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  • Written by Anne Leclaire
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  • Written by Anne Leclaire
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Written by Anne LeclaireAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Anne Leclaire

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41512-7
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In the tradition of The Good Mother and The Deep End of the Ocean, Anne D. LeClaire delivers a heartbreaking–and breathtaking–novel of two very different but equally loving mothers who face the most painful of losses and then find the courage not only to go on but to find meaning and hope in their lives.

Rose Nelson is a middle-aged woman with a broken past, a sorrow from which she cannot recover. Secretly guilty about her role in her teenaged son’s death five years ago, she has sealed herself off from life, enveloped by a grief that has slowly eaten away at her relationship with her husband.

Against her will, Rose is drawn into the world she has avoided when Opal Gates and her five-year-old son, Zack, move in next door. Determined to start an independent life for herself, twenty-year-old Opal has left her family and the father of her son in North Carolina. But when she quickly begins an affair with Tyrone Miller, a part-time mechanic and local musician, Opal unwittingly breaks the tacit rules of both her family and her new hometown.

Initially, Rose cannot bear the sight of Opal and her son. But later when Zack is injured, she instinctively lies to protect Opal from a single mistake that changes the lives of everyone involved.

Faced with a custody suit brought by Zack’s father and her own parents, Opal faces a trial in which each choice she has made will be used as ammunition in the battle to take Zack away from her.

Confronting such devastating loss and the questions it poses are at the heart of Entering Normal. How does one go on after great tragedy? What is a family? What sacrifices must a mother be willing to make for her child? And how can a good mother sometimes make bad choices?

Entering Normal is a story of family, a novel about courage, loss, risk, and betrayal. It is a story that goes to the heart of love.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

chapter 1

hrose

Ned is snoring, a thick thunder that rolls up from his chest. His arm is flung over Rose’s ribs, and she takes a breath against the heft of it, the pressure that recently seems to have increased.

Back in the middle of summer, she mentioned getting twin beds, but his response was sharp. Typical Ned. “Whadda you crazy?” She explained how his arm made it hard for her to breathe, how she felt pinned down by it. “We’ve slept in the same bed for thirty-five years, Rosie,” he said, his gaze level. “Exactly when did my arm get so heavy?” Not willing to go where that subject might lead, she dropped it flat.

He snores again, a long, rippling snort with a catch in the middle, like he is swallowing his breath. It’s a wonder more women don’t kill their husbands. Half asleep, she imagines herself picking up the pillow, holding it over his open mouth.

What on earth is the matter with her, thinking something crazy like that? Ned is a good man. Where she would be without him she hates to think. She gives him a slight nudge, just enough to make him stop snoring, but not enough to wake him. The last thing in the world she needs right now is for him to wake and ask her what’s wrong.

What’s wrong?

This is a question she doesn’t want him to ask, not when all that is wrong swirls through the room, hangs above her face like smoke. The digital clock on the nightstand glows 1:40, red numerals that remind her of eyes, the alert eyes of some nocturnal animal. The time changes to 1:41. She wishes they still had their old dial-face clock, the one that didn’t need resetting every time there was a power failure. Very carefully she lifts Ned’s arm from its hold across her ribs and scratches her stomach, hard.

It’s still there. It’s bigger. Maybe.

The itchy spot first appeared toward the end of September, the same week Opal Gates and her boy moved into the house next door. At first Rose figured it was an insect bite of some kind, or dry skin, what with the furnace coming on in the evening now. Yesterday she finally took a reluctant look at it—she doesn’t much like looking at her stomach—and even without her reading glasses she was able to see the small, raised welt right over the mole on her stomach. Red circled out from the brown center. Definitely a bite she decided, pushing away darker possibilities conjured up by the Cancer Society leaflets she’s read in Doc Blessing’s waiting room, their bold letters enumerating the Seven Deadly Signs.

She doesn’t think it is anything significant. If something important was going on in your body, you’d know it. No, she’s sure it’s just an insect bite. They are into October now, late for mosquitoes, but it’s been a particularly mild fall, the first frost not coming until the last of September.

