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  • The Tall Pine Polka
  • Written by Lorna Landvik
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780449003701
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The Tall Pine Polka

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In the small town of Tall Pine, Minnesota, at the Cup O’Delight Cafe, the townsfolk gather for what they call the Tall Pine Polka, an event in which heavenly coffee, good food, and that feeling of being alive among friends inspires both body and soul to dance. There’s the cafe owner, the robust and beautiful Lee O’Leary, who escaped to the northwoods from an abusive husband; Miss Penk and Frau Katt, the town’s only lesbian couple (“Well, we’re za only ones who admit it.”); Pete, proprietor of the Shoe Shack, who spends nights crafting beautiful shoes to present to Lee, along with his declarations of love; Mary, whose bad poetry can clear out the cafe in seconds flat; and, most important of all, Lee’s best friend, Fenny Ness, a smart and sassy twenty-two-year-old going on eighty.

When Hollywood rolls into Tall Pine to shoot a movie, and a handsome musician known as Big Bill appears on the scene, Lee and Fenny find their friendship put to the test, as events push their hearts in unexplored directions—where endings can turn into new beginnings. . . .

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Two thousand miles from Hollywood, California, Fenny Ness would have preferred any sort of date with Destiny to the one she was on now.

She was ice-skating on the frozen surface of Tall Pine Lake with Craig Asper, who, when he wasn’t falling, was trying to get Fenny to invest in his motivational tapes business.

“I get letters from guys who were on the brink of bankruptcy,” he was saying, taking Fenny’s arm as he wobbled on the ice. “Knowing that we helped them not only get back on their feet but ignited their earning power is really satisfying—makes you sort of understand how Albert Schweitzer and those other humanitarian guys felt.”

It had taken Fenny a while to understand that the many stupid things Craig Asper said were not jokes; that he did think his “Strike While It’s Hot and Earn!” tapes could perhaps save the world, or at least those interested in lighting a match to their earning power.

“Why do you make so many references to fire?” Fenny had asked earlier in the Northlands Inn dining room. This was a young man whose main interest, when she knew him at Bemidji State, had been beer, not blazes.

“Because fire is energy,” said Craig, gazing into the table’s candle flame with what Fenny thought was an interest bordering on pyromania. “Fire is power. The sun is a ball of fire and without the sun we’d die.”

Fenny waited a moment for further elaboration, but there was none, and she made the first of many surreptitious glances at her wristwatch. Fortunately, she hadn’t brought a swimsuit, so she had a good excuse for declining his invitation to take an after-dinner dip in the Jacuzzi and suggested they go ice-skating instead.

“You can rent skates from the hotel,” she said.

“Great,” said Craig, with none of his usual salesman’s enthusiasm.

Right in the middle of his lecture on buying real estate with no money down, Craig took approximately his tenth fall.

“Enough of this Hans Brinker shit,” he said, rubbing his tailbone. “Let’s go back to the lodge and have a drink.”

“Go ahead,” said Fenny. “I’m just going to skate a little longer.”

Craig Asper shrugged. “However you get your jollies.”

Fenny watched as he stumbled in his skates up the wooden walkway to the small trailer the hotel had set up as a warming house and returned the wave he gave her just before he opened the door. Then, in the long clean strides she’d been unable to use while holding up the wobbly entrepreneur, she skated around the shoveled rink and then skated around it again, backward.

“She’s fast,” said a little boy, who on double-bladed training skates was making his way around the rink with his mother. He was right; Fenny was fast, and without the burden of Craig Asper on her arm, she felt she could almost fly.

The Rainy River cuts an aquatic border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, and situated on the south bank of this river was Tall Pine. It was an aptly named town, one that inspired tourists to remember poems they had memorized in junior high school (“This is the forest primeval . . .”) and to send postcards with scribbled exclamations: “It’s like Hal and I have been set down in the Christmas tree farm of Paul Bunyan!”

International Falls, at thirty miles to the east, and Baudette, at forty miles to the west, were the nearest metropolises, and it was there that the citizens of Tall Pine did their bulk supermarket and clothes shopping, where they got their driver’s licenses renewed and their backs adjusted.

When Sigrid Ness’s mother died, she and her husband, Wally, returned to Tall Pine for what they thought would be a two-week stay, long enough to bury Lena Nordstrom and take care of her affairs.

The couple hadn’t been to their native Tall Pine since their wedding, having spent their entire married life in pursuit of international travel.

