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Written by Lorna LandvikAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Lorna Landvik


List Price: $9.99


On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 368 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41770-1
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Megastar of stage, screen, and television, Geneva Jordan now has a command performance in Minnesota, where she agrees to look after her thirteen-year-old nephew, a boy with Down’s syndrome, while his parents take a long-overdue vacation. Though Geneva and her sister, Ann, are as different as night and day (“I being night, of course, dark and dramatic”), Geneva remembers she had a family before she had a star on her door. But so accustomed is she to playing the lead, finding herself a supporting actress in someone else’s life is strange and unexplored territory. Then the discovery of an old scrapbook that she and her sister created long ago starts her thinking of things beyond fame. For The Great Mysterious is a collection of thoughts and feelings dedicated to answering life’s big questions—far outside the spotlight’s glow. . . .


All right, so I'm a diva. There are worse things--a
mass murderer, a bigot, a telephone solicitor.
I'm surprised my sister even uses the word as an
insult. Why should I be offended by the truth? My
dictionary defines diva as "a distinguished female singer." I certainly
am that.The word, however, is cross-referenced with prima
, defined as "a temperamental person; a person who takes
adulation and privileged treatment as a right and reacts with petulance
to criticism or inconvenience."

Well, I might ask, who likes criticism or inconvenience? And
why shouldn't one take privileged treatment as a right? A little
self-esteem is not a bad thing. Ann, for instance, could use a serious
infusion of it.

Throughout my life I have heard the question, "Are you really
twins?" It's an understandable query; Ann and I are as different as
the proverbial night and day. Ann once elaborated on that analogy
in an interview, describing me as being night--dark and dramatic,
living among stars--and herself as light and plain and
about as exciting as an afternoon nap.

We're fraternal twins, obviously, and don't share that spooky,
ESPy you're-my-other-half thing identical twins do. Ann and I
are more like sisters who could have been born years apart if
Mom hadn't been such an industrious egg layer.We're very close
and have shared everything from chicken pox to clothes to deep
secrets, but when I look at Ann face-to-face, I don't see my mirror
image. In fact, if I looked at Ann right now, what I'd see is a
big pest.

For those of you who don't know me (where the hell have you
been living, in a cave with no TV or cable access?) I am Geneva
Jordan, star of stage, screen (unfortunately, my theatrical schedule
hasn't allowed me to do hardly any of the movies I've been offered),
and television (if you didn't see me accept my Tony award,
I'm sure you've heard my voice singing the Aromati-Cat cat litter
and Chef Mustachio Frozen Pizza jingles). Recently I just ended a
year and a half's run in the title role of <i>Mona!</i>, a musical about
DaVinci's mysterious model.

She's a gal with a crazy half smile, she's Mona Lisa!
Oh,what I wouldn't do to get a piece a . . . that Mona Lisa!

You'll have to trust me that the music is so catchy, the lyrics actually

My role as Mona Lisa brought me my second Tony, a cover story
in New York magazine, and a relationship with Trevor Waite, my
costar. My role as Mona Lisa and its resulting dividends, especially
my relationship with Trevor Waite, is also what brought me close
to mental and physical collapse. Which made my sister's request
all the more preposterous.

"Please," she begged over the phone, changing her tack from
insulter to supplicant. "Riley and I need this time together."

"I'm not arguing that, Ann. It's where I come in as baby-sitter
that I'm objecting to."

"You're Rich's godmother."

"I'm aware of that, Ann. But godmother does not mean rescuer."

"Then what does it mean?"

I looked at my watch. I didn't have to be anywhere for another
hour, but she didn't have to know that. "I have to run, Ann. I've
got a hair appointment."

"What does it mean?"

"Listen, Ann, I don't--"

"Quit calling me Ann."

"That's your name, isn't it?"

"Yes, but whenever you're in one of your I'm-right-and-you're-
wrong modes, you overuse my name. Like a cranky old
schoolmarm or something."

"First I'm a diva and now I'm a cranky old schoolmarm. Nice
talking to you too, Ann."

I could hear her protests as I hung--okay, slammed--the receiver
back in its cradle.