She lies in the dark, reminded suddenly of the mosquito bites she used to get summers at Crystal Lake when she was a girl, great welts that rose on her arms and legs and ankles until she looked like she had a tropical disease. “Don’t scratch,” her mother would say as she swabbed them with calamine lotion. “It makes it worse.” Rose scratched the bites until they bled. Then, the summer she was sixteen, she fell in love with her best friend’s cousin, and just like that she stopped scratching mosquito bites. Instead she dug her thumbnail directly across the swollen spot and then again in the opposite direction, forming the shape of a cross, her magic remedy, better than calamine.

Lord, she hasn’t thought about those things in years. Rachel’s cousin. The thin, dark boy from out of town who made all their mothers edgy. What was his name? Randy? Roy? She struggles futilely to reclaim it from the chasm of memory. His name she can’t dredge up, but the image of him surfaces as if she had seen him only last week. This was the summer of Elvis—someone else who made their mothers nervous—and he wore his hair in a DA just like the singer. He drove a motorcycle and—even in summer—dressed all in black. Rose remembers his leather jacket, the zippers at the wrists. The risks she had taken for him. She remembers the night she lied to her mother, the first falsehood she can recall telling, how she said she was going to Rachel’s and had pedaled her blue Raleigh over to the lake where he waited. When he kissed her, his tongue pushed insistently between her lips, filling her with a confusion of fear and desire—startling, hot desire—until she opened her mouth to him. As if, even in sleep, he can read her mind, Ned’s arm drops back across her ribs, tightens its hold.

It was on the same spot at Crystal Lake, enfolded by the scent of pine and her cologne, that Ned asked her to marry him. Two years after she kissed the boy with the Elvis hair, she lay in Ned’s arms, let him caress her, heard him promise to love her forever, eagerly returned the vow.

Forever. What is forever? How long has it been since she believed it possible to hold on to someone or something for eternity? How could she have known then that love is not as resilient as one might think? That loss and pain and life take a toll beyond what she could have imagined? That Ned’s sinewy arms, which held her so tenderly that summer night by the lake, would grow cumbersome over the years?

Crystal Lake. When she was a child, long before she lay in Ned’s young arms or before she kissed a dangerous dark-haired boy whose name she has forgotten, years before she taught Todd how to swim in its water, she and Rachel would go ice skating there. Once, while tightening her skates, she lost a glove, a red mitten knitted by her grandmother that one of the older boys swooped up and skated away with. By the time she went home, her fingers were deadened with the cold. At first it didn’t hurt, just a tingling numbness as if they had gone to sleep; but later, when her mother took her fingers between her palms and rubbed the heat back into chilled flesh, chafed the numbness away, then the pain began.

The itching is worse now. She raises Ned’s arm carefully, edges out of bed, almost makes it.

“S’matter?”

“Bathroom. Go back to sleep.” She freezes, willing his breath- ing to return to its heavy, half-snoring rhythm, then, using the il- lumination from the night-light at the top of the stairs, makes her way to the hall. The shadowy outline of Todd’s door beckons in the dim light, and she almost allows herself to give in, to sit in his room and wait.

It has been a long time.

Months have passed since she sat there and hoped for a sign from Todd. Hoped, not prayed. She has long since lost her belief in the power of prayers or God; the most she can hold on to is hope, and even that has dimmed lately. Five years. If she is going to get some sign from him, feel some connection, wouldn’t it have come by now? But even the dimming of active hope does not bring the resolution or the peace she might have expected, only more pain. She fears this deficiency of hope is bringing her one more step closer to really losing him. Memory and grief are all she has left, and after a while even memory dims. In spite of her attempts to hold on in her mind, the whole of him is beginning to fade.

