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A Novel

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

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: April 22, 2009
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-307-48733-9
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt|Reader Reviews

Synopsis

Downsized from her teaching job, Jessie longs for a sense of renewal and decides to spend a year on Cape Cod, seeking to be cleansed by rushing ocean waters and comforted by the lavender hues of the setting sun. While there she volunteers with a local hospice program, where she meets Luke, a once proud fisherman whose life and body have been ravaged by cancer. Jessie’s presence is a great help to Luke’s mother, who has moved in to take care of her son.

After initial misgivings Jessie and Luke forge a deep friendship, and the former teacher is surprised to find herself opening up about her life, the loss of her father when she was a girl, her often difficult relationship with her mother, and her own battle with illness. When Luke makes a critical request of his new friend, Jessie must look deep within herself for an answer, knowing that her actions will have far-reaching effects on Luke’s family and forever change the bonds within her own.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

A station older than oldies was playing Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places,” and didn’t that make me laugh right out loud in spite of my high-wired nerves. My sister, Ashley, used to say this could be the title song of my life. Hard to argue with that. My romantic history was a string of jagged beads, each broken in a different way.

I snapped off the radio—time to change that tune—but, of course, now that it had taken up residence in my head, it would be cycling through for the rest of the day. I checked the dash clock. Late. Late. Late. I could make better time on a banana-seat bike.

The gray sedan in front of me, one in a long line of cars, inched along three degrees short of a dead stop. Back when I was a child vacationing on Cape Cod, traffic like this was a hassle reserved for summertime, but a shitload of change had occurred in two decades. Now roads were clogged nearly year-round, and each month, one more seasonal cottage held in a family for generations was replaced by a place so large, I swear it could exist in two time zones.

I tailgated the sedan, as if that would speed things up. I was beyond late. No excuses. “Jessie Lynn, I swear you’ll be tardy for your own wake,” my mama used to tell me. Of course, that was back when she could say something like that without looking like she wanted to slit her tongue and serve it for dinner, back before we all became painfully aware that such a possibility could actually loom on the visible horizon of my life.

At one time, Lily used to treat promptness as something of consequence, along with matters like impeccable grooming and refined manners. Please, thank you, and elbows off the table were just the day care level. Back when I was a child idolizing her, I yearned to be exactly like my mama, but then, about the time I hit high school and commenced being a disappointment to her, I vowed I would never end up like she had, trapped in a small town, checking her roots for gray, her life consumed with tending to the needs of others. Well, couldn’t the irony of it just cause a person to weep, for it was as if, in some weird way, I’d flipped lives with Lily. Here I was wearing twenty minutes’ worth of makeup and heading off to care for a stranger while Mama was back in Virginia with her hair gone natural, preparing to sail across the ocean with a man named Jan, a semiretired dentist ten years younger than she was. Go figure.

The dentist was new on the scene, and for details, I relied on my sister, who called him “junior” and “the boy toy,” as if someone fifty-five could still be considered a lad.

“So,” I said during one of our conversations, “tell me about what’s his name.”

“It’s Yawn,” Ashley said.

“Yawn?” I said.

“Right,” Ashley said. “His family’s from Finland. Or maybe it’s Norway. One of those countries. Anyway, it’s spelled J-a-n, pronounced Yawn.”

“You mean as in boring?” Perfect. What was our mama thinking? “So what does he look like?”

“He’s shorter than Daddy,” Ashley said, which gave me a small satisfaction. But how short? Dustin Hoffman short? Richard Dreyfuss short? Or freaky short? I pictured Danny DeVito. Hervé  Villechaize.

I rechecked the clock and continued tailgating the sedan until I reached my turnoff. I was running a good half hour late, and my nerves were skinned and deep-fried by the time I finally arrived at the address in the file lying on the passenger’s seat. I pulled up directly behind a maroon Dodge Ram, the kind of muscle truck that caused me to feel inadequate, its tires so oversized, it would require a forklift to hoist me up and into the cab. The kind that made me feel like Danny DeVito. I switched off the ignition and checked out the house. It was a full Cape shingled in gray cedar and featured a front door and shutters painted a showy lavender. A line of lobster traps was stacked along the property line to the north, and a boat was cradled in the side yard, slightly tilted, with a wooden stepladder propped against the gunwale. Someone had started to scrape paint off the keel but quit before completing the job. Except for that purple trim, the house and grounds were like a half dozen others in the neighborhood. I, of all people, knew it was possible for things to look perfectly normal on the surface while, hidden from sight, the extraordinary was in process, but still, even fully expecting it, knowing it, there was nothing to indicate that, inside that house, a man was dying.