Sig was boxing up fishing lures in the general store/bait shop that had been in her family for over fifty years when Alma Forslund, a friend of her mother’s, had come in and told Sig how happy she was to see Lena’s daughter in the shop again and when was the blessed event?

“Blessed event?” said Sig, thinking for a moment that the woman was referring to the upcoming close-out sale.

Alma patted her own tummy. “It’s sort of a sixth sense of mine. I can tell when an egg’s incubating—even before the hen knows what hit her.”

The doctor who had brought Sig into the world confirmed her pregnancy.

“I’d say you’re about two months along.”

Sig merely stared at him, as if she had just been told she’d won a lottery that she thought was no longer being held.

After sixteen years of a childless marriage, Sigrid and Wally Ness assumed it wasn’t in their cards to bear fruit and multiply, and now, having conceived, they realized they were dealing from a whole new deck.

“So what about Belize?” Sig asked Wally, referring to the place that was next on their agenda.

“What about it?”

“Well, I know people have babies all over the world, but I’d like to have mine here.”

Wally took his wife in his arms. “I am so glad you said that. I want to stay here and have the baby, too. I think it’s time we settled down.”

“You don’t have to sound so apologetic,” said Sig, laughing. “I think we should settle down, too.”

Still holding one another, they laughed, in the delighted way of a long-married couple that finds they still can surprise one another.

Throughout Sig’s pregnancy, she and Wally worked on reconfiguring Nordstrom’s General Goods & Bait into two separate stores. They sold Lena’s drafty Victorian house in town and moved into the log house that Wally had inherited from his long-dead parents.

“We’re not settling down permanently,” said Sig, who with an upside-down mop dusted years of cobwebs tatted into the corners of the ceilings.

“Absolutely not,” said Wally. The couple felt a need to reassure one another that they weren’t giving up adventure, only embarking on a slightly different kind.

“Birds’ nest,” said Sig resolutely. “But they still fly.”

Wally nodded. “I don’t see any clipped wings around here.”

Fenny (her given name, Honoria, was dropped when as a toddler she had made her parents laugh and declared, “Me Fenny”) was soon to experience her parents’ wanderlust when at three weeks of age she was loaded up in the Dodge van and taken on a holiday trip through the Southwest. She spent her first Christmas at a campground outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, being rocked in front of an aspen-wood fire as a big-voiced woman from Tenafly led campers through peppy versions of “Good King Wenceslas” and “O Holy Night.”

Sig and Wally were thrilled at her arrival, but they felt the major concession—staying in Tall Pine and giving their child stability—had been made and that few other concessions in their active lives were necessary. Conversely, Fenny was included in everything. As an infant, strapped onto her mother’s back while Sig and Wally cross-country skied deep into the woods, she watched moonlight fall like blueing liquid across the snow; at six months of age, cradled in a life jacket between seats, she took her first boat ride.

The Ness family home was two miles outside Tall Pine proper, a log house whose front door faced a lake and whose back door was just yards away from a forest.

Fenny thrived there. By age six, she knew how to bait a hook and cast a fishing line, how to tie a slipknot, how to dive off the dock Wally had built. She could tell which trees belonged to the spruce family and which to the pine; she knew how to roll up a sleeping bag into a tight, neat cylinder and how to get her bearings by finding the North Star in a sky overwhelmed with pinpoints of light.

In the summer, the Ness family sat fishing until sunset striped the sky with colors, the water gently slapping the sides of the boat as orange darkened into red and red bled into dusk. In the spring, when the last of the ice gave way in big chunks, Fenny stood between her parents, watching vees of geese return from their winter vacations.

They roasted chestnuts and popped corn in campfires by Tall Pine Lake, they pitched tents in forest clearings, they carried lanterns through a frosty night to rescue a baby wolf trapped in the burlap sacks that covered the tomato plants.

When marooned inside, the Nesses’ idea of entertainment was not sitting in front of a television set (which they did not own) but holding contests in birdcalling (Sig always won—she could give a lonely loon hope), knot tying, and target practice. Sig and Wally were not hunters, both disliking the taste of game; target practice for them was more a test of skill and hand-eye coordination.

Once Lars Larson, a hunting and fishing guide and their nearest neighbor, stopped by to find Wally, Sig, and Fenny perched in three corners of the living room, casting fishing lines at a Maxwell House coffee can in the middle of the room.

“Anything biting?” he asked, scratching the back of his broad, blond head.