She called back immediately, not grasping the concept of a dramatic
exit. I let my machine pick it up.

"Geneva," she said, "please. I'm sorry. I don't know where else
to turn. Please pick up....Please help me, Dee."

Oh, that was low. Dee was a reference to the childhood nicknames
bestowed on us by our Grandma Hjordis.

"It's Tweedledee and Tweedledum!" she used to say in her Norwegian
accent, "my favorite twin grandchildren in the world!"

We were her only twin grandchildren, but she made us feel that
we couldn't have been surpassed by quintuplets.

She lived next door to us, and her home was a cinnamon-roll-smelling
haven for my sister and me, a place where she played
endless games of Hangman and War with us and let us upend all
her furniture cushions to make elaborate igloos (when we played
Roald Amundsen discovering the South Pole) or wigwams (when
we played Leif Eriksson discovering America). She had a canoe in
the backyard that we'd pretend was the Kon-Tiki.

Grandma Hjordis was a Norwegian nationalist to the core and
never let an opportunity pass to indoctrinate her granddaughters
in the robust history of her homeland and its explorers.

"Try not to be afraid of new things," she advised. "The world is
more fun if you're not a scaredy-cat."

When she died suddenly, breaking our fourteen-year-old hearts,
we buried her nicknames for us with her, and only brought them
out in moments of crisis.

I picked up the phone.

"All right," I said, my voice a concentrate of exasperation. "You
have a one-minute extension. Don't think I'm saying yes. I'm just
saying I'll listen to you--for one more minute."

"Okay," said Ann eagerly, like a game show contestant heading
for the bonus round. She took a deep breath. "You know how hard
Riley works--my gosh, you don't get to be chair of the English
department without working hard--"

"You're not telling me anything new, Ann."

"Your interruptions don't cut into my time, do they?"
I sighed. "Get to the point,Ann."

"Okay, okay. Anyway, this is a chance for us to be together--
alone--for the first time since Rich was born, Geneva. Thirteen
years! And in Italy, Geneva--Italy!"

I sighed again. "Can't Mom fly up?"

"You know her hip is still bothering her. And how can she leave

After a lifetime of good health, our parents, now living in a retirement
community in Arizona, had finally drawn the sorry-you-lose
cards. Mom had had hip-replacement surgery the previous
summer, and Dad was recuperating from a mild stroke that affected
his balance and sometimes his memory. These old-age infirmities
were certainly no fun for them. Still, didn't they realize
their problems were a big inconvenience for the rest of us? (Don't
sic AARP on me--I'm just joking.)

"All right, all right."

"You mean all right as in you'll do it?"

I laughed--inappropriately, I suppose. "God, no. I meant all
right as in don't talk anymore."

"My minute's up?" Sometimes my sister is far too literal for her
own good.

"Ann, I'll get back to you by the weekend, okay?"

"With an answer?"

"No, with an Ole and Lena joke."

Ann ignored my sarcasm.

"Thanks, Geneva."

"I haven't said yes yet," I reminded her.

"I know, but thanks anyway."

I hung up quickly; her gratitude actually seemed to have heat,
and my ear burned from it.

I grabbed my cashmere coat--one of the presents Trevor had
given me that he hadn't repossessed.When we had broken up, I
threw my engagement ring at him, never thinking for a minute
that the tightwad wouldn't give it back.

I guess he wasn't really cheap--he did spend a lot of money on
me--but he often tainted the gift-giving experience by telling me
what wildly expensive thing he was <i>going</i> to get me before presenting
me with a less expensive substitute that somehow "said Geneva
louder." Cashmere said Geneva louder than mink.A picnic in Central
Park said Geneva louder than lunch at the Four Seasons. Once
we were browsing through a rare-book store, and the first edition
of Marjorie Morningstar said Geneva louder than the first edition of
The Great Gatsby.

"You're so much more Marjorie than Daisy," he had said, taking
out his credit card to pay for the book, which conveniently happened
to be about three hundred dollars less than the one I
wanted. I suppose I sound ungrateful, but really, it hurt my feelings
that everything that said Geneva was second-best.

