Excerpted from Games To Play After Dark by Sarah Gardner Borden. Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Gardner Borden. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, 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.
“Deserves to become a classic. . . . The careful crafting of this story, the diligent attention to detail and the intelligent sense of the complexities of the closest of family relationships make Games to Play After Dark an astonishingly mature achievement for a first-time novelist. It’s a book that bears rereading and thinking about, and Sarah Gardner Borden is certainly one of the new writers to watch.” —The Washington Times
“In her searing, un-put-downable debut novel, Sarah Gardner Borden brilliantly explores the darkest corners of family life.” —Marie Claire
“Games to Play After Dark springs from the gate at a rapid clip . . . effectively conveys the unrelenting nature of the crush of days that spread out before the protagonist like so much housework in need of tending. . . . Like its predecessors—Revolutionary Road and The Awakening alike—Games to Play After Dark offers an unflinching glimpse into the secret desperation of the American mother. As moving as it is disturbing, Ms. Borden’s debut is, above all, honest. With any luck, we’ll get a lot more of the same from this talented novelist in the coming years.” —New York Journal of Books
“Sarah Gardner Borden’s exciting novel reads like a thriller, but it is the menacing nature of the very ordinary that is so scary here. She gets underneath the mundane details of everyday life—All that stuff! The chores! The driving!—and reveals the real mess our expectations and desires can get us into. Kate, at the center, is deftly and affectionately drawn. The writing is confident, sharp, and exhilarating. This is an impressive debut.” —Bobbie Ann Mason, author of In Country
“An unsparingly honest portrait of one marriage’s devolution into train wreck. Borden covers it all—from the resentments that build over childcare to the sex that’s no longer fun. Reading Games to Play After Dark is as intimate an experience as reading someone’s diary.” —Lucinda Rosenfeld, author of I’m So Happy for You and What She Saw. . .
“Games to Play After Dark at first disguises itself as a story of bright young love, until Kate and Colin's marriage changes, delicately and inexorably, from a charmed union into something dark and somehow unavoidable. Sarah Gardner Borden's debut is captivating and deftly rendered—a layered, disquieting examination of family life.” —Michelle Wildgen, author of But Not For Long and You're Not You
“Brilliantly structured and impossible to put down, Games to Play After Dark is the story of a young wife and mother who struggles earnestly, messily, even violently, to understand her own discontent with a seemingly ideal existence. The novel catches you up on Kate's troubled past just as that past catches up with Kate, so by the end you feel the full force of that collision: powerful, hopeful, unforgettable.” —Robin Black, author of If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
1. Does Kate’s reaction to Colin’s proposal and the future she envisions show a lack of maturity and self-knowledge [pp. 10–11]? Does she ignore or dismiss the flaws and inequalities in their relationship? What is the significance of the following passage: “She could see that doing what he wanted was compelling for both of them, and that to resist would interfere with the sexual chemistry that served as foundation for their bond” [p. 15]?
2. How would Kate describe her treatment of her father and the reasons for it [pp. 17–18]? What details illuminate the emotional undercurrents of the father-daughter relationship and set the stage for the flashback to her childhood?
3. Why is the visit to Colin’s sister and the trip through Europe a turning point in Kate and Colin’s marriage [pp. 32-41; pp. 44–45]? Are they equally complicit in exploiting each other’s proclivities and weaknesses?
4. After several years of marriage, “Kate and Colin wandered from room to room like bored teenagers . . . . The sex got rougher, as if to compensate. And every once in a while they would fight, badly" [p. 62]. Is the boredom, lack of passion, and tension they experience a natural progression in marriage? What do Kate’s memories of these early years indicate about her need to see her marriage—and herself—in a certain light [pp. 66–67]?
5. What are the implicit and explicit messages Kate receives about femininity and sexuality during her childhood [pp. 19–22; pp. 68–71]? Do her father’s opinions about marriage and the roles of men and women and their relative value represent a particular class, time, and place? Do you find Dennis’s devotion to Kate and his condescension toward Edie reprehensible? Does Edie reinforce the lessons Kate gets from Dennis? Is she guilty of neglecting her responsibilities as a mother?
6. Discuss the combination of affection and scorn that characterizes Kate’s attitude toward her mother. Does she see Edie in a more compassionate light as the novel unfolds? If so, what accounts for this?
7. The relationship between Kate and Dennis profoundly changes when Kate enters adolescence. For Kate, “the fault, the source of their estrangement, is hers; the problem rises directly from her flighty, supplicating body” [p. 79]. Does this self-perception influence—and validate—her sexual encounters with the Anderson boys next door? Why does she choose Rudy rather than Topher as the object of her sexual drives and desires [pp. 195–207]?
8. Why does Kate exclude Colin from the events surrounding her father’s death [pp. 82–95]? Does she deliberately provoke Colin when she returns home, and if so, what is her motivation? What is the literal and symbolic significance of Kate’s breaking and cutting herself on the glass bowl?
9. As she adjusts to motherhood, Kate experiences the mixed emotions shared by many women. Do the images she conjures up (“The fatigue was like a small rodent working its way through her brain” [p. 104]) and comparison she makes between having a household and “a rare glandular disorder” [p. 105] express these feelings well or did you find them disturbing? Do the conflicts Kate and Colin deal with reflect the reality of contemporary middle-class marriage [pp. 107–132]?
10. What light does their session with the therapist shed on the sources of their anger, anxieties, and priorities as individuals and as a couple [pp. 137–148]? Do the revelations have an effect on the way they think about and interact with each other?
11. How does Kate see herself in relation to the women she works with at the Rose Center [pp. 159–164; pp. 208–213]? Does she draw parallels between their situations and the choices she’s made in her own life? How do their tales and confessions affect her interactions with Colin—including their sexual encounters [pp. 175–177; pp. 187–190]? How do you interpret Kate’s suggestion that “we should go back to that then . . . . When I respected you and you didn’t respect me. That was better” [p. 190]?
12. Why does Kate have an affair with Jack Auerbach? What role does her dissatisfaction with her life and marriage play? How does Jack’s connection to her father enhance his appeal as a friend and as a sexual partner?
13. What do Dennis, Colin, and Jack have in common? In what ways do Kate’s relationships with them blur the lines between the attachment of parent and child and the romantic feelings and intimacy shared by lovers?
14. How has Kate changed by the end of the novel? Why does she make the decision she does?
15. Does the author depict the men and women in an even handed way? Does she employ stereotypes in her portraits of the main characters? To what extent are the men seen as villains and the women as victims? Would you describe Games to Play After Dark as a feminist novel?
16. As a child, Kate internalizes the voices of the Valkyrie Valeries and they continue to haunt and taunt her throughout her life. What do the Valkyries, the mythological warrior maidens of Norse myth, and the trio of Valeries represent? What situations or emotional states trigger their appearances?
17. The ongoing chronology of the novel is alternated with flashbacks to Kate’s past. How does the focus of the flashbacks evolve as the book progresses? In what ways do the flashbacks enhance and clarify the present? What does the novel reveal about why we fall in love with the people we do?
18. Games to Play After Dark deals with the serious issue of abuse and its consequences in a direct, often harrowing manner. Why does Borden include these graphic scenes? What reasons or explanations does the novel give for domestic violence? Discuss the impact of physical abuse on the bonds among family members.
19. What associations did the title have for you before you read the novel? In what ways does it redefine and expand your understanding of the games men and women play?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit: www.readinggroupcenter.com.)