To settle my nerves, I unwrapped a stick of gum and popped it in my mouth, my mama’s manners be damned. When Ginny Reiser, the hospice nurse, called me the night before offering to meet me there and introduce me to the family, I’d refused. Major mistake. I could have used some shoring up. As much to combat jitters as anything, I performed a last-minute run-through of the patient’s file, although I had already memorized every detail. Luke Ryder. Pancreatic cancer. Age forty-five. Commercial fisherman. Divorced. (Which explained the lavender trim. Obviously the ex’s decision.) One child, Paige Ryder, twenty-two. (Difficult; can be confrontational; substance abuse? was jotted in pencil next to her name.) Primary caregiver: Nona Ryder, seventy. Relationship: patient’s mother. (Doesn’t drive; no car, the case supervisor noted.)

The path to the door was sloppy and rutted. There had been a spring snowstorm three days before, and my boots sank into the ground as I picked through the half-melted patches that spotted the way. I barely noticed. Echoing in the back of my brain was a sentence from the first morning of training.

It is never easy to enter the world of the dying.

Well, I knew that from experience. I’d had my own world turned wrong side up by death and disease. “Sweet Jesus, what am I doing here?” I said aloud. I caught a flutter of movement behind one of the curtains at a front window. Too late to cut and run. My grandpa Earl’s advice echoed in my head: Don’t worry about the mule going blind. Just load the wagon. I climbed the steps, chewing that gum like a cow hopped up on speed and hoping I looked more together than I felt. Just load the wagon. As I neared the door, a formless clutch of anxiety closed my throat, and I combed my fingers through my hair, lightly traced the scar that lay just behind my ear. Then I swallowed and stood tall, my mama’s daughter after all.

The woman who opened the door was dressed in a print cotton blouse, navy pants that had seen better days, and a pair of sneakers with slits cut for bunions, the kind of getup Lily wouldn’t be caught dead in. But then again, who knew what my mama was wearing those days. For all I knew, it could have been floral print spandex.

This woman was wrinkled and thin, with drugstore-kit-dyed hair and a bent body that signaled osteoporosis and spoke of a far-reaching history of heartache and hard work. Right then, that first time I saw Nona, she touched something in my heart, and I wanted to reach straight out and fold her in my arms.

“You’re Jessie?” she said. “From hospice?”

“Yes,” I said. “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t allow for traffic.”

She brushed away the apology. “I’m Nona. Luke’s mother.” Behind her smudged glasses, her face was slack, fatigue revealed in every pore and line. “You’re younger than I expected,” she said, although it appeared she wasn’t going to hold that against me, for she stepped aside and allowed me in.

I tucked the gum in my cheek and offered what I hoped was a reassuring smile.
“How old are you, anyway?” she said.

“Thirty-two.”

“Well, I thought you’d be older,” she repeated in the no-nonsense tone of a person who said just what she was thinking. In that way, she was kin to Faye. I wondered if that was something you grew to as you aged. Like you didn’t have anything to lose. Or maybe it came from being a born and bred northerner and not having to come at everything sideways.

“You’re not from around here,” she said, more statement than question.

“Richmond,” I said. “Virginia.” I’d never thought of myself as having an accent, but since I’d moved up North, it seemed everyone commented on it.

The living room was small, seriously overheated, and smelled so strongly of wet dog and wood ash, I had to smother a sneeze. While Nona closed the door, I took a quick look around. I swear I’d seen more furniture in a phone booth. The ex-wife must have picked the place clean. A faded plaid couch, the kind you could tell was scratchy without even touching it, faced the fireplace and was flanked by a scarred pine rocker. The Cape Cod Times was spread out on a wooden lobster trap that served as a coffee table. One section of the paper was folded open to a partially completed crossword. The only interesting object in the entire room was a seascape hanging above the mantel, an oil in delicate shades of gray and blue with a dory that surfaced from the fog only after I had been considering it for a minute or two.

“The kitchen’s in here,” Nona said, pulling my attention back. We passed by a closed door through which seeped the sound of a television. Nona slowed a step but did not stop. “I just made a pot of coffee, or there are tea bags if you prefer,” she said. “And there’s soda in the refrigerator. You just feel free to help yourself to anything.”