Outside the air was brisk and everyone was moving in the usual
out-of-my-way-or-I'll-trample-you pace I love so well. Autumn
in New York--my favorite time of year in the city. You can see
why they wrote a song about it. On that day it was as if all of Manhattan
was still in the back-to-school state of mind that had begun
in September, busy and energized and full of big plans and bigger
ideas. A person's senses were cranked up: colors seemed sharper,
noises louder, and smells from hot dog and pretzel vendors' carts
positively aromatic. And yet in the midst of all this a slight melancholia
seemed to filter through the city skies, making everything
seem . . . I don't know, somehow tender.

A fan stopped me outside of Tiffany's.

"Geneva Jordan!" she said in that surprised tone that made me
feel I was less a human than an apparition.

I fluttered my fingers in a wave, hoping that was enough for her.
It wasn't.

"Will you sign my--" She looked at her armload of packages
for something to write on. "My Tiffany's bag?"

"Only if I can keep what's inside."

She looked stricken for a moment, until I reassured her I was
only joking.

I always have pens in my coat pockets; it speeds up the process.
She handed me the bag, and for a minute I thought about running
off with it and giving her a really good scare, but instead I politely
asked her name.

"Beth," she said. "I read about you leaving Mona!, which, by the
way, I loved you in. Not as much as I loved you in Sunny Skies or
The Wench of Wellsmore, but still, those scenes between you and
Trevor Waite--"

"How kind of you to say so," I said, capping my pen and giving
her back her Tiffany's bag. "Now I must run--nice talking to you!"

I raced off as quickly as I could on my three-inch-heel boots.
These fans will stand around and yak all day if you let them, telling
you what they've liked about your career and what they haven't--
as if you've been waiting all your professional life for their critique.
Don't get me wrong--I'm not above my fans. I just like
them a whole lot better when they stick to flattery.

"Miss Jordan!" said Wendy the receptionist, as if I'd caught her
doing something she shouldn't have been doing. "We didn't expect
you until two-thirty!"

"I had to get out of the house," I said, draping my coat over the
faux leopard couch. "Can Benny take me early?"

"Of course I can, darling," said Benny, picking up his cue far
better than some actors I've worked with.

He rushed over to me, giving me a big smooch on the lips. "I
just kicked Claudette Pehl out of my chair. I told her, 'Darling, I
don't care if your hair's still wet--I've got more important clients
to attend to.' "

"Sure you did, Benny," I said. Claudette Pehl was only the fashion
model of the moment, all seventeen years and sixty-eight
pounds of her.

"Coffee?" he asked, taking me by the hand and leading me into
the salon, "with a dash of Bailey's?"

"A big dash."

Lou Reed was blasting through the salon's sound system--
at Hair by Benny, nothing was done in baby steps. Each chair
was upholstered in some faux jungle animal skin and most often
occupied by somebody recognizable. Polly York, the PBS news
commentator, was getting foiled in Martin's chair, and over in
Andre's, Gina Bell, the ice skater, was getting one of her signature
pixie cuts.

After I changed into a cotton smock printed with tiger stripes
(every smock matches its chair; kitschy, but what the hell, that
was part of the fun of Benny's) and got shampooed by one of those
sullen girls whose mental health you can't help but worry about, I
sat down in Benny's chair.

"Looking at you, the word rough comes to mind," he said, handing
me a mug that smelled more of booze than coffee.

"Oh, Benny, don't mince words with me." I took a sip of the enhanced
coffee and made a face. "I said a dash, not half a bottle."

Instead of making apologies and scurrying back to the coffee
machine, Benny flicked the end of his comb against my shoulder

"Shut up and drink it," he said. "You know you could use it."
I could and I did.

"Ahh," I said after chugging it down."Things are looking better

I knew I was. Benny wasn't one of the top hair stylists in Manhattan
by chance; he knew how to cut hair and, most important,
how to make his clients look good while he did.The lighting was
warm and mellow, fading out lines and wrinkles and large pores
and everything else that conspired to make you look like the
wicked stepmother when you still felt like Cinderella.

