Today was the second meeting of the Penguin Twitter Book Club. Just to recap for those who are unfamiliar: the Penguin Twitter Book Club is a new initiative born from the company’s search for new ways to interact with their fans. As with traditional book clubs, Penguin will choose a different book written by a Penguin author each month and tweet out the date and time for the discussion, which can be followed at the hashtag #readpenguin. The author will also sit in on the chat when possible.
Three sisters have returned to their childhood home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Here, books are a passion (there is no problem a library card can’t solve) and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard’s heroines. It’s a lot to live up to.
The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, faced with their parents’ frailty and their own personal disappointments, not even a book can solve what ails them…
I am a huge fan of this book and the author, and the discussion has been incredible so far! Today’s selection focused on chapters 5-11.
NOTE: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
- We need to talk about Bean: Middle sister Bianca “Bean” Andreas was the star of today’s discussion because she makes another horrible choice. We learned in the first few chapters that Bean returned home because embezzled thousands of dollars from her job and got fired. Shortly after she returns, she suffers a shock when she goes out to a bar and, just when she’s getting her flirt on with the local men, finds herself supplanted by a gaggle of 20-year-old girls. In the wake of this, she begins an affair with Dr. Manning, who happens to be the husband of her former mentor. Readers were up in arms over her actions, and Eleanor posed a question to us: Why doesn’t Bean make better choices? What would a better choice be?
The better choice was fairly obvious to us: steer clear of Dr. Manning, although, as the folks at Penguin rightly pointed out, we love the drama. As to why Bean doesn’t make better choices, those answers ran the gamut. Reader Audrey said that Bean is like a compulsive eater, only she turns to men instead of food to bury her pain. Someone else said it’s a cry for help. Julie said it’s depression. I said it’s because she still hates herself for what she did in New York and, after what happened in the bar, she desperately wants to feel special and wanted. Eleanor said that Bean is the best representation of the part of us that gets in the way and the part that’s most capable of doing harm.
Rita of BlogHer asked a great question that also got people talking: did anyone feel Dr. Manning was to blame more than Bean? Plenty of people thought Dr. Manning was plenty guilty—one reader wanted him publicly vilified, while I called him an eejit—but we’re harder on Bean because we know her and we know her crimes.
Penguin piggybacked with another observation: “All of the sisters seem capable of self-harm. Rose staying behind is hurting her, and Cordy’s secrets will catch up in time.” I pointed out that Bean’s crimes seem worse because they’re more overt, although Cordy is pretty high up there because, as Eleanor pointed out, she’s putting another life at risk. Some readers were more annoyed with Cordy than Bean, but in the end, Cordy’s reason for being so foolhardy is openly stated in the book: she knows she can fall back on the family.
Julie rightly pointed out that Rose’s situation is the easiest one to remedy and that she should take the leap and move to England. This led to a lot of “girly” and “married lady” sighing over Jonathan after Eleanor explained that Rose’s indecisiveness is what led her to make him so wonderful.
- Parents as humans, and dress shopping:The other major event of these chapters was Mrs. Andreas’s breast cancer surgery. My mother had a breast cancer scare last year which was, thankfully, no more than a scare, but reading those scenes gutted me. Eleanor explained that she wrote them to underscore that moment where we realize our parents are human. “A big part of the book came from my own feelings about trying to develop a different relationship with my parents as an adult. And I have talked to lots of parents who feel the same way – just as hard in reverse.”Penguin stirred things up by asking how we felt about the juxtaposition of the surgery scene with the scene of the girls dress shopping for Rose’s wedding. Most people felt it worked because it was the first time we saw the sisters really bond, which needed to happen at that moment.
- On sisterly bonding: Julie asked why it was so difficult for the Andreas girls to open up to each other, and Eleanor turned it over to the group. Answers included fear of judgment, the feeling that they constantly have to jockey for their parents’ attention, and natural sibling rivalry. Eleanor said that “sisterhood, like any relationship, goes in waves. At the start of the book, they are not close, but that’s not always been true of them.” She also said that there are plenty of opportunities for the sisters to grow closer or grow more competitive throughout the book.
Major kudos to Penguin and to Eleanor, who was so lightning fast with her responses that the flow of conversation never stopped. In fact, we went five minutes over time today!
The next discussion (up to chapter 16) is set for this Friday at 2:30.