In the bathroom she catches sight of herself in the mirror and, without glasses, sees a younger version of herself, her face firmer, without lines. She is trying to learn to look at herself with corrected vision, trying to see the truth of her aging face, which looks more and more like her mother’s. She opens the cabinet and removes the bottle of Jergens, slathers it across her belly, easing, for the moment, the itch of the mole that woke her earlier. She returns the lotion to the cabinet, automatically brushes her hand over the counter. The green Formica is specked with tiny black dots, the pattern a mistake. The dark grains remind her of the flecks that rim the sink after Ned shaves.

on her way back to her room, she checks the street. Next door, at the Montgomery place, light spills from the dining room. At this hour. It is nearly 2:00 a.m. If Louise Montgomery still lived there, Rose would be tempted to ring over, see if everything was all right, but she has no intention of getting involved with that girl. And yet, what in the name of heaven is she doing up in the middle of the night? When does she sleep? Rose supposes she should find comfort in the fact that Opal Gates is awake, that she is not the only one unable to sleep this night, but she feels no nocturnal bond with her new neighbor. In the few weeks since Opal moved in, it has become clear that there is nothing but tribulation in store for that one. All you need do is take one quick look and you can see the whole story. Plain as day. Girls like Opal suck trouble to them.

She leaves the window and returns to their bed. Ned snores on peacefully. The relief the lotion gave is short-lived, and she gives her stomach another quick scratch. Perhaps it’s an allergy. Or shingles. Shingles. Such an odd name for a disease. Who decides what to call an illness, anyway? She had a second cousin over in Athol who had shingles. The woman was married to a farmer, a nervous little man who worried about everything. Notice it was the wife who got the itching. She tries to remember what she has heard about shingles, something about if the inflamed skin encircles your waist, girdling it like a belt, you will die. Can this be true, or is it only an old wives’ tale? It seems to her that her cousin died of a heart attack, but she can’t recall for sure. She hitches her nightgown up slowly and risks two or three real gouges. Ned doesn’t move a muscle, and she is grateful for that. She doesn’t need his questions about what she is scratching. No doubt if he knew he’d take right over, have her at Doc’s before she could stop to tie her shoes. She doesn’t know. Maybe she should go. But the itch is worse at night. If it were really serious, wouldn’t it bother her during the day? She only has to get through the night, hold tight to the thought of dawn, and she will be all right. She certainly doesn’t want to go see Doc.

For a while, after the accident, when she couldn’t cook or do much of anything around the house and heaven knows she didn’t want Ned touching her, Doc gave her some little yellow pills to take. She didn’t want them, but under Ned’s insistence she caved in. They were tiny, octagonal-shaped pills potent beyond what their size suggested, making everything in sight seem sallow, jaundiced. Wavy and dull. After a while this was worse than anything, so she quit taking them. Plus all those drugs are chemicals, and Rose doesn’t trust chemicals. Who knows what they are really doing to a person? No, she thinks, better to wait and not let on to Ned about the red-edged mole that itches.

She twists her head on the pillow and looks at her husband, studies his face in the slippery light of the moon. Even in sleep he looks tired. She doesn’t need her glasses to see the deep lines that etch the skin between his eyes and make gutters from his nose to his chin. He is fifty-seven. We’re getting old, she thinks. Her heart almost softens.

Sometimes she wonders why it is so easy for Ned. Isn’t he angry about all the things that have been taken from them, simple things they have every right to expect would come to them, like Todd growing up, marrying, having a child of his own? For five years she has tracked all the things that will never happen, bitter anniversaries that keep grief alive and sharp but that she cannot stop her mind from recording: Todd’s senior prom. His high school graduation. The fall he would have entered college. Doesn’t Ned ever think about these things?

Once, three years ago, they were staring at some program on television and she blurted, “He would be in college now.”

“For Christ’s sake!” Ned shouted. The green recliner snapped to an upright position, and he stalked from the room. As far as he is concerned, Todd is over, closed subject.

Men are different, she thinks. But no, look at Claire Covington. The summer after their son drowned, she was back swimming at the lake, in the very water that still held the molecules of Brian Covington’s last breath. But maybe, Rose thinks in sudden inspiration, maybe submerging herself in the water was Claire’s way of getting close to her son. Lord knows, Rose can understand that. Then she pictures Claire laughing, splashing in the water, dressed in a bathing suit a good yard shy of the amount of material appropriate to a woman of her age. No, when Claire Covington went to the lake, it wasn’t to merge with whatever remained there of her son.

although she cannot remember falling asleep, she must have dozed off, for the next time she looks the clock reads 6:00. Beside her, she feels Ned move. Soon he will get up, releasing her. She’ll take a shower, let cold water flow over her stomach, cooling it down.