I looked great . . . for forty-eight. I could easily pass for forty,
which I had been doing until my sister was interviewed by a feature
writer for The New York Times and blabbed our real age--as if
she hadn't been schooled enough on this particular topic. Still,
looking forty isn't exactly a plus in show business, although it is
easier to age in the theater than it is in the movies, where they
start casting you as the mother in Little Women when you feel you'd
be perfect for Jo.

I do have a lovely nose (my own, thank you very much), pretty
teeth (mostly my own), and good hair (the natural waves are
mine, the Red Flame color--Benny's marvelous idea and for ten
years my signature--is not), but I'm called gorgeous primarily
because I'm a star.

It's not undue humility (in my case, all humility would be undue)
that makes me say that; I turn heads, first and foremost, because
of who I am and not what I look like.

"Benny, what do you think about short hair?"

We both watched in the mirror as he held out a rippled strand
of my hair.

"Not for you, darling.Your hair is so dramatic . . . so free. You'd
look like a computer saleswoman with short hair. Or a drill

I laughed. Benny was one of the few people who wasn't afraid
to tell me what he really thought.

"All right, then. Just take off the split ends."

As Benny snipped and sniped in his jungle lair (his gossip was
almost as good as his styling), I closed my eyes and tried to think
of more excuses why I couldn't possibly help my sister out.

As they say, timing is everything, and this timing was bad. I hadn't
left Mona! just for the fun of it. I wasn't burned out on the show yet;
what had made me not renew my contract was a doublehitter--
heartbreak and menopause, neither of which I'd admit to the world
at large. My press release merely mentioned my gratitude for being
with such a fine production and my wish to explore other creative

What I really needed time for was to practice my three R's--
relax, replenish, and rassle my screaming hormones to the floor. I
wanted to putter around the city, have late-afternoon teas at the
Carlyle or the Pierre, see the shows I hadn't been able to see because
of my own, and spend my free weekends at the various
country homes friends had invited me to. I needed time to spoil
myself rotten.

"Earth to Geneva," whispered Benny in my ear.

I opened my eyes, startled.

"Sorry I was boring you," he said with exaggerated nonchalance.
"Believe me, there are plenty of women who'd pay to sit
where you are and listen to me."

I laughed. "I do pay you, Benny, remember?"

Benny shrugged and with his fingers fanned out my hair. It was
long and wavy--"hippie hair with an uptown attitude," as Benny
described it. (I follow the Dick Clark secret of youth--never
change your hairstyle.)

"So how does it feel to be an out-of-work actor?"

Tears welled up in my eyes.

"Geneva, darling! I didn't mean anything by that--I was only
trying to be funny."
"It's not that," I said, waving my hand. "It's my sister."

In the mirror, I saw concern pinch the features of Benny's
round face.

"She's not ill, is she?"

I shook my head. "Nothing like that. She and her husband have
this opportunity through the college to go to Italy."

"Hmm," said Benny, checking to see if my ends were even. "I
guess I'm not quite grasping the dilemma."

"They want me to baby-sit!" I said, and seeing the ice skater
look over at me with interest, I lowered my voice. "They've got
a thirteen-year-old son they don't want to take out of school.
Richard--Rich, that's his name. My godson."

Benny poured something delicious-smelling onto his hands and
massaged it into my scalp. "And you don't want to baby-sit this
Rich because ...?"

"Because I'm on vacation!" I said, and again my raised voice
made the snoopy skater with her stupid pixie cut look over. "Because
my doctor says I'm overstressed and overworked and I need
to take it easy!" I whispered. "And besides, I need to get over . . .

"That cad," said Benny. It was his Pavlovian response; whenever
I mentioned anything that might directly or indirectly have to do
with Trevor, he said, "That cad." It was for this sort of thing that I
tipped him so well.

"But doesn't your sister live on a pond or something in

"A lake," I said. "She lives on a lake outside Minneapolis."

Benny shrugged; to the transplanted Australian, it was all
the same.

"But mightn't that be peaceful?" he suggested. "Sitting by the
lake out in the middle of nowhere?"

