sensitive and valiant portrait of a woman who has to contend with an experience that terrifies all women … Having been through sexual violence myself, I know what that is like … Brenda’s courage is certainly a balm. Thanks for writing this story.”

 

Thank You, Dear Readers

“I spent yesterday afternoon absorbed in your profound book. I read it in one sitting. You have such well-drawn characters I feel I know them and understand their inner lives. I like the way you wove throughout the plot inner thoughts and memories that give insight into the characters’ responses. The reader was at once a confidant and observer . . . Thank you for such a fine, reflective read.”

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“I love how you weave the back stories of the characters. And as for describing the permanently single life — glad to know there are others feeling as I do. Loved the line about some women needing to be validated by a man. I’m with Agnes on that one.” [The reader refers to: I was never defined by men. Most of the women I knew needed the validation of an admiring male eye, even if the other eye was wandering.]

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“I LOVED Brenda Corrigan. Great read. Disturbing subject well handled and so important, so important to the conversation.”

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“Finished Brenda and am looking forward to the sequel. You truly captured the horrors of violence against women . . . and the healing that close friends and family provide one another.”