A rich and rewarding story of love, loss, and the power of family from the bestselling author of Bad Mother and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.
In the aftermath of a devastating wedding day, two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, find their lives unraveled by unthinkable loss. Over the course of the next four summers in Red Hook, Maine, they struggle to bridge differences of class and background to honor the memory of the couple, Becca and John. As Waldman explores the unique and personal ways in which each character responds to the tragedy—from the budding romance between the two surviving children, Ruthie and Matt, to the struggling marriage between Iris, a high strung professor in New York, and her husband Daniel—she creates a powerful family portrait and a beautiful reminder of the joys of life.
Elegantly written and emotionally gripping, Red Hook Road affirms Waldman’s place among today’s most talented authors.
Excerpted from Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman. Copyright © 2010 by Ayelet Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Excellent. . . . A compelling, unique story. . . . Grabs the reader right away.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Lovely. . . . Memorable. . . . Waldman’s vivid writing makes the reader feel a part of both the wildly beautiful Maine coast and two families’ heart-crushing grief.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“Waldman writes beautifully. . . . [She] keeps her eyes on the road, carrying us into dark territory with wisdom and grace.” —The Washington Post
“You won’t be able to tear yourself away.” —Real Simple
“This beautiful novel shows us how families cope with the most painful kinds of loss and reminds us that even as grief fractures, it can pave the way for unexpected grace.” —Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and Songs Without Words
“Waldman knits [relationships] together with the pleasing symmetry of a doily. . . . She also constructs an impressive parallel between the vocations of shipbuilding and playing a stringed instrument. . . . Readers will enjoy the ride.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Articulately plumbs the depths of the parent-child bond with clarity and intense feeling.” —USA Today
“Waldman writes with practiced skill. . . . It’s a love story, a tragedy, a family saga, as well as a novel about class conflict that pits two stubborn, controlling women against one another.” —The Boston Globe
“Terrific. . . . Waldman’s prose style is lovely and fresh. . . . This book made me happy, and happy to be alive.” —Pat Conroy, Amazon.com Review
“With the careful attention of a movie director, Waldman renders a panoramic scene of a wedding. . . . Lyrical descriptions.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“A handbook offering all the varieties of responding to loss. . . . A literary puzzle with rich and emotional rewards. . . . Delicate and insistent. . . . Red Hook Road proves life and art are worth it.” —Bookslut
“[An] engagingly complex examination of two close families.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Moving. . . . [A] wise and beautifully written book.” —Downeast.com
“Searing. . . . All of the characters are acutely rendered. . . . One of the pleasures of the book is in its detailed description of work: boat building, boxing, teaching and learning music. Sometimes, it suggests, what saves us is the work of our stubborn hands.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Elegant and riveting. . . . A masterful imagining of the way a single tragic event impacts the psyches and behaviors and dynamics of two families.” —Kelly Korrigan, author of The Middle Place and Lift
1. Red Hook Road hinges upon an almost unimaginable and unfathomable tragedy. Was it easy or difficult for you to accept the book’s premise?
2. Think about this statement by Mary Lou, the librarian at the Red Hook Library: “Half the relationships I know are really support groups in disguise.” How does Mary Lou’s assessment apply to the relationships in Red Hook Road?
3. Talk about Iris and Jane. Are they similar to one another in any way? What was at the root of Jane’s intense dislike of Iris?
4. During Iris’s visit, Connie says, “Most of us could use an asylum sometimes. A refuge from the world,” (page 239). Talk about all the different forms of sanctuary taken by key characters. Do these “escapes” help anyone deal with their grief?
5. What is your definition of “family?” Does marriage play a part in forming familial bonds, or is family created purely through blood connections? What does family mean to different characters in Red Hook Road?
6. During “The Second Summer,” Ruthie wants to turn the family’s traditional Fourth of July party into a celebration of the lives of Becca and John. What did you think of Ruthie’s idea? Can you understand why Iris rejected it?
7. Think about the comfort that people take in following traditions; can rituals help people, like the Copakens and Tetherlys, move forward after a setback, or even a tragedy? Did having the party each summer after Becca and John’s deaths ultimately help or hurt Ruthie?
8. Discuss Iris’s father, Mr. Kimmelbrod, particularly the hardships he endured as a young man. In “The Second Summer,” Kimmelbrod reproaches himself for not offering Iris more comfort after the unveiling at the cemetery. Do you think that experiencing great sadness automatically equips a person to console others?
9. Mary Lou the librarian offers this piece of advice as Ruthie considers whether to return to Oxford: “Nothing one does in one’s twenties, short of having a child, is irrevocable,” (page 196). Was this advice something Ruthie wanted to hear, needed to hear, or both? Do you agree with Mary Lou’s sentiment?
10. Consider Samantha’s role in Iris’s life. Would Iris have felt the same way toward Samantha had Becca not died? Was Samantha a representation of the daughter that Iris lost, or the daughter Iris never was herself?
11. Did you guess that Iris would circumvent Jane and approach Connie with the idea of moving Samantha to New York City to pursue her musical studies? Had you been in Iris’s position, would you have done the same thing?
12. Reread the book’s Prelude and Coda, which describe parts of John and Becca’s wedding before they get into the limousine. What was the author’s intent in opening and closing the novel in this way, do you think? Did this device enhance your reading of Red Hook Road?
13. Were you surprised when Daniel left Iris? Given the depths of their sadness and the state of their marriage at the time Daniel moves out, did you expect Iris would have been less shocked than she was?
14. Talk about Iris’s decision to list Becca by her maiden name on the grave marker, despite Becca’s decision to change her last name to Tetherly after she and John married. What does this decision say about Iris, and her relationship with her late daughter? Do you agree with what she did?
15. Throughout the book we learn about Becca and John through flashbacks and remembrances by some of the book’s characters. Would you have preferred to learn about them first-hand, in real time?
16. What does music represent in Red Hook Road? Is it a source of joy or sorrow? A way to hide, or a means of expression?
17. Did you identify with any of the characters? Which one(s), and why? Do you feel it was necessary to have experienced tragedy in order to appreciate what each of the characters in Red Hook Road goes through as they deal with their losses?
For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit http://www.readinggroupcenter.com.