"The lake'll probably be frozen," I said. "And even if it isn't, I'd
be sitting with a thirteen-year-old."

"Right, the kid. He's that bad, huh?"

My tears, which seemed to be on double overtime, welled up

"Oh, Benny!" I said, and then, in a move far more fluid than any
double axel Gina Bell ever performed, I swiveled my chair, shielding
myself and my tears from the prying eyes of that nosy little ice
Lorna Landvik|Author Q&A

About Lorna Landvik

Lorna Landvik - Welcome to the Great Mysterious

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: Why did you decide to tackle the subject of children with special needs and the challenges faced by them and their families in this novel?

A: The genesis of all my books has been the arrival of two characters who come into my head and intrigue me enough to want to start writing about them. I was scared by Rich's Down syndrome, not knowing if I could accurately write about it, but he was adamant that I try. I hadn't set out to write about children with special needs; the characters just demanded that I do so.

Q: Why is his daily routine important to Rich?

A: I think all children are comforted by routine, by something they can count on. Knowing what he's going to eat on a Monday or a Tuesday helps Rich know that yes, this is Monday or Tuesday; this is how my world goes round. I think everyone, on some level, likes to think that their days have order.

Q: Why is Rich's lack of inhibition so threatening to some people, including his aunt and many strangers?

A: Maybe that has to do with people's desire for order, too; when someone acts differently than the norm, people are called upon to come up with a different response to them, and this makes them uncomfortable. Geneva obviously loves attention, but with Rich, she can't control him or the attention that he attracts.

Q: Your readers are privy to Geneva's deepest and darkest reservations regarding Rich. How difficult was it to write those interior monologues? Were you concerned about alienating readers?

A: I think the reader starts out thinking Geneva's somewhat of a pill even before she goes back to Minnesota to take care of Rich. I thought if I don't lose them early on, I probably won't lose them when she vents her feelings about Rich, because at least she's being honest with those feelings. It took her a while to get beyond the "obviousness" of Down syndrome to the point where she could see and love the real Rich, but at least she got there.

Q: Would you agree that the trip to the supermarket represents a major turning point for Geneva?

A: Yes, in that she recognizes herself in some of the behavior of others--and doesn't like it. When Rich stands up for himself after his "disappearance," he shows Geneva that despite having Down syndrome, he is more like her than not.

Q: How would you summarize the evolution of Geneva's understanding of Rich over the course of this novel?

A: She grows up and she gets a lot of help. She is helped by the voices in the "Great Mysterious" book, helped by her relationships with James, with Ann and Conrad, and most of all, with Rich. She has a concentrate of love from these people and that makes her able to finally return to Rich the kind of pure "I-love-you-because-you're-you" love Rich so freely gives to people.

Q: Geneva begins this novel announcing that her twin sister Ann needs to work on her self-esteem. Does she still feel this way by the end of the story?

A: She's probably wised up enough to realize that some people don't need to wear the type of "Look at me!" sign she's always worn; that self-esteem is really being happy with yourself whether or not anyone is looking.

Q: Geneva and James have both let their deepest fears rule their lives to some extent. In marrying, they are both confronting these fears head-on. Does this marriage stand a chance?

A: Romantic that I am, I always believe that where love is concerned, there's always a chance. Geneva and James have also been around several blocks and are old enough to know that they'll have to make compromises, but I think those compromises will be gladly made.

Q: We only hear about Connie's father, George; he never gets to speak on his own behalf. Why did you decide on this strategy for that particular character?

A: By his own personality, George was a minor character. He had distanced himself from Conrad and the rest of the family, and I never gave him a chance to speak because he simply wasn't around emotionally or physically.

Q: Geneva and James get a second chance to conquer their greatest fears. Will George get one?

A: I don't know about George. He represents to me the worst in some (not all) men; the refusal to not only acknowledge their fears but to work actively to rid themselves of those fears. His refusal to open himself up to his family, as well as to his own vulnerability, dooms him to a half-life and I would hope, but can't be sure, that he would recognize this and reach out.

Q: What inspired the book that gives your novel its title?

