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?