Excerpted from Loose Lips by Rita Mae Brown. Copyright © 2000 by Rita Mae Brown. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
1. In the novel’s opening pages, Louise is stuck on the roof and asks Juts to bring her the ladder so she can get down. Juts insists she won’t help unless Louise hands over her Easter hat. How would you describe the relationship between the Hunsenmeir sisters? How does their wisecracking reveal their affection for each other?
2. Chapter Two introduces the glamorous and quixotic Celeste: “Celeste Chalfonte, beautiful, willful, and in her middle sixties, unfolded the linen napkin on her lap. Across from her, Ramelle Chalfonte–her lover of thirty-nine years and the wife of Celeste’s brother, Curtis–did the same.” How does the world of Celeste and Ramelle compare to that of the other characters? What do all of Runnymede’s residents have in common?
3. When Juts and Louise are arrested for a disturbance at Cadwalder’s drugstore, they must find a way to pay $398 in damages. What do their schemes, and the venture they eventually decide to undertake, say about their personalities?
4. Describe the relationship between Chessy’s mother and Juts. What does Mrs. Smith believe about the Hunsenmeirs? How does this increasingly become problematic for Chessy? What does he do about it?
5. What motivates Extra Billy Bitters to drive Mary toward Baltimore? What motivates Mary to fire a gun out the window? Are Louise’s beliefs about Billy and Mary grounded in any truth? How did you react when Billy crashes into the statue of Yankee general George Gordon Meade?
6. How do Buster and Yoyo, Juts’s dog and cat, create a scene at Christ Lutheran Church? Describe how the personification of these animals contributes to the novel’s tone.
7. In a moment of anguish, Celeste wonders if she needs a fling: “One last quest. A quest is a pursuit, she thought, her hand reaching for the chrome door handle. What is to pursue, for what could be worth having that would flee you? Whatever is worth having is within, and if you find it, others will come to you. Pursuit is antithetical to gain.” Do you agree with Celeste’s thinking? How does Celeste’s introspection end with humor?
8. What happens when Chessy takes dance lessons from Trudy Archer? Was it inevitable for Juts to learn of Chessy’s infidelity?
9. Why does Hansford Hunsenmeir suddenly arrive in Runnymede? Why has he been gone all these years? How do Cora and the girls feel about his coming back? Have you ever had an estranged relative or friend suddenly re-enter your life? If so, how did it affect you?
10. How successful are the sisters with the Curl ‘n’ Twirl? Does it help that Paul labels a big blackboard “Gossip Central”? How do Juts and Louise encourage kids to come in for haircuts? How does Junior McGrail stay in business?
11. When Mary reveals that she is pregnant, why does Juts try to persuade Louise about what to do?
12. What is the reaction in Runnymede to news that America has entered the war? How did you react to the fire at Moe Nojo’s meat packing plant? What is the significance of the novel’s title in these chapters? Could this narrative have taken place in another time?
13. What does Juts long for? What does Josephine Smith think about having an adopted grandchild? What is the cause of Chessy’s mother’s hostility? Have longstanding family feuds played a part in your own family history? If so, do both sides remember the original grievance?
14. What happens when Juts and Wheezy pull duty for the Civil Air Patrol? Do the sisters reveal their mistake? When Chester leaves Trudy, was his marriage to Juts likely to survive? How do Juts and Chessy manage to become parents?
15. Why does Cora pay Josephine a call? Why does Josephine tell her, “I died those long years ago”? Does Josephine ultimately recognize Nickel as a member of the family?
16. How does Juts feel about being a mother? Why do you think she lets Rillma visit Nickel? What does Louise have to say about it? What is significant about the way Nickel finds out that she was adopted?
17. How does Louise feel about Maizie’s marrying Vaughn? By the novel’s closing pages, how do Juts and Louise feel about marriage and children? Describe Juts’s theory about the “memory bank.” Do you feel similarly about passing on knowledge and experiences to future generations? Do you have an image or metaphor you use in your family to describe leaving a legacy?