Lisa always worried tragedy would befall her. It was a given according to her grandmother whose voice was in Lisa’s head even after she died. Just when Lisa had forgotten all about those negative warnings, she suffered a deep loss – her great love died in a car crash while trying to avoid a deer.
Marika was a struggling black, single mother when she and Lisa met. She still nurtured her dream of becoming a dress designer, yet her prospects were slim. She was working in a daycare center and lived in poverty. She burned with rage and disappointment.
Ivy thinks she is a happily married woman living the life she’d always wanted. She had a husband and daughter she adored and didn’t have a hint that anything was wrong. Needless to say, she was shocked when her husband, David, came home from work one day and told her he didn’t want to be married anymore.
Change was in the air – there was the possibility of an equal rights amendment; abortion was legalized, the blistering summer of riots the death of Martin Luther King brought racial tension into the public’s consciousness, and there was the belief that the protest over an unjust war would in fact stop it. The music was of hope and change, and just good old rock and roll.
How do these broken-hearted women reconnect to the world around them? Catch a ride on the winds of change? Remake their lives and make new dreams? Find the happiness they thought had eluded them?
1. From the very beginning, we are introduced to a Lisa full of contradictions. Why do you think she internalized the superstition and fatalism of her family – ‘you sing in the morning, cry in the afternoon,’ and a happiness thief is waiting to pounce – with an optimism born out of the times and her confidence in her ability to change things in the world? What impact do you think her family had in eroding her confidence? What impact does it have on her actions?
2. Family relationships play an important role in all the characters’ lives. Lisa and Ivy both have better relationships with their fathers than mothers; as an orphan Marika has no one; Mac has a disappointing mother and father; in David we get a glimpse of a mother with an authoritative nature. The women find surrogates in Isabela, Aunt Kate, and Mrs. Daniels. What impact did this have on the way they walked through the world? The relationship with their fathers feels strong and supported. Why then does Lisa let her men chose her rather than the other way around? And why does Ivy make herself subordinate to David?
3. The subject of home is another recurring theme. “Home was home. When you lose that, your life is upended, it changes you forever.” Grandma’s home was burned down and she was forced to live in a new country; Marika was uprooted from a loving home when her parents died; Lisa’s home was unlivable without Mac; Ivy lived in the same house as she did when she was with David, but felt rootless. Lisa tries to make a home for women who need one. What is the nature of home in both psychological and physical terms? What does it take to rebuild the concept of ‘home’?
4. Lisa’s grandmother’s voice is annoying yet she gives some compelling advice. Why does Lisa need to keep her connection to her grandmother alive? Is she in some way a moral compass for Lisa?
5. Lisa is colorblind. She seems unfazed by the conversations in her house about race. Does Lisa identify with Marika? Why do you think they formed such an immediate bond? What do you think each had to gain from the friendship?
6. The political backdrop of the story is important to the trajectory of the characters’ lives. The upheaval in cities was hard to ignore. Lisa tried to overcome her disappointment in political rhetoric by trying to do something specific. How did each of her political activities move her closer to her expectations? From Marika’s point of view, she doubted any good would come of it. Certainly, nothing that would make her life any better. Ivy tried to maintain the status quo. All of the above was true and not true. What was the real impact of the culture on each of their lives? And what actions did they take to feel they were making a difference?
7. David and Mac have different personalities, yet they share common traits. Why is Lisa drawn to controlling men? What are the reasons for her attraction to them? How can she extricate herself from that pattern? Do you think Lisa would have been happy with Mac had he lived?
8. Why does Lisa keep Nicky Ianelli in her life despite the risks?
9. Albany smolders with racial unrest. All the kindling is there for a huge melee. Homes are bulldozed. There is unequal education. There is a discrepancy in justice between black and white. Previously a leader of the Brothers, Louis Vanderholt is a disappointed old man. How does he change?
10. The idea that women are inherently buoyant, that they find a way to survive whatever has befallen them, is an important theme. How does this manifest itself the different generations of women in this book?
11. The concept of a physical women’s center is overlaid with emotional connection. Though the building is the point of contact, what do you see happening in the relationships of the women who have made it their community and why?
12. Each character has found his/her own way. Were any of the decisions surprising? Disappointing? Inevitable?