The Nesses had kept the bait part of Nordstrom’s General Goods & Bait and expanded on it, turning it into Wally’s Bait & Camp. It smelled of fish and worms, the hardware of new rods and reels, tent canvas and the sweat and funk of canoeists who had stopped by to share their stories after weeks spent exploring Lake of the Woods or Rainy Lake or any of the other dozens nearby.

In the summer, for fifty cents per fish, Wally cleaned the catches of neophyte fishermen and -women whom he had, hours earlier, outfitted with bait and bobs and advice on where to find biting northern and walleye pike. It was a profitable sideline, and Fenny was often called upon to help; she could scale and gut a five-pound muskie in under two minutes.

On the other side of the thick wallboard that separated the two stores was Sig’s Place, home to the craftwork of northern arti- sans. There were crocheted tablecloths; agate earrings; hand-knit sweaters patterned with reindeer and snowflakes; jars of potpourri, their fragrances dark and smelling of lake country; butter-soft moccasins, tanned, beaded, and stitched by Mae Little Feather (the most talented of her contributors but also the crabbiest); framed needlepoint samplers, their stitches immeasurably tiny; wool blankets; and patchwork quilts.

The only thing that wobbled the integrity of Sig’s Place, as far as its proprietor was concerned, was a table in the northwest corner on which perched handiwork of the church circle women. Sig had been loath to open the shop to amateurs, but she grew tired of the pressure from Benevolent Father’s Lutheran Church (known locally as B.F.), of which she was a member.

“Surely you’re aware of the reservoir of talent in our congregation,” said Gloria Murch, wife of the pastor.

Sig said no, she wasn’t aware of any such reservoir, but when Gloria had an idea, she held on to it like a pit bull and soon Sig was besieged by doodads and gimcracks and ornaments that oozed driblets of hard and opaque Elmer’s glue.

Serious customers ignored what Sig referred to as the Junk Table, but the churchwomen bought each other’s handiwork, so Sig could be certain that even a Nativity scene made of dyed Q-Tips or the bas-relief map of Minnesota constructed of multicolored macaroni shells would eventually sell.

Running their own businesses, which they did with Fenny’s help (it was she who made the stores’ bank deposits, who washed the windows until they shone, who dusted and arranged merchandise, swept and waxed floors; she who double-checked invoices, who knew when to order rods and reels, and how to bargain with Mae Little Feather without losing her shirt), engaged the Nesses, but certainly not like their passion: travel. They indulged this passion domestically (they didn’t consider Canada, right across the river, a foreign country) throughout Fenny’s childhood, taking yearly trips to far-off states during the winter, and countless weekend camping trips throughout the year.

Fenny was a cheerful and able camper until homesickness set in and she’d begin to worry if their backyard bird feeders were empty or if Sig and Wally had remembered to put the canoe in the boathouse.

Even as a small child, nothing pleased her more about their travels than the ride home, when she began to recognize the landscape around Tall Pine.

“Twees!” she’d cry excitedly, and as she got older that exclamation gave way to ones like, “Oh, it’s so beautiful here!” or “I am so happy to be home!” When she got into high school, she began making excuses why she couldn’t join them on a canoe or camping trip: “I’ve got homework” or “It’s Homecoming weekend” or “I’ve got a date.”

Sig and Wally expected a child of theirs to inherit certain qualities, and she had; she was naturally easygoing like Wally, but when pushed, could be as feisty as her mother. (“If everyone stood up for themselves,” Sig counseled Fenny, “bullies would be out of business.”) Like both of them, she had a sly sense of humor, was an excellent sportswoman and a lover of the great outdoors (particularly the outdoors surrounding Tall Pine), but as yet, she felt no compulsion to backpack through Europe, to sign on as a cruise ship dishwasher and visit different ports, to ride crowded, tilting buses up into the thin altitudes of the Andes; to do what Sig and Wally had themselves done.

This is what baffled them: How had they spawned someone who hadn’t inherited their defining trait, their spirit of adventure? How had their daughter become—it was hard for them to even say it—a homebody?

They came to the sad conclusion that Fenny didn’t answer to the call of the wild, but as Sig once said, “the purr of the tame.”

They talked over this genetic mystery as seriously as musical parents discuss an offspring’s inability to carry a tune, or athletic parents puzzle over their child’s inability to carry a ball.

“Maybe it’s something she’ll grow out of,” Wally said hopefully.

“I don’t know,” said Sig, shaking her head. “The older she gets, it seems the more she’s set in her ways.”

The Nesses had planned on resuming their journeys abroad after retirement; until then, they were content to live vicariously through their daughter’s daring and exotic travels—the only hitch being their daughter didn’t seem interested in daring and exotic travels.