Ned moans softly; then he’s awake. This is how he does it every morning. One minute he’s asleep, the next he’s talking.

“Time to get up,” he says.

“Yes,” she says.

She lifts the weight of his arm from her ribs and takes a little breath, inhaling dawn. In the morning light, for one brief moment, she can almost believe she has only imagined the itch, can almost believe that she has already experienced her lifetime’s allotment of pain and grief.


From the Hardcover edition.
Anne Leclaire|Author Q&A

About Anne Leclaire

Anne Leclaire - Entering Normal
Anne LeClaire is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Leaving Eden and Entering Normal. She is also a short story writer who teaches and lectures on writing and the creative process, and has worked as a radio broadcaster, a journalist, and a correspondent for The Boston Globe. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Redbook, and Yankee magazine among other publications. She is the mother of two adult children and lives on Cape Cod. Visit the author’s website at www.anneleclaire.com.


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Anne LeClaire
Jacquelyn Mitchard
, author of A Theory of Relativity and The Deep End of the Ocean, and Anne LeClaire have been friends for many years. They sat down recently to discuss the finer points of Entering Normal, among other things.

Jacquelyn Mitchard: Anne, you were the mistress of the sexy psychologi-cal thriller. I loved your last thriller, Sideshow, and Bill Clinton, a man who knows about sexy psychological thrillers (or so they say), said he couldn't put it down. So then, after more than five years, you came back with an entirely different kind of novel, a drama that roved from the backyard fence to the courtroom rail. Why the change? Sideshow was your strongest book, so why did you choose to fix what wasn't broken?

Anne LeClaire: I don't think the switch is that dramatic. At least, it doesn't seem so for me. The themes of all my novels are related, so there was no conscious decision, no day when I sat down and said, "Okay, I'm going to take off and alter the form." For me, the story's form is instinctive. It grows from the characters and their situations. The idea for a novel comes to me, often in the guise of a dream or a short story. Then, I usually sit with it for a while to see if its back is strong enough to support the weight of a novel. Any book I write centers on those characters. They are my focus, first and last. I try to listen and let them tell me their stories.

JM: Why did it take so long to "Enter Normal," if you will? What was incubating in your transformation as a writer?

AL: Well, mostly it was because between the publication of Sideshow and the publication of Entering Normal, I wrote another novel that never drew breath, if you will. Or, at least it hasn't yet. It ended up on a closet shelf--and a closet shelf in a spare bedroom. Also, at the same time, I was beginning a nonfiction project about exploring the practice of silence, and I am still working on that book, too. So, here I was, writing both these works, when I dreamed a short story that pushed them aside in my heart (at least for the time being) and insisted on becoming Entering Normal. The themes that I was exploring--grief, the power of friendship, motherhood--are present in all of my previous works. I guess you could say I went into a deeper understanding of them in Normal.

JM: You did that in spades. I know they were much on your mind, as you came to terms with the death of your husband's dearest friend, your sister's death long ago, and your own struggles with your growing children-- and come to think of it, hand-feeding me through my multiple setbacks and frustrations with my family.

AL: All that was at the forefront--Jack, you know better than anyone that to surround yourself with living creatures is to enter the realm of risk and hurt, as well as joy and adventure. When you love, you court the possibility of loss. But otherwise, how do you live?

JM: You're entirely correct. But I would rather have the adventure and skip the risk.

AL: Wouldn't we all . . . but you learn from each loss, the depth of your core strength increases.

JM: Speaking of shallow, both of us started as reporters. And long after we became fiction writers, we both remain reporters. Why do you do that? I think I have a fear of unemployment. What about you?

AL: I find the roles of reporter and novelist to be complementary. You know that. Think of the research. The fear you don't feel--as an academia-based novelist might--of making the dreaded cold call. The job of both is to uncover the story, to ask questions and seek truths. One necessitates going out into the world and the other requires bringing that back and going into the exploration of the inner world.

