Excerpted from Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik. Copyright © 2003 by Lorna Landvik. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, 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.
A Conversation with Lorna Landvik
As Merit asked Flannery, where do you get your inspiration?
Sometimes, like Flannery, I find inspiration everywhere—from a
billboard, a snatch of music, a scent. Other times, I have no idea
where it comes from: all of a sudden, a character appears
unbidden in my head, with the urgent desire that I write about her
How did a book club end up at the center of the novel?
After the publication of my first novel, I got invited to speak at a
book club and since then I’ve been to dozens and dozens. What
always impresses me is the fun and friendship of these groups,
some of which have been together for decades, and that’s why I
decided to write about one.
In your acknowledgments you mention your visits to other book
clubs and your own book club. How did these experiences
influence your writing?
Other than inspiring me to write about a book club, my visits
to book clubs have given me the opportunity to hear firsthand
what readers think about my books. Hearing “I laughed, I
cried” is a big impetus to me to make sure the next book I
write has characters that readers will relate to, that ultimately
can make them laugh and cry. As far as my own book club is
concerned, I have learned how subjective each reader’s viewpoint
is. A book that might move one of us may leave another cold,
and yet we all share the belief that good characters are
absolutely necessary to a good book and that again enforces in my
own writing the need to write believable and compelling
What is it like to be the guest author at a book club? What was
your best experience? And worst?
It’s a lot of fun. Most book clubs I go to have the right
formula down pat—good conversation, good food, and plenty
of wine. It’s fun to have my books discussed and hear about
themes and character motivations I may never have intended,
fun to hear about characters of mine who’ve reminded a reader
of a sister or best friend, etc. I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed
all my book club visits and not one stands out as the best
(although the bigger the food selection, the happier I am).
One club discussing Patty Jane’s House of Curl had a cake decorated
with characters from that book; I’ve been to several clubs where
the members will dress like characters from one of my books.
During one meeting, while discussing Your Oasis on Flame Lake,
a book club member got to her feet and, pointing a finger at
me, shouted, “You make infidelity look good!” That was a
little disconcerting, but the vivid argument that ensued
among the members wasn’t a bad experience, but an
Do your readers ever surprise you with their insights into your
All the time. They enlighten me as to why a character acts the
way she does, what my books’ themes are, hidden meanings. . . .
I love it!
If you could invite any author, living or dead, to your book club,
who would it be?
Oh, boy, I get to pick one? Probably Shakespeare. I’d want to
know not only how he wrote so beautifully, but how he wrote so
much and was anybody helping him?
You describe Slip’s daughter Flannery as a “tattletale” and
“tabloid reporter.” Since she is the character who becomes a
published writer, is this part of the job description?
I think it was for me. As kids, my brothers got after me all the
time for being a tattletale, whereas I just thought I was telling the
What is Flannery’s novel Winter Gardens about?
I don’t know, I haven’t read it.
The story of the social movements of the l960s and early l970s is
often told from the vantage point of the radicalized youth of the
period. Why did you decide to examine the impact of this upheaval
from the vantage point of Freesia Court, an upper-middle-class
neighborhood of young families?
Whatever our age or place in society is, we’re still affected by
the times we live in. While the women in the book aren’t living in
Haight Ashbury or getting arrested at the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago, they still feel deeply about what is going
on. Slip, of course, chooses to act on her convictions, giving weight
to my conviction that, ultimately, mothers are the most radical
faction of all.
When a young man mistakes the Angry Housewives for sisters,
Audrey is offended. She feels he just thinks “every woman over the
age of fifty looks alike.” Is this the only explanation for his gaffe?
I think he was responding to their familiarity and closeness with
one another and he assumed they were related because of it.
Audrey is described as someone who “refused to ask
permission for the privilege of being herself.” Do you think this
description applies to all the Angry Housewives by the end of
I never thought of it, but yes, I’d say so. Getting older is so
culturally and cosmetically incorrect, but I think the older women
get, the more their true selves emerge.
You write that “Faith had the sharp eyes of someone who always
had to figure out where she fit in, and the quick impressions she
had of people were nearly always accurate.” How and when did
Faith’s sharp eyes fail her?
For a good part of her life, Faith couldn’t see the value of her
own true self.
Did you always know Audrey—not the obvious choice—would
be the Angry Housewife to break through Faith’s defenses?
Not until I got to that part. My characters are always surprising
me—which one chooses to do what, and how. I don’t plot out the
story and so I don’t know what’s going to happen until I get there.