After high school graduation, Fenny rebelled further against her parents wishes by enrolling in a state college close enough to commute to. She paid her tuition with a partial scholarship and money she had earned working in the shops; money Sig and Wally had hoped she would spend on airfares and youth hostel bills and tips doled out to rickshaw drivers and camel guides.

“It’s not that I don’t want to see the world,” she told her parents. “I just want to see it educated.”

“That sounds like an excuse to me,” said Sig.

Wally nodded. “You can read a book anywhere.”
Lorna Landvik|Author Q&A

About Lorna Landvik

Lorna Landvik - The Tall Pine Polka

Photo © Brian Velenchenko

Lorna Landvik is the author of the bestselling novels Patty Jane's House of Curl, Your Oasis on Flame Lake, and The Tall Pine Polka. She is also an actor, playwright, and proud hockey mom.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Lorna Landvik

Q: How did you begin this novel? Did a particular character come to you? Did you imagine the town first?


LL: As in the case of my other two books, the title came into my head and right on its tail, one or two of the main characters.

Q: How does the process of writing work for you?

LL: I try to write every day and if I'm at all blocked, I'll take a nap or eat some dessert. At this stage, it's still so much fun, I'm not blocked much. In that case, I find other excuses to eat dessert.

Q: Throughout this novel the best-laid plans seem to go awry. Did this novel end up as you envisioned it when you began writing?

LL: I really never have an ending when I begin writing. It's a big process of discovery for me.

Q: How have your own life experiences--as an actress, comedian, mother, and so forth--shaped this novel?

LL: I lived in L.A. in my twenties, performing comedy and acting, and I know what a heapin' helping of surrealism Hollywood serves up. I've seen people who I thought were out of their league succeed and people who I thought were wonderfully talented move back to their hometowns and take up dental hygiene. I wanted to write about the many paradoxes of Hollywood that I've seen. But motherhood has probably affected my writing the most in that it has opened up my heart.

Q: What inspired you to make the Hollywood invasion of a small town central to the action of this novel?

LL: I just thought it would be fun.

Q: How would you sell The Tall Pine Polka to potential book buyers?

LL: My husband's a better salesman than I--he'll corral people at bookstores and say, "Do you want to laugh and cry? Then read this book." I guess that's how I'd sell this book.

Q: How do you go about crafting a distinct voice for each character?

LL: My characters are very nice to me and come into my head fairly well-formed. The little I don't know about them, I discover as I write. Sometimes I'm afraid my characters might be a little over the top, but then I'll meet a real, live person whose eccentricities make those of my characters pale. In fact, I think all of us are pretty eccentric in our own wonderful ways.

Q: Miss Fenk and Frau Katte are a truly captivating couple. What do you think is their secret to a successful relationship in the face of tremendous obstacles?

LL: They are true to each other and to themselves despite living in a society that would prefer them not to be what they are. Love is mighty, and real love can get a person through a lot.

Q: Female friendships, such as that between Fenny and Lee, seem to be at the heart of all your work. Why is this so?

LL: I'm such a fan of women and our ability to make strong friendships. My own friendships have meant a lot to me--in fact, this book is dedicated to my two best friends, one of whom I've known since the seventh grade.

Q: The characters in this novel seem haunted by their fears, from a fear of driving to a fear of loving. How did this thematic thread become so central?

LL: I didn't know that it was a central thematic thread; I learn a great deal from my readers. But the longer I live, the more I learn about people and how they may have fears that I never even suspect. What impresses me is that I didn't know that about them. They got over their fears; they prevailed. I like that bravery.

Q: Why does Pete work so hard to hide his thriving mailorder business from the rest of Tall Pine?

LL: He's just so shy and unwilling to have any attention shone on him at all. He's even more of an anticelebrity than Fenny.

Q: If Pete had had a chance to reveal his feelings to Lee, what do you imagine her response would have been?

LL: She would have been touched and embarrassed--all those things you feel when someone likes you in a way that you can't reciprocate.

Q: You skillfully skewer artistic pretensions in this novel, perhaps most notably with the characters of Mary Gore and Christian Freed. Were these characters inspired by real people?

LL: Certainly I've met people who think art is always spelled in capital letters and that as "artists," they are a special breed. I think we're all given our gifts and we should humbly and gratefully use them to bring all of us together rather than using them to separate us.

Q: I am sure your readers are curious about Fenny's reluctance to embrace her celebrity. Why did you choose to make her such a reluctant star?