JM: Let's not give up so easily on the subject of death. Or shallowness. Or celebrity. Do you have ambivalent feelings about a movie option on any of your novels? Or are you eager for the inevitable attention to your work a film can bring?

AL: Are you kidding? Don't you remember the night we were at Ragdale and you'd just completed The Deep End of the Ocean and everyone was saying, "I'd never let Hollywood TOUCH my book," and you spoke up and told about how you asked your children to pray every night, "God bless Grandpa, God bless Mommy; and please let Mommy's book be made into a movie"? I'm right there with you, sister. I'm imploring the universe for my book to be transformed into a retelling on the big screen. And yes, I understand it won't be "my story," as I wrote it. But that gives me a comfortable detachment because I know it won't be a literal translation and I'm not expecting that. And I never play that game of mentally casting actors for the various roles. The characters are already too fully formed. They're actors themselves.

JM: Do you read the reviews? Do you grieve the cruel reviews and celebrate the positive ones? I avoid both. One negative review sent me to bed for a whole day, only my eyes showing. You recall the phone call.

AL: I do. I think the healthiest thing would be to adopt a Zen-like sense of calm and acceptance and avoid reading reviews entirely. However, I'm not that sane. But I do ask my agent and publicist to shield me from any negative ones.

JM: Cheater, cheater. Don't you learn anything from the negative reviews?

AL: Only what kind of day the critic had! Seriously, for constructive feedback I trust my editor, my agent, and my readers.

JM: Entering Normal is about redemption, the excruciating process of relinquishing grief, which I know--from writing about some of the same issues myself--is sometimes more harrowing than the mourning itself. Can Rose ever really recover from the grief of losing her entire family, as well as her home?

AL: Every one of us experiences grief in our lifetime, and grief isn't something we ever recover from. What we do is to incorporate it, and reach some kind of accommodation with it. And it has a beautiful purpose in our lives.

JM: No, it doesn't! Wouldn't you rather be shallow?

AL: Really, it does. It opens us to compassion. As Rose says, grief doesn't break a heart in half, it cracks it wide open. One of the quotes I taped to my computer during the time I was writing Entering Normal was from Oscar Wilde: "Where there is sorrow, there is sacred ground." His words helped me open to a wider view of the role grief can command in our lives.

JM: You've been called a writer with a strong sense of magic, even New Age spiritualism. Is this the reason for Opal's obsession with signs, charms, and crystals? And what are her dolls? Are they intended to be Opal's children, or souls she calls forth?

AL: Like Opal, I believe we are surrounded by mystery to which we do, or must, largely remain blind. I love your idea of Opal's dolls as souls she calls forth. She sees in them personality as a mother would see in a child. I saw her dolls, also, as her specific mode of expression. They gave her the power of creativity, which, as we know, is transformative.

JM: It's transformative all right, for good or for ill. Still on the subject of the life within, let me ask you about something not very many people know. Twice a month, you keep silence. Are these your best days for creativity regeneration? Or are they a retreat from "the shop"?

AL: I do write on Silent Days. Often those days are my most productive. Silence is restorative. It rejuvenates me and enhances my concentration and fertilizes the deep place inside that is the creative prairie. It is the spring that feeds that place. It also has taught me to listen with greater focus.

JM: You are an active listener. In fact, you are the most patient listener I know. But I know sometimes it's difficult not to reach out, to cry out. Writing is the loneliest craft. It doesn't even make any noise. How do you militate against the loneliness? Can writers, who must compete in an increasingly tighter and more narrow marketplace, actually work together, offering each other support with a generous spirit? Or do you have to hold back, even with your sister writers?

AL: Publishing is competitive and we are raised to believe that in a competitive model, only one can win. I have had to learn another model. While it might run the economic system, competition is a straitjacket for artists. I know we've talked a lot about this. I remember one time when we were taking about this subject with our husbands and your Chris said, borrowing from a TV character, "To compare is to despair." I know from experience it's true. It also robs you of the fellowship of writing, and it is my friendship with you and other writers that sustains me and alleviates the loneliness. There are a few people who are always, always, on my side.

