Thursday, May 3, 2012

Reading Guide

If you’re in a book group and are looking for some questions to spark discussion–or if you’d simply like some ideas to ponder on your own–here are some suggestions:

1. Each of the mothers in The Mother Daughter Show desperately wants to connect to her teenage daughter, while the teenage daughters seem desperate to avoid that connection. Do the conflicts and estrangements between the mothers and daughters seem realistic? Would the relationships have been different if the children in question had been boys instead of girls? Or if the parents had been fathers?

2. Amanda, Barb, and Susan have troubled relationships with their own mothers. In what ways do those relationships influence their interactions with their daughters? Are there patterns of interaction that repeat themselves from one generation to the next? Are the characters themselves aware of such patterns? Are they consciously trying to replicate their mothers’ behaviors, or are they trying to depart from them? In general, do you think parents adopt their parenting styles in imitation of their own parents, or in reaction against them—or both?

3. To what extent do you think this is a universal story of mothers and daughters, and to what extent is it rooted in the culture of an elite private school?

4. Why do you think the mothers care so deeply about the Mother Daughter Show? Is their obsession with the show related in some way to the difficulties they’re having with their daughters?

5. The friendship between Amanda and Susan is tested by conflicts over the Mother Daughter Show that seem to exacerbate preexisting tensions between the two women. Where do those tensions stem from? Is it difficult to maintain a friendship with someone who is in a different situation from yourself—for example, someone who has devoted herself to a career while you’ve been home with your kids, or vice versa—or whose personality differs from yours in significant ways? Or are there friendships that thrive on such differences?

6. One theme in the book is Amanda’s search for meaningful work after twenty years as a stay-at-home mom. Do you sympathize with her yearning to find such work, or do you feel she’s being self-indulgent? Do you share Susan’s view that Amanda has boxed herself into a corner by not even working part-time for twenty years? Or do you understand the choices she’s made?

7. The teenage daughters’ world is left somewhat opaque, visible primarily through a few terse text messages they send each other. How do you think each of them sees her mother? What will their relationships with their mothers be like in five years? Ten? Twenty? Do we generally become more or less judgmental of our parents as we grow older? How do our views of them change?

8. Some readers might characterize the mothers’ interactions as “catty.” Would you agree? If so, which characters do you think are guilty of cattiness, and why? How would you define the word catty? Is it a word people use to describe conflicts between women generally, or does it refer to some behavior that’s more specific than that? Do men ever engage in behavior that could be called catty, or is it something peculiar to women? Can you think of adjectives that are used to describe conflicts between men the way that “catty” is used to describe conflicts between women?

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