Are you surprised, though? It was too much to expect us to engage in thoughtful discussion, even if the questions came from Oprah.
How did I foolishly think we would use these book club discussion questions during our last gathering, a chilly January night before the holiday weekend? It started at a meeting at work with my boss. In addition to out-reading the rest of our team, she manages to participate in THREE book clubs. God bless her.
More often than not, our weekly touch-bases devolve into book club debriefs. When I told her our pick was An American Marriage, well. She had a lot to say. And so did I.
You may recall that a few members of the Drinking Club ventured to the Brooklyn Book Festival this fall for enlightening conversation and empanadas. The highlight of our day was the closing conversation between Tayari Jones and Jennifer Egan. You may also recall that moderator Lisa Lucas and Jones got into a fun-spirited yet completely serious debate about whether they felt more sympathy for Roy, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, or Andre, the friend next door who becomes more to Roy’s wife Celeste while he’s incarcerated. Lucas was Team Roy, and Jones was Team Andre (to put this in Twilight heartthrob terms). As I eagerly flipped the pages, enraptured by Jones’s simple and powerful writing and juxtaposition of letters with first-person narration, the only other thought I had was: Lisa was right. Who does Andre think he is, waltzing into this tragic situation and taking advantage of a grieving friend who explicitly told him she wasn’t interested? How could he possibly think that real, lasting love could blossom when Roy and Celeste, married less than two years when Roy was arrested, were still tied to each other, even by the weakest of threads?
Some self-reflection after finishing the book (because I am a goody-two-shoes who completes my assigned reading, thank you very much) led me to realize my frustration was misdirected at Andre. Celeste had me all riled up. What happened to the self-assured, take-no-prisoners artist we met in the first chapter? No doubt her past trauma influenced her reaction, but I couldn’t fathom how this woman, graceful and confident, could transform into an indecisive, meek person stuck in decision limbo. As I write this, I think I sound harsh. I do sympathize with Celeste. Fate dealt her the shittiest of hands (except it wasn’t fate, dear readers; it was a very real and very corrupt justice system that devalues the lives and innocence of people of color). The agony and injustice of becoming another victim of the system, and attempting to find some happiness to propel you forward, would decimate any person’s spirit (though I’m only guessing). And yet, while Celeste’s response to tragedy is to avoid decisions or acknowledging her complicated reality, Roy and Andre both cling to the reality they want to be true, and try to assert their desires in any way they can. Roy insists his relationship will weather his incarceration and maintains that he can return to the life he once had, while Andre insists that his relationship with Celeste supersedes all, to the point where he believes he can dictate Roy’s life post-prison.
This and much more came out on a Wednesday morning in Conference Room X. As we grappled with the journey of Roy and Celeste’s marriage, we could agree on two things. First: the image of the jar, a symbol of their marriage and their investment in it, is poetic and haunting. Second: we want to hang out with the parents–they seem way more fun and put together than our protagonists.
It was at the end of this discussion that she suggested I print out the book club questions for the Club as a jumping off point for our thoughts. As DR handed me a glass of Cabernet, I told those of us gathered that I had Oprah’s talking points in hand.
Well, those questions sat in my work bag all night, forgotten amidst the wine and heavenly pizza. What did we discuss, then?
- Is DR going to die on her National Park hiking trip? MM says “definitely not,” but gave some invaluable advice on where to hike and what to pack, as our resident nature expert.
- Is Julie Andrews a terror? We got to discussing musicals and Carol Burnett, which led us to everyone’s favorite nanny and the rumor that she is…intense. I don’t care if it’s true; I refuse to believe the Queen of Genovia is anything less than delightful.
- Do you pronounce it “car-A-mel,” or “car-MEL?” According to MM, she and her coworkers have regular fights over the correct pronunciation (DR thought that sounded sticky). We asked our dear friends Merriam and Webster what was the correct pronunciation, to which those two betches replied: both. Not helpful.
- Can we manage a judgment free night? That remains to be seen, but we’re gonna give the ol’ college try. We’re headed to House of Yes for a night of liberating debauchery and velvet bodysuits. DR has promised that, judgy as she is, she will be judgment free for one night.
Until next time,