JM: What if Manette or I or another friend then blows you off the bookshelf? (I have this experience quite frequently with my dear friend Jane in Wisconsin.) What do you do with suffering? Or do you refuse to waste time on envy?

AL: I think it was Cynthia Ozick who called envy "the wasting disease." I usually feel the bite. I'm human. But only for a day, maybe two, and then I come back to something I read, written by a Buddhist monk. He wrote that when we fall deep into envy we have lost faith in our own lives. That has a profound ring of truth for me. I don't think faith in one's own path and envy for another's path can exist in the same space. To remind myself of this is the best antidote to envy I've ever encountered. I've tutored myself to hold firm to my belief in my own path, which is good practice. In writing and in life.

JM: But I want you with me. I want us both to be at the top, not practicing getting over envy. Don't you, secretly?

AL: Only secretly. But truly, some of the best readings I've ever given were the times our publishers let us read together, even though we theoretically were competing. That was so affirming . . . of everything.

JM: What is the process of writing about for you? Why bother with something so painful and difficult unless you're going to learn something as well as teach? What do you learn?

AL: The most painful parts of writing for me are the periods of self-doubt when the gremlins who live in my head whisper ugly stuff, fears that pollute my mind and silence me. But I think in writing we are in the act of constantly facing our own demons and penetrating the deep regions. It is the great gift writing gives us, and the aspect that makes it the most difficult.

JM: Are you at your peak as a storyteller? Or do you aspire? What do you need to learn, and are you learning it in your upcoming novel? I heard you had trouble deciding in which direction this book would go, quiet reminiscence or scintillating coming-of-age saga with mysterious twists? How did you decide?

AL: My aspirations always exceed my grasp--or what's a heaven for, huh? But, really, I think that's a good thing for a writer. The best thing I can do for myself is to get out of my own way and trust the truth of the story. And then write to that truth with as much insight, honesty, and heart as I am capable of giving.

JM: What other cul-de-sacs and mazes of human experience do you hope to explore? Who leads, you or the characters?

AL: I'll probably revisit familiar terrain: the ties of family, the things that bind us--one to another and to nature--the contradictions and complexities of the human heart, the pain of loss, how hate is born, the hold our dreams have on us, whether forgiveness must be earned, the redemptive power of friendship and love. Arriving at some understanding of these and conveying that to readers is the lifework of writers. And preachers, for that matter. Musicians and poets, too.

JM: It's a mouthful. It's a life-ful.

AL: No doubt. I'll never achieve it to the degree I wish I could.

JM: I don't believe it when fictionalists insist that characters become "real" to them. Are yours "real" to you?

AL: They are completely. I experience totally their sorrows and joys, their ambitions and yearnings, their disappointments and hopes, in the same way I would those of a friend. There were days when Rose's grief for Todd weighed so heavily in my heart I actually couldn't eat. So, in that way, the characters do live for me. Sometimes I wonder how they are getting on with their lives, in that parallel universe. However, I don't think about getting the phone and ringing them up, if that's what you mean.

JM: The dead child, Todd, remains a character throughout the novel. Does his mother, in a sense, find a way to take him with her when she leaves her life behind?

AL: Yes, because her love for him remains alive in her despite her paralyzing grief, and in spite of additional loss and disappointment. That is the triumph of love. It endures beyond the grave, and because of that, Todd--and your Dan, and my sister--will always be there, with us, as with Rose. Another of the quotes I had taped to the computer during the years I was working on the book was Patsy Cline's epitaph: "Death cannot kill what never dies."

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. When the novel opens, Opal is truly "Entering Normal." What is the significance of the novel's title? What is Opal's sense of the town, in contrast to the viewpoints of Rose and Ned? Is the locale aptly named? Why or why not?

2. Entering Normal shifts between points of view, giving voice to Opal, Rose, and Ned. How does this narrative choice impact the story? Do you feel that the story is evenly divided between these three characters? Why or why not?

3. Opal takes most of the significant steps of her life--from her dalliances with men to her move from North Carolina--because of signs. Are these real or imagined guideposts to her life? How do other characters in the story use signs in less explicit ways?