LL: Nowadays it doesn't seem to matter what people are famous for--all that matters is the fame. Fenny knows herself well enough to realize that her life isn't going to be made better by the adoration of people she doesn't know, especially for acting.

Q: Fenny's interviews with Marcy Mincus and Gerry Dale, which left both hosts incapacitated, are two of the most vivid and hilarious scenes in this novel. So please tell us what you really think about the media.

LL: I think the media is way too intrusive. We don't need to see a victim of a house fire sobbing as family members are carried out. We don't need to know that a president and his mistress play "Twister"! We don't need all this titillation. Titillation is mind- and soulnumbing.

Q: Do you think small towns such as your fictional Tall Pine are a dying breed?

LL: I would love to think that small towns are flourishing, but it does seem that they are being abandoned. What I fear is the suburbanization of the entire country.

Q: Small towns such as Tall Pine seem increasingly dependent upon tourist dollars for survival. Where do you stand on the debate over development and the "quainting up" of small-town America?

LL: I don't mind "quainting up" if it's done by mom-and-pop businesses rather than franchises. I love doing book tours and visiting places I've never been, but I have been saddened to see that Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis looks a lot like Coon Rapids Boulevard in Minneapolis. I yearn for the return of one-of-a-kind places, in both big cities and small towns, that give you a real sense of place.

Q: Your author bio mentions that you temped at the Playboy Mansion--what was that like?
LL: The word "strange" comes to mind. I felt like Margaret Mead exploring a secret culture. I typed and catalogued videotapes there in opulent surroundings--a butler served us tea and cookies at 3 P.M.--but the opulence couldn't erase the pervasive feeling that it was an icky place; women were being exploited.

Q: Did you always plan to become a novelist?

LL: As a first grader, I had a brief goal of becoming a baton twirler, but I think that I was more drawn to the fringed boots than the actual baton twirling. Since about sixth grade my career plans were very definite: I wanted to be a writer.

Q: What advice would you give writers struggling to get published?

LL: Persist! Believe in yourself and don't let someone's "no" be your final answer.

Q: What writers and works have most influenced you and why?

LL: Harper Lee, Anne Tyler, Jon Hassler, Amy Tan, Charles Dickens, Tom Wolfe, Michael Malone, Pat Conroy, John Irving--I prefer character-driven novels, especially when they take you on big, full rides.

Q: What would you like your readers to take away with them after finishing this novel?

LL: I would like them to be happy that they took this trip with me, glad to have met the characters. And it would be great if there were an afterglow, some lingering memories.

Q: Will we hear from any of these characters again?

LL: Who knows? My characters always let me know when they want a story told; if some of these people want to return, I'm sure they'll harangue me until I let them out. Q: What is next for you? Are you working on a new project?

LL: More books and the once-a-year show I write so I can get on stage.

Q: And finally, I have to ask, what is the secret ingredient in a cup of O'Delight coffee?

LL: If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret.

Praise

Praise

“Lorna Landvik has created a hilarious cast of characters. Join them at the Cup O’Delight Cafe for a good time.”
—FANNIE FLAGG

“ENDEARING . . . THIS IS A VERY FUNNY BOOK . . . It is to Landvik’s credit that comedy and tragedy blend seamlessly. . . . There is music in this story.”
USA Today

“A BIG, BOISTEROUS NOVEL THAT RARELY STOPS TO CATCH ITS BREATH . . . Landvik’s bittersweet humor and affectionate sense of place may remind readers of Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. . . . Both ladies can render even minor characters vividly three-dimensional on a flat page.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Forget about Lake Wobegone. Hands down the small town of choice is Tall Pine.”
Library Journal

“Landvik has small-town life down to a T. . . . [Her] strength has been in developing rich, unusual, and memorable characters. This book is no exception. . . . Give The Tall Pine Polka a whirl.”
The Gazette (Colorado Springs)

“Off-kilter characters with grit and humor populate this delightfully quirky novel. . . . So vivid and lively are Landvik’s characters, readers will wish they could jump in the car and go find Cup O’Delight, settle in at the counter, and join a high-energy jam session. This is another down-home winner for Landvik.”
Booklist

“[A] swift-moving romp . . . Having previously created beguiling characters in Patty Jane’s House of Curl and Your Oasis on Flame Lake, Landvik invites readers to belly up to the counter and join the regulars sipping coffee at the Cup O’Delight Cafe . . . [The Tall Pine Polka] is good-natured and zooms along, fueled by zany Minnesota energy.”
Publishers Weekly
About the Book|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