Do you agree that Faith, Merit, and Kari kept their secrets,
among other reasons, to preserve an ideal of upper-middle-class
respectability, while Audrey’s wealth and Slip’s political convictions
allowed those two to avoid that particular trap?
I think respectability to Faith was all-important because she
hadn’t had any growing up. As for Merit and Kari, I don’t think the
need to appear a certain accepted way was their motivation for
keeping their secrets. Merit’s was outright fear, and Kari made an
agreement with her niece not to reveal their secret. More than
their wealth and political convictions, I think it was the strength of
Audrey’s and Slip’s personalities that gave them the confidence to
Kari waited until her brother and sister-in-law had died to tell
Julia the truth about her birth mother. Was this fair?
Probably not, but Kari’s first priority was protecting her
daughter and her daughter’s biological mother.
We don’t learn how the rest of Kari’s family reacted to this news.
I honestly don’t know that they were ever told.
Slip hopes the nation will be ready for a woman president when
her daughter grows up. Do you think that time has come?
Yes! Not only do I think we’re ready for a woman president, I
think the world is ready for a majority of women leaders. What the
world definitely doesn’t need at this point in time is more
testosterone—what we need is a lot more estrogen!
Will Faith’s sister ever come around?
I would bet that Faith will persist until she does.
Did you research this novel?
In that I have visited many book clubs and heard their stories,
yes. I also looked back to see what books were being read in certain
Which aspect of writing this novel gave you the biggest
I knew different characters wanted to tell their stories in
different ways (some speak in the first person, others in the
third); what helped corral all of this was when I figured out
each chapter heading—the book they had chosen for discussion
Which books would make your greatest-hits list?
A short list would include To Kill a Mockingbird, Handling Sin
(both of which are selections in the book), Huckleberry Finn, Great
Expectations, and maybe a book I have great affection for, the Dick
and Jane books, because they were the books that taught me how
What is your average workday like?
I like to work every day, but that doesn’t mean I do. During the
school year, I usually take a walk in the morning, come home,
make a latte, and read the papers, and then I try to settle down
and work. But I don’t stick to a regular schedule—if I have
something really important going on in the day (a lunch date,
a movie), I’ll work later in the afternoon or at night. My family’s
very accommodating and I’ve also learned to write among them,
What do you do when the words won’t come?
I get up, find the chocolate, and if that doesn’t help, I might
read and see if someone else’s ability to tell a story can help fire
Are you working on a new project?
A: Yes. Once I finish a book another one’s usually right there, ready
to be written.
1. READING GROUP QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. During the sixties and seventies, the Angry Housewives smoked cigarettes and threw back highballs—even while pregnant—without knowledge of the harm it could do. If they could have glimpsed their futures then, what do you think would have surprised them most about their future selves? What is one thing you know now that you would have really appreciated being aware of ten years ago?
2. Why do you think groups like AHEB—women who live near each other, raise children together, and bond over books together—persist even in a climate of working moms and in a culture that is flooded with other types of media?
3. Discuss Faith’s letters to her deceased mother. What kind of catharsis do they provide Faith, and how do the tone and nature of the letters change as the years go by?
4. Audrey gets a kick out of introducing Kari to strangers as a recently released convict. Discuss the women’s jokes, nicknames, and embarrassing moments—how does humor work to solidify friendship?
5. Kari faces a critical decision when Mary Jo forbids her from telling Anders that the baby is his grandchild. Would you be able to keep such a secret? For which character is this secret most constructive; for which is it most destructive?
6. The women suggest that Slip thinks that by wearing revealing clothes Audrey perpetuates her role as a sex object and “subverts [her] real self.” Audrey replies that she takes no one’s opinion into account when she dresses—she simply likes it. How much does physical appearance burden or bless the women in AHEB? Do you think it is easy to make generalizations regarding persons who dress provocatively?
7. Faith becomes a guardian figure after staying up with the gun waiting for Eric Iverson’s return, and keeping watch over Slip in the hospital bed, prepared to confront the Grim Reaper. What do you think are her conscious or subconscious motivations for being ever watchful?
8. Audrey has a talent for sensing upcoming events. In what ways do her capabilities influence how she deals with her family? Does it differ from how they affect her friendships? How much do you believe in psychic phenomena? Would being endowed with such a gift help or hinder one’s decisions?