4. How is the theme of "fate vs. choice" explored throughout the book? Are Rose, Ned, and Opal vibrant participants in their own fate, or do they let life choose for them? How?

5. Rose immediately labels Opal as a girl who "sucks trouble to her." Is this assessment true, or is Opal more a product of circumstances? How does Rose's instant reaction to her new next-door neighbor shed light on the feelings she harbors about herself and those around her?

6. From the start of Entering Normal, Ned and Rose's marriage is in trouble. How have their different approaches to grief driven them apart? From their separate memories, how do you envision their lives before Todd's death?

7. Although Rose patiently waits for her dead son, Todd, to return and refuses to let go of his memory, her only glimpse of him is in a flashback. Why does the author use this technique? What do we learn about Rose's character--and about her relationships--from the episode?

8. Ned discovers that Rose has withdrawn from her writing class, and then lied to him about it. Why doesn't he confront her about this deception? How does Ned's assumption that Rose has been chastised as an inadequate writer shed light on his perception of her?

9. Although she's an unwed mother, Opal views Zack as the one perfect element to come out of her relationship with Billy. How does this view compare and contrast with Rose's relationship with Todd and with Ned?

10. In what ways is Opal similar to Rose as a mother, and in which ways would their parenting techniques diverge? How does Zack remind her of Todd, and in which ways is Zack different?

11. Neither Zack nor Todd ever had a sibling. Ethel, Ned's sister, is depicted as selfish and terrible. How is the motif of only children significant in the novel? How would each of the boys' lives have been different if he had been raised with a brother or sister?

12. In one of the book's most pivotal events, Rose lies to the doctor at the hospital, insisting that she was present when Zack fell and broke his arm. What would compel Rose to reach out to Opal? In what ways, other than motherhood, does she identify with her neighbor?

13. When Zack injures himself, Opal blames herself for not being able to control her "hunger." What types of hunger, both food-related and otherwise, spur conflict in the novel? How is Zack's fractured arm a symbol for larger destruction?

14. A snowstorm forces Zack to stay with Ned and Rose on New Year's Eve. How is that night a turning point for all of the characters? How does the friendship between Zack and Ned affect Rose? How does it hint at the coming relationship between Rose and Zack?

15. Opal first becomes involved with Ty because of a sexual longing; Rose hasn't slept with her husband since her son's death, and she flees when Anderson kisses her. How do each of these attitudes impact the women's lives? Is sex viewed as a necessity or a luxury in this novel?

16. When Billy files for custody of Zack, Opal dismisses Billy as someone who wants what he cannot have. How accurate is this judgment? In which ways is Opal similar to Billy?

17. When he visits Trudy's diner, Ned consciously compares his wife with the waitress. Trudy admits her jealousy of Ned's wife; how is Rose, in turn, envious of Trudy? How has Trudy dealt with the death of a loved one, and how does her attitude compare to that of Rose?

18. The writing teacher, Anderson Jeffrey, won't stop contacting Rose. In your opinion, what parts of their relationship exist in reality, and which lurk in Rose's imagination? What elements of Rose's personality are unleashed by Anderson's attention and by her writing? What other outside influences shape Rose's transformation?

19. In the custody hearing, Opal's own parents side with Billy about her incompetence as a mother. What reasons would they give for their actions? In which ways is Opal a product of the failings of her own childhood? How does Melva's relationship with Opal compare to Opal's with Zack?

20. Ned is expected to recover fully from his heart attack, but he unexpectedly passes away. How does this event parallel the death of his son? How does Ned's death provide a catalyst for Rose's rebirth?

21. While Opal wins custody of her son, she must return to her hometown. How do you envision that Opal will assert her own independence while living under the thumb of her parents and brother? How will Rose help her attain that goal?

22. Why do you think that Rose volunteers to go to North Carolina with Opal and Zack? Do you think that Rose is truly free of her ghosts, whether real or imagined?


  • Entering Normal by Anne D. LeClaire
  • July 02, 2002
  • Fiction - Family Saga
  • Ballantine Books
  • $19.00
  • 9780345445735

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