Last week, Katie Hafner’s Mother Daughter Me went on sale in trade paperback. We are excited to share these questions and topics for discussion with you below.
Questions and Topics for Discussion:
1. Do you find Hafner’s mother to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Do you think the author herself is a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
2. Hafner often finds herself in the middle of arguments between her mother and her daughter. Do you think it was possible for her to effectively mediate, while also working out her own difficulties with her mother?
3. Money plays a significant role in the book. Discuss why money can be such a flashpoint for families. Why do you think it was a point of contention in Mother Daughter Me?
4. Objects, such as the piano, also held great emotional significance throughout. Did the piano and other gifts carry different meanings for Hafner and her mother? How did their different understandings of the symbolism of those tangible objects lead to conflict?
5. Hafner is a longtime journalist who turned to memoir writing. How do you see her skills as a journalist employed in the writing of Mother Daughter Me?
6. Memory—and the presentation of memories—can be tricky when writing memoirs. Many of Hafner’s childhood memories emerge during sessions with the therapist Lia. Others surface when she finds letters and other documents from the past. How do you think Hafner handles the reliability of her own memo- ries, especially from her early childhood? How do you think she handles the issue of memory when her recollections differ from her mother’s?
7. In its piece on Mother Daughter Me, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of children of parents who drink, “While their parents black out and forget, they remember, and their memories, their stories, matter. More than assigning blame, this is Hafner’s point—and her memoir is a brave manifestation of it.” Do you agree with the writer? Do you think Hafner steers clear of assigning blame? To what extent do you think it is necessary make a parent confront the details of a difficult past?
8. After Hafner’s husband, Matt, dies suddenly, Hafner tells the reader, she quickly does everything wrong. Instead of waiting to make any big changes, she acts hastily and, as she admits, inappropriately. What is your opinion of Hafner’s hasty decision to make large life changes? Are you sympathetic?
9. Bob, the man Hafner starts to date during the year chronicled in the book, is an anchor of sanity and stability throughout the book. How do you think Hafner was able to let another person into her life in during this year of such chaos and tumult? What role did you see Bob playing as he entered the family?
10. Hafner discusses the difficulty that subsequent generations often have in not repeating the mistakes of their parents, especially when it comes to inflicting trauma on one’s children. Do you think Hafner succeeds in breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma that her own mother was unable to break?
11. Hafner discusses the long-term effects of divorce on children, citing Judith Wallerstein’s book The Legacy of Divorce. Why do you think she chooses to discuss divorce at such length, when alcohol might seem to be the bigger problem?
12. Hafner’s father comes off as a complex, much-loved, but muted character in the book. Why do you think Hafner chose to keep him in the background of the narrative?
13. Do you think Hafner has created a balanced view of herself and her mother? Was she even in a position to do so? Are there examples of why or why not?
14. Why do you think the author’s sister had a life that was so deeply troubled, while Hafner herself, despite coming from the same background, was able to make different, healthier choices earlier in life?
15. Despite being in many ways a typical, occasionally difficult teenager, Zoë also shows herself to be surprisingly adult and insightful at times. What role do you think she plays in the choices that Hafner makes once Zoë’s grandmother comes to live with them?
16. Hafner describes in detail her relationship with her daughter, and the fierce attachment between the two. What do you think drew them so close? Does their bond add to the challenges they faced that year?
17. The mother-daughter relationship is inherently complicated, which Hafner makes very clear in the book. What are your thoughts on what makes the mother-daughter bond so complex, and often so fraught?
18. Toward the end of the book, Hafner states that instead of feeling the need to act as the constant pleaser and appeaser, she can finally “have relationships with all of the people that I love without having to connect the dots between them.” Does this insight seem like a good life lesson? Is there a contradiction in loving two people while knowing they may never reconcile? How does Hafner confront this question?