A: It's just something the two sisters came up with. I put them at that cabin on a rainy weekend, and they, to my surprise, came up with recording their relatives' thoughts on "big" subjects. I'm not much of a documentarian myself--my photographs tend to be stored in boxes and my children's baby books are more full of good intentions than actual data. I've heard from a number of readers that they've started their own "Great Mysterious" books, and maybe I will too, if I can just get off my lazy #@(&*!

Q: Geneva and Ann are so disappointed because their grandmother's responses in The Great Mysterious do not capture the wonderful, fun-loving woman they remember. What accounts for this disjunction between their memories and the paper trail she has left behind?

A: Some people can express themselves beautifully in life but become choked up and self-conscious in writing. She is one of those people.

Q: How would you respond to the Great Mysterious question: If you couldn't be a person, what would you be?

A: Ey yi yi ...maybe a bird--a conscious bird who knows that she's flying and how cool that is.

Q: Has Geneva seen the last of Petunia?

A: She'll probably paw at Geneva's back door every now and then but whether or not she'll be invited in is another story.

Q: Geneva works in a profession that is not kind to older women.The phenomenon of older men with much, much younger leading women is both common and troubling. What accounts for this double standard? Is there any solution?

A: I wish I knew what accounts for the double standard that's rampant in society. I think some of it comes from men's refusal to grow up--they still want to cling to their youthful, virile self and think that they are by dating women half (or a third) their age. As well as being enraged by this double standard, I feel sorry for men who need a physical manifestation of youth at their side to convince themselves that yes, they still mean something. I think it cripples all of us when we dismiss older women--Meryl Streep should be starring in just as many movies as Robert De Niro; that she isn't makes it a smaller world for all of us. (As an actor myself, I've found the best way to avoid double standards--I write my own shows.) I'm hoping that nowadays boys are being taught to be feminists, because once they learn how to respect women, all human beings gain.

Q: What posed the biggest challenge in writing this novel?

A: I guess making sure Rich was authentic. But I felt lucky-- he seemed to guide me more than I guided him.

Q: Were certain characters more difficult to capture? For example, were the children more difficult to write than adults?

A: No, I think it's fairly easy for me to write as a child, because I feel my childhood is not in the far-off murky past, but just behind the corner. My characters do assume a life of their own in my head, and I always trust that they'll find their way onto the page fully formed and real.

Q: How long did it take you to write this novel?

A: I submitted one version and my editor wanted me to expand on a lot more things so all together, a little over a year.

Q: What do you do when you finish a novel? Plunge into the next one?

A: Any time I've finished a book, there are always a couple of new characters who've sprouted up in my head, raring to go, wanting their stories told. So yes, I plunge right in and start writing.

Q: How do you know when you are finished with a piece of writing?

A: It just feels done. It's like going on a trip; you've seen everything you want to see, eaten everything you've wanted to eat, met lots of friends, but now it's time to go home.

Q: What do you find most satisfying about your cho-sen profession? What is least satisfying?

A: One of my daughters says she wants to be a writer-- "because you get to sleep in." It is a perk, not having pantyhose or power suits or uniforms be a part of my wardrobe, but the biggest satisfaction is that I get to write. I am able to get lost in a world of my own making. I get to try and figure out what makes this person or that person tick; it helps me figure out the world (not that I have yet, but it helps me try). I really can't think of anything not satisfying about writing.

Q: Beyond looking at sales figures or reading reviews, are there other ways you connect with your readership and gauge the reception to your work?

A: I love going on book tours and meeting readers from around the country.Their response to my writing has convinced me that just because a book is set in a certain place doesn't make it "regional." (I was thrilled to hear a southern reader--quite adamantly--tell me, "You are not a Yankee writer!" ) Some readers take the time to write me--I cherish their letters. I also am invited to book clubs and get to sit in a comfortable chair eating all kinds of desserts and drinking wine while my books are being discussed!