9. Merit is ashamed that a part of her believes her mother’s statement that her brave Aunt Gaylene--happily unmarried, fulfilled with friends and books--was “living half a life.” What sides of Merit’s character produce these contradictory feelings? How do you think the other women of AHEB would respond to this opinion, and why?
10. At the AHEB meeting for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the women toast their favorite and most influential teachers. In what other ways does the act of teaching influence the relationships in this novel?
11. Slip and Audrey allow a conflict between their children to seriously harm their friendship for a short time. If you ever had the desire to openly criticize a friend because of the way he or she raised a child, would you do so? How does Landvik’s portrayal of differing parenting techniques and the children they produce function as social commentary within the novel?
12. What do you think caused Faith to (almost absent-mindedly) bring Audrey to Trilby? How did confronting Beau’s sexuality help her have the strength to confront the reality of her own past?
13. Merit attributes her quiet acts of rebellion--trash rolled up furtively in her hair, choosing only banned books for AHEB meetings--to her maintenance of sanity during her years of marriage. What do you make of these coping methods? How do they compare to the methods of the other women in AHEB? Discuss your own strategies for staying lucid and balanced when confronted with situations that can be unbearable.
14. Kari and Mary Jo both question the timing and content of their admission to Julia after it’s too late. Do you think it would have been wiser to have Julia grow up knowing the truth, or perhaps never knowing at all? How do you feel about Kari’s impromptu decision to come clean in front of Mary Jo and without her prior knowledge? Was Julia right to be so upset?
15. How do you feel about the later inclusion of Grant as a member of AHEB? Did you think the inclusion of a male affected their particular group dynamic? What is valuable about inviting men to participate in women’s dialogue?
16. Merit eventually finds Paradise, literally and figuratively. Do you believe that good things come to people who wait?
17. At the peace march, Fred states that, “Only by trying to help someone else save their life could I save my own.” What do you make of this statement considering the horrors he experienced during the war? Do other characters in the novel embody or contradict this notion? Are certain characters better described as saviors than saved?
18. How are midwestern values portrayed in this book? In what ways might the book have differed if it had been set in the northeast or the south?
19. Slip is described throughout the book as the strongest--physically--of the Angry Housewives, in addition to her dynamic will and stalwart convictions. What emotions are stirred when someone who is perceived as invincible suddenly becomes critically ill? How does she continue to display conviction and energy? Do you think she will prevail?
20. Audrey says she believes in luck and God acting in tandem. What events in her life do you think contributed to this belief? How much weight do you give this sentiment regarding your own life? Do you think people tend to attribute life’s painful events more to luck or to God? What about the joyous events?
21. Did you like the format of the book? How did giving every character the opportunity to voice their thoughts support the all-for-one and one-for-all theme of the book and the club itself?
22. This book covers a lot of ground, both personal and political. What do you think the most important lesson these women learn over thirty years is? Which characters were most ripe for change with the political and cultural tide? Whose story did you think most embodied the emergence of women as a growing force outside the home?
23. In order to attain a greater understanding of herself, Faith utilizes therapy, learns from her friendships and culls inspiration from books. How do these three supplement each other as means of self discovery? Which books and authors have inspired you most through the years?
24. What did you think of Merit’s idea to unite mothers around the world to stop war and halt violence? Were you surprised this notion came from her?
25. Slip tells Merit that re-dubbing their book club Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons would be taking their husbands’ words and “giving them and their chauvinism the finger.” What other subversive techniques do the women display for giving chauvinism the finger? Do you feel it’s an apt name for the club and all it turns out to be?
26. Discuss Kari’s notion that her heart was able to put itself back together after the loss of Bjorn much like a lizard that can regenerate a tail. Do you think this sort of regeneration would have ever been possible without the arrival of Julia?
27. Marjorie McMahon has a plethora of nicknames: Slip, Warrior Bear, the Big Kahuna; and she is called everything from a leprechaun to a member of a “bloodstained group of nuts.” What in her character lends itself so well to these various labels? Which do you think is the most accurate?
28. What do you think about Merit’s final interaction with Eric Iverson? Was the slap beneath her or just what he deserved?
29. How does AHEB compare to your book club? Are there any ideas in the novel, like themes for meetings, which you’d like to incorporate?
30. Which character was your favorite? Was she or he the one you identified most with?
31. A number of the characters in the book harbor secrets. What does secret-keeping do to characters like Faith and Fred, who fear their actual secrets as opposed to Kari or Beau who fear the reactions of others?