"Landvik has small town life down to a T....[Her] strength has been in developing rich, unusual and memorable characters. This book is no exception....Give The Tall Pine Polka a whirl."
--Colorado Springs Gazette

"Off-kilter characters with grit and humor populate this delightfully quirky novel....So vivid and lively are Landvik's characters, readers will wish they could jump in the car and go find Cup O'Delight, settle in at the counter, and join a high-energy jam session. This is another down-home winner for Landvik."
--Booklist

"[A] swift-moving romp ...Having previously created beguiling characters in Patty Jane's House of Curl and Your Oasis on Flame Lake, Landvik invites readers to belly up to the counter and join the regulars sipping coffee at the Cup O'Delight Cafe ...[The Tall Pine Polka] is good-natured and zooms along, fueled by zany Minnesota energy."
--Publishers Weekly

In the small town of Tall Pine, Minnesota, at the Cup O'Delight Cafe, the townsfolk gather for what they call the Tall Pine Polka, an event in which heavenly coffee, good food, and that feeling of being alive among friends inspires both body and soul to dance. There's the cafe owner, the robust and beautiful Lee O'Leary, who escaped to the northwoods from an abusive husband; Miss Penk and Frau Katt, the town's only lesbian couple ("Well, we're za only ones who admit it."); Pete, proprietor of the Shoe Shack, who spends nights crafting beautiful shoes to present to Lee, along with his declarations of love; Mary, whose bad poetry can clear out the cafe in seconds flat; and, most important of all, Lee's best friend, Fenny Ness, a smart and sassy twenty-two-year-old going on eighty.

When Hollywood rolls into Tall Pine to shoot a movie and a handsome musician known as Big Bill appears on the scene, Lee and Fenny find their friendship put to the test, as events push their hearts in unexplored directions--where endings can turn into new beginnings. . . .

Selected by the Literary Guild (R) and the Doubleday Book Club (R)

Discussion Guides

1. Does Tall Pine, Minnesota seem like a place you would like to live, or just visit? Which option would you choose and why?

2. How does Lee end up in Tall Pine from a penthouse apartment on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago? Why does she stay?

3. Slim is plagued by survivor's guilt, among other things, as a result of his war experiences. Discuss the damage he has sustained and how the healing process works for him.

4. Do you think Big Bill leads Lee on in the beginning, since he is aware that she loves him in a very different way than he loves her?

5. Why do Fenny and Big Bill hide their relationship from Lee for so long? What do you think of Frau Katte's decision to tell Lee herself?

6. How do Fenny and Lee overcome their differences? Do you think you could do the same?

7. "She hums when she's at the grill, Bill--did you notice?" says Pete as he is listing off what he loves about Lee. Discuss the things--big and small--that draw us to other people.

8. Do you think Pete would have given Lee the shoes and declared his love, had he not been interrupted by the appearance of her gun-toting ex-husband? Do you think he enjoyed the dream more than the reality of love?

9. Discuss the reasons why so many characters in this novel have a difficult time expressing their love. Why is it sometimes so hard to break through and say, "I love you"?

10. Why is Mae Little Feather opposed to Big Bill and Fenny getting married? Do you think her objections are totally unfounded? Why does she change her mind?

11. "Movie stars are regular people," says Slim. "People just get a kick out of believing they're not." Discuss the culture of celebrity in American society and how it can distort and damage lives.

12. Did the entertainment and media characters in this novel, such as Boyd Burch, Lorenz Ferre, Marcy Mincus, and Gerry Dale, remind you of any real-life figures? If so, who?

13. Fenny is a very reluctant celebrity. How do you think you would handle being thrust into the spotlight as Fenny is?

14. What do you think prompted the ornery director Malcolm Edgely's transformation on the day he died? Would it have lasted if he had not been struck down by a heart attack?

15. How do Fenny and Big Bill's fears--hers of traveling and his of driving--affect their lives? How do they overcome them? Have you ever suffered from such debilitating anxieties?

16. The denizens of Tall Pine and the visitors from Hollywood view each other with mutual distrust and suspicion in the beginning. How do their opinions of each other, once clouded by stereotypes and ignorance, change (or not) over the course of the novel?

17. Who is your favorite character? Why?

18. Why did your group select this novel?

19. How does this work compare with other works your group has read? What will you be reading next?

20. Do you think your reading group offers a kind of selfmade community like that found at Lee's cafe? How was your group formed? Why do you think it has stayed together?

21. What do you think is the secret ingredient in a cup of O'Delight coffee?

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