I looked over at the closed door, assumed that Luke lay behind it. At our last team meeting, Faye and Ginny had told me that he was militantly private and had agreed to accept only a limited amount of help from hospice. Translated, that meant my role there was to provide support for Nona, who had moved up from Wellfleet to care for him exactly one month back. Until two weeks ago, Luke had resisted having hospice involved in any way at all, but when his doctor gave him an ultimatum—hospice or a nursing home—he had surrendered. At first, he only allowed visits from the nurse and from the health aide who assisted with his bath and personal needs, but after the social worker spoke with him, he agreed to my inclusion on the team. “It’s more for your mother than for you,” the social worker told him. “She hasn’t been out of the house in days. A volunteer will provide her with some necessary respite and support.” According to Faye, Luke’s exact words of acquiescence were “As long as I don’t have to have anything to do with her. I don’t want some goddamned, recycling do-gooder wringing her hands over me.” It was a sentiment I certainly understood and had no trouble respecting.

We had been told that the central tenet of hospice care was that since the dying have so little control over their lives, the hospice team was, whenever possible, to grant them autonomy in decision making during this end-of-life period. “We meet people where they are, not where we want them to be,” Faye had told me. Still, the more I learned about Luke Ryder, the more surprised I was that Faye hadn’t assigned a man to the case. Someone older and experienced, like Bert, a retired FBI agent who has been volunteering for eleven years. But Faye said, “Trust me. I never make a mistake. You’re the one.”

“Is Luke in there?” I asked Nona.

“Yes. But they’ve told you that he doesn’t want to be disturbed, didn’t they?”

“Yes. They were clear about that.”

Outside, a horn tooted. Three short beeps.

“Well, here’s my ride,” Nona said. She looked over at the closed door, serious second thoughts plain on her face. “Is there anything else you need to know?”

“Nothing,” I said, all false confidence.

“It’s hard to leave him,” she said.

For an instant, I swear I nearly told her to stay. Instead, I said, “Take as long as you like. I have all day. Really.”

“Well, I won’t be gone long,” she said. “An hour at the most.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, regretting the words instantly. Don’t worry. To a woman whose son was dying.

“He has a bell. Did they tell you that?”

I nodded. It was in my notes.

“He’ll ring it if he needs anything.” She hung back at the door, as if still trying to determine if I could be trusted.

“Go,” I said. “He’ll be fine. I promise.”

I watched from the window as the car pulled away. I was surprised by a jolt of anxiety—it had been months since I’d had an  attack—and felt the telltale prickly flush of heat flooding my body. I closed my eyes and reminded myself to breathe—Deep Breath. Deep Breath. Deep Breath—repeating the mantra until the flash of panic gradually began to subside. I told myself anyone would be a bit nervous under the circumstances. I told myself I would be fine.

Table of Contents

"Thank you very much for sending me the book THE LAVENDER HOUR. Wow I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the range of emotions this book evoked." - Eileen Gosselin

"This book was such a great read. As I was reading it I was remembering many things from my past and present. My dad's fire accident, when my mother remarried a man that we didn't really like and how now she is so ill and how my sister and I are so close. This past week as I was heading to work and looked up at Pikes Peak, the sun was coming up and the mountains were Lavender and pink. So in the mornings and evenings there is a Lavender Hour for me." - Julie Clode

"I really enjoyed reading this, and have recommended it to my book club. I found the book to be gripping from the beginning and loved her use of foreshadowing – without “giving away” the ending." - Laura L. Stephan

"Wow, what a book. I cannot wait to recommend it to my book club. This is a must read! I could hardly put it down. There are certainly many points for discussion. Great for book clubs. It's the kind of book you want to share, to be able to talk with someone about what Jessie did, how she felt, would we do the same, and on and on. I had not read Anne LeClaire before, but will certainly now look for one of her other books." - Sandy Brodie

"I do not think I have ever finished a novel quite so fast. This is a real page turner. I was not familiar with Anne LeClaire's work so the book carried a double bonus by introducing me to an author whose previous works I shall now seek out to enjoy. The heartbreaking story of Jessie's finding love at last only to lose it was gracefully told. I appreciated how LeClaire developed the relationships between Jessie and the older women in her life: Faye, Nona, and even her own mother. What appealed to me most in the novel was that Jessie finally overcame the fear which had been ruling her for her whole life and I hope with all my heart that she finds someone else to care about as deeply as she did Luke. LeClaire certainly made her protagonist come to life so that I cared about her. One would expect a novel in which one of the central themes is death and dying to be depressing, however, I found The Lavender Hour to be uplifting." - Nancy Yinger Noyes