Recently, I was at a book club meeting and the tragedy of September 11, 2001 was only a week and a half old. I was finding it very difficult to write (my writing seemed very small when compared to all that needed to be done in the world) and only kept the book club engagement because I thought I needed to get out of the house. We spent time talking about my books as well as this event that had shaken us all so violently. As the night was winding down, a woman said to me, "I just wanted to tell you that my sister called from Chicago and she's been having a tough time. She said she's started five books but couldn't get into any of them and then she picked up The Tall Pine Polka (my third book) and now she's halfway through and loving it. She says it's helping her get through this."

Of course tears welled up in my eyes; I felt humbled and honored, and so grateful that I'd been able to help someone when I'd been feeling pretty helpless. I could never work in a triage unit, could never hoist a hose up the staircase of a burning building, could never track down a terrorist ring, but I could write.

Q: One last big question: If you could be the author of any book ever written (other than your own), what would it be?

A: If I'd been asked this question before September 11, 2001, I probably would have said something like, To Kill a Mockingbird (a perfect book) or the Bible (imagine sitting down and writing "Genesis" ). But now I wish I could be the author of a book that would be published in the not-so-distant future, a piece of nonfiction called, When Peace Came Over the World or How We Learned to Love One Another. I hope deeply, sincerely that someday someone is going to be able to write that book.



“[A] sweet, funny story . . . as good as Patty Jane’s House of Curl.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“FUNNY, HEARTWARMING . . . Admirably captures the ups and downs of a small town from the humorous perspective of a big-city star.”
—Publishers Weekly

—Orlando Sentinel

“Characters. And character. That’s what Landvik writes best. Humor and humanity are the two elements that run through all of Lorna Landvik’s novels.”
The Gazette (Colorado Springs)

“[A] winning tale.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Geneva initially has no intention of traveling to Minnesota to take care of Rich. Why does she change her mind?

2.What do you think would have happened to Geneva if she had decided not to help her sister's family?

3.What has Geneva gained and lost as a result of her successful, high-powered career?

4.As a celebrity, Geneva is fodder for the gossip columns and she is not happy about it. Do you think her complaints are valid? Or is the intrusiveness of the media part of the price of fame and fortune?

5. Geneva's failed first marriage really wounded her. Why does she finally decide to try again?

6. Geneva thinks that Trevor seems relieved by her rejection. Do you think this is really the case? Do you think Trevor could have changed?

7. Has Geneva made the right choice picking the boy in homeroom who would help you with your homework? Do you think the marriage will work?

8. Geneva remembers Conrad as a boy who knew "when it paid to be careful and when it paid not to." How do you distinguish between justifiable fears and those that hold you back and do more harm than good?

9. Geneva and James have both been paralyzed by their fears in some ways. Do you have a fear that you feel has had a detrimental effect on your life?

10. Do you think Rich is aware of Geneva's ambivalent feelings about him? If he is, why do you think he gives her a chance anyway?

11. Rich and Conrad's conditions can make those around them uncomfortable, particularly strangers. Discuss why people can feel so uneasy around those with special needs.

12. Rich and Conrad spend a great deal of time with peers who are not classified as special education.What are the benefits and/or drawbacks of such a setup?

13. Everyone is concerned with how Rich is going to deal with his grief. How do you think he is going to handle it? Were his family and friends right to be concerned?

14.What do you think will happen to Barb and George's marriage? Do you think it can survive their loss?

15.Why did James decide to leave his corporate job and become a mailman? Do you think he has had a nervous breakdown as his ex-wife and parents believe?

16. James and his fellow hockey coach take very different approaches to coaching their players.With which approach do you agree? What should be the mission of youth sports?

17. James says, "faith isn't knowing, it's believing." Discuss the meaning of faith in all its forms.

18.What would your answers be to the "big" questions posed in "The Great Mysterious"? What is true love? What is the meaning of life? What makes you happy?

19.Think of a question you would pose in the "Great Mysterious."

20. Do you have a favorite character or characters in this novel?

21. If you had to give a name to one of your emotions, which would it be and what would you name it?

22.The author mentions that she often attends book clubs. Has your group ever invited an author to attend? If not, is this something you would consider doing?

23. If you had the opportunity to ask the author a question about this novel, what would it be?

24.Why did your group decide to read this book? Are you happy with your choice?

25.What is your group reading next?

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