"Although THE LAVENDER HOUR is about a woman who is asked by a dying person to help him end his life, at heart it is really a lesson in living. I know from personal experience that the dying have much to teach us about life and what is truly important. I found myself asking, “What would I have done?” This was thought provoking, emotional and well written." - Virginia Murray
Anne Leclaire|Author Q&A

About Anne Leclaire

Anne Leclaire - The Lavender Hour
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

N.M.Kelby (Nicole Mary Kelby) is a former print and television journalist and the author of three novels: In the Company of Angels,Theater of the Stars, and most recently, Whale Season. She met Anne LeClaire while in residence at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois, where both have been named Distinguished Fellows.

NMK: The Lavender Hour strikes me as a book that puts death in its place in the cycle of life–it allows readers to embrace it as a part of life, to overcome their fear of it, and allow for the lessons it brings.

AL: I don’t know if most of us ever actually overcome our fear of death. I sense we are hardwired with that fear, but by witnessing it, in fiction as well as in fact, we are cracked open to the gift of its significant lessons.

NMK: I find that most writers write from a dark place in their heart. Much of my work, including my comedic novel Whale Season, has been influenced by the death of my daughter.I write out of the need to find hope in darkness.Your work feels crafted along a similar path. Does writing provide you a way to own your private sorrow and to re-create it?

AL:Writing provides me with a way to try to make sense of things. And to delve into issues like loss and grief and disconnection as well as to explore the role these things play in our lives. I am not re-creating a specific personal sorrow but draw on my experiences to inform the sorrows of the characters. The one step removed gives me just the distance I need to explore. I don’t think of the writing as coming from a dark place in my heart but from a center of hope. As Flannery O’Connor once responded to a reader who accused her of being a pessimist that only an optimist dares look life fully in the face. And her answer to people who complained that the novelist painted a picture of a world that is unbearable was “People without hope do not write novels.” I do know that experiencing grief and exploring it through my stories has made me passionate about finding and celebrating joy. And life.

NMK: What inspired you to write this particular story?

AL: One sentence in a novel I was reading. I don’t remember the name of the book or much about it except that a minor character in it was a hospice volunteer, and when I read that, I had the “solar plexus hit” I get when the germ of a story strikes. I thought about how people often envision hospice work as being about endings, but it can be about beginnings, too. I also recalled a sentence I heard during a lecture by Dr. Bernie Siegel: “We learn how to live from the dying.” That seemed a wonderful premise for a book about a hospice volunteer, and eventually it landed in Jessie’s narrative.What can we learn? What are the costs of the lessons? How do we heal?

NMK: Jessie, your heroine, is an amazing creation. As a reader, I felt both great sympathy and great antipathy toward her–and at times, she really made me mad. As a writer, I admire your skill in drawing such a flawed creature and applaud the choice. But what I really want to know is,do you like her? Would you take her out for girl talk, a glass of wine, and some steamers?

AL: Oh, I just love Jessie. I feel such compassion for her. She is the part of all of us that urgently wants to connect–and isn’t that exactly all we ever long for?–and then keeps messing it up. This is the question I wanted to spend time with and in fact have been playing with for the last three books (Entering Normal, Leaving Eden, and The Law of Bound Hearts). If we long for connection, why do we keep messing it up? Of course, the answer is fear. I recently read somewhere that fear and longing are the two predominant emotions and motivating forces.In Jessie,they are in conflict with each other. And conflict in the human heart is always worth writing about. As to hanging with her, I’ve just spent nearly two years with her and wouldn’t mind some more, especially now that she has a lot of hard-earned wisdom to share. A perfect day with Jessie would be to go for a long walk in the dunes at the National Seashore, then have those steamers, and cap the day by dancing at the Squire.And I’d love a piece of her jewelry.

NMK: Just between you and me, why do you really think Jessie was attracted to Luke? Did it have something to do with her cancer?

AL: Oh my, yes. At first, she was attracted to his looks and that sense she had of “I know you.” And then she fell in love with the person. It was such a daring thing for her to fall in love with someone who was going to leave her. Loving is always courting the possibility of loss, and with Luke, it was a sure thing.

NMK: Lily, Jessie’s mother, is so wonderful. Her “rebirth” after years of widowhood–finding a rich younger love (a dentist, no less!), letting her hair go gray, and jaunting away on a transatlantic sail with her lover–makes us all say “You go, girl!” It’s interesting that Jessie has such a difficult time with her mother’s new life.

AL: Well, change can be such a threat and a challenge, especially when it occurs in someone close to us. Jessie wanted Lily to continue as she always was, her dependable foundation, and the glorious thing about Lily refusing the role is that it forced Jessie to set down her own roots.

NMK: At one point, you have Lily tell her daughter, “Sometimes you have to take a journey to find yourself.” What journey did you take when you wrote The Lavender Hour?

AL: What a great question. Obviously I took a journey into grief and loss and the arena of the dying.Years ago, when I was writing Entering Normal, I came across a quote by Oscar Wilde: “Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.” I just love this quote and keep it by my computer. I think what Wilde meant was that it is in the times when we are brought to our knees with grief, absolutely humbled by loss, that we are doing soul work. That is when the heart cracks open and all our defenses are useless.You know this better than most, Nicole.

NMK: The human heart is an unwieldy thing–I think that’s what I’ll admit to. Everybody knows sorrow. As I always say, “Life is a morbid adventure–so let’s try to have some fun.”

AL: I’m with you there, sister.

NMK:You know, when I write, I always fall in love with my characters. After spending day after day with them, making them real, they seem real to me. I sometimes even dream of them. So I really hate killing them–even if they deserve it. Was there ever a time in the process of writing this book that you found yourself pained over Luke’s looming death? Or maybe regret the pain you cause his mother, Nona?

AL: Only every day. I kept thinking, there must be a way to save him.But as a wise editor once told me,you can’t save them all.And she was right. Being a mother myself, I felt Nona’s pain deeply, but I couldn’t rescue her either. Giving people the dignity of their own pain is a tough thing to do, in writing and in life.

NMK:The shades of grief that are portrayed in this book are amazing. From Paige, Luke’s in-denial daughter, to his exhausted caretaking mother to his tough-guy best friend, it seems as if you’ve touched on every possible reaction to the death of a loved one. After my daughter died, I spent many years trying to avoid my grief. Only when I discovered the transformative power of writing, a decade later, did I begin to understand what I can learn from her death and how that loss enriched me as a person. Only since then have I been able to properly grieve. Do you see Luke’s loved ones ever coming to grips with their grief?

AL:Yes. Especially Nona. It will take Paige longer, I suspect. None of us would choose to go through the kind of devastating loss that you experienced, nor would we wish it on anyone. But loss is inevitable for all of us. It is the human condition. I suspect it wasn’t only your writing that transformed you but your experience. Even when you thought you were avoiding grief, you were living with it. Like the crucible in a science lab class, it burned away the crust and left you with the essence.

NMK: I think you’re right.That “essence” throws the rest of life into relief–it makes the joys more profound and the pleasures richer.

AL: It awakens us to life.

NMK:You seem to have done a good deal of research on hospice volunteers.

AL: I was fortunate in that a number of people with extraordinarily generous hearts gave me insight into their experiences. I have also had three friends die and have witnessed the key role hospice workers played during their last months.

NMK: In this book, you provide the reader with a wealth of information on the Victorian practice of making jewelry from hair.The poet in me loves the idea that our heroine makes hair jewelry and some of her clients are cancer patients–it seems such a wonderful and gripping artistic expression for her. However, the shopper in me says “ick.” Of course, I think this is what you were going for–that lovely conflicted feeling we have for Jessie–but I had to ask myself,what drew you, as a writer, to make this particular choice? Do you know someone who actually does make hair jewelry for people going through chemo?

AL: I don’t know of anyone who makes the jewelry for people in chemo, but through the Internet, I found a wonderful woman named Jeanenne Bell, author of Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry, who gave me tons of information. The aversion we have toward hair jewelry is fairly recent and reflects the conflicted feelings we have about death and our bodies. For centuries and centuries–well before the Victorian age so often associated with the craft–people have been making hair jewelry. And, of course, as a symbol, hair is so rich, so absolutely loaded.

NMK: You set your story in Cape Cod.You obviously have some strong feelings about the healing powers of place.

AL: You yourself know the power of place, in life and in fiction. And you use it beautifully in your work.That is one of the things I loved about Whale Season. Certainly there are sacred spots we are drawn to for healing, and I think Cape Cod is one.

NMK: In Whale Season, the unspoiled subtropical beauty that was once Florida does heal and transform. It’s a shame those places don’t exist anymore.At least the Cape still has that mystic power.I remember the first time I drove out through the dunes, I turned to my husband and said, “It looks like the moon dreaming of itself.”

AL: Jeez, Nicole, that line deserves a poem. I don’t think I’ll ever again walk a dune without recalling it.

NMK: I know that both you and your husband are pilots. How does flying, maintaining that delicate balance between life and death, inform your writing?

AL: Flying requires a certain healthy detachment that is a good thing to nurture.And looking down on the land provides a pilot with perspective, the visual reminder that there is always a larger picture to be seen, one we miss when we are absorbed by the closer surrounds. In writing, it is key to remember the larger scope–the humanscape and the landscape–within which the story takes place. Paying attention, rigorous preparation, faith, trust–all things required of a pilot–are also required of the writer.And, like writing, flying is exhilarating exactly because it requires dancing on the edge.

NMK: That’s true. As writers, we all dance on the edge–of our hearts.

AL: More poetry!

NMK: And more love! Seems like you, and your work, inspire that reaction in people–so, many thanks for that. Can’t have enough love and poetry in the world. Lots of pizza is good, too.

Praise

Praise

“A few writers, and Anne LeClaire is one, can illuminate honestly every nuance of life reclaimed from loss, as the setting sun outlines every limb of a tree in winter.”
–Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean

“Brilliant, dark, and deep . . . LeClaire writes with great compassion and insight, and understands the ways that lives intersect, the way one decision can change everything forever.”
–Luanne Rice, author of Sandcastles

“Heart-wrenching, illuminating . . . The Lavender Hour paints in vivid detail the many shades of grief and the healing magic of place.”
–Claire Cook author of Must Love Dogs

“LeClaire packs this winning novel with resounding life lessons and a resonating set of romantic relationships.”
–Kirkus Reviews
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Why does Jessie call her mother by her first name? What does this say about their relationship? Does your family have nicknames or use specific names in different contexts?

2. Jessie is disappointed with her first visit to Luke’s, much of which she spends alone: “I sipped the coffee, bitter, and felt...What? Let down? This was so not what I expected” (p. 10). What do you think Jessie did expect out of her work with hospice? Why do you think she joined?

3. What do you think first attracts Jessie to Luke? Why do you think she has such an intense reaction when she sees his photograph?

4. Have you ever felt connected to a person simply by seeing his or her photo, as Jessie was in the novel?

5. Why does Jessie have such a strong aversion to her mother’s relationship with Jan? Why, in particular, is she so opposed to her mother’s transatlantic trip? How does this particular attitude reflect her own romantic insecurities? Her fears of death? Her belated grief for her father?

6. While she is on the Cape, Jessie’s close friendships are with two older women–first Faye, then Nona. Why does she gravitate toward these two women? How do her relationships with each differ? How are they the same?

7. Jessie says, after Luke gets sick on their outing to Dairy Queen, “Later I would see that, from the beginning, I wanted too much. Wanted too much in a fierce and violent way that could only lead to trouble” (p. 105).What does she mean by this?

8. The use of hair as a metaphor threads through much of the book. Faye points out that hair, out of which Jessie makes her jewelry, is actually already dead. She says, “Odd, then, that that part of us which is dead will outlast the living–the blood, body, bones” (p. 28). Later, on the first night they spend together, Jessie tells Luke a story about a woman who is saved by her own hair. Finally, a piece of Luke’s hair that Jessie had clipped is used as evidence against her.What do you think hair represents in the novel? Why is it so important?

9. When Jessie is first questioned by the police, she is still overwhelmed with grief for Luke. How does this harm her case? How, if at all, does the trial help her deal with Luke’s death?

10. Luke’s daughter, Paige, becomes the linchpin in Jessie’s trial. How would you describe Paige’s relationship with her father? How, if at all, are she and Jessie alike? Why do you think she is so interested in pursuing the investigation?

11. Why does Jessie choose to stay on the Cape, after it has caused her so much pain? What does it hold for her that Virginia does not?

12. Faye tells Jessie, “The dying can teach us how to die.... Maybe that serves as a model for how to live” (p. 18). How is that true for Jessie and Luke’s relationship? What does Luke teach Jessie?

13. Was Jessie guilty of a crime?

14. Have you ever been close to someone throughout the dying process? How did your experience differ from Jessie’s?


  • The Lavender Hour by Anne D. LeClaire
  • March 27, 2007
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $19.00
  • 9780345460486

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