Want to discuss? (Reader’s Guide)

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS GALORE IN THESE QUESTIONS!

Not everyone will agree with all the decisions made by Molly, David, Cassandra, and others (or, by extension, with the author who wrote them making those decisions).

These questions are here for book groups, but you’re also welcome to weigh in right here on this page, by joining the discussion below. Although I don’t respond to reviews, I will participate in discussions here.

The discussion is moderated, partly to keep it civil, but mostly because it would otherwise fill up with spam.

Questions for Discussion (note that some of these are spoilers):

  1. SHOULD David have slept with her?
  2. Should the author have had Molly ask David to sleep with her?
  3. CAN or SHOULD these two live happily ever after? (Is this a romance?)
  4. Is Cassandra a good mother?
  5. Is Cassandra a good artist?
  6. What should Cassandra do about her piece?
  7. Does Kim get a pass for her bad behavior?
  8. Many readers are upset that Molly suffers what she does at the party — that the author doesn’t have David save her from it. Your opinion?
  9. Are there too many victims in this novel?
  10. What about the references to the passage from To The Lighthouse? Successful or pretentious or just getting in the way?
  11. How does David change over the course of the novel? Has he grown up?
  12. How does Molly change? Has she grown up?
  13. How has Cassandra changed, if at all?
  14. What is the point of Colin? Should he have been painted differently?
  15. What is the point of Molly’s father? Should he have been painted differently?
  16. Who are the villains and do they work as villains?
  17. What is this novel trying to say about sex?
  18. About marriage?
  19. About art?
  20. Why set it in the seventies? Would it have been better set today? What would have had to change?
  21. What would have been a better title for this book, and why?

Would you like to suggest new questions? Please feel free to do so below.

You’ll see some comments below, mostly from my friend Beth, and you might also be interested in a full set of comments from another friend, Linda. I feel very lucky, as a writer, to have generated interesting responses like these!


7 thoughts on “Want to discuss? (Reader’s Guide)

  1. 1) No, I don’t think David should have slept with Molly. Both were vulnerable and she was so recently assaulted. I think Molly needed someone to love her enough to put up some boundaries. Molly’s mother clearly had VERY loose boundaries. If I were Molly and David’s therapist I would be concerned about them entering into a sexual relationship at that point in time.

    2) I have no problem with that choice, but this is where I feel David should have acted as the adult and told Molly no.

    3) I think there is a special connection between Molly and David, but is that connection romance? I don’t think so…Age or ” status” need not to play a role in the ability to connect with another human being during times of struggle. Sometimes people need a lifeline, a support, someone to simply be there with them through the dark times. Can romance blossom out of that? Possibly. But is this the right time for either of them? I’m not sure. Both, I would think, have a great deal of healing to do.

    4) I would not put judgment on a person’s ability to parent, even a fictional character, but she has poor boundaries. This would leave Molly unbalanced and with no role model to teach her self-respect, self-care….I do feel she tries and she loves Molly, but she probably needs therapy herself.

    Just for starters….

    • I think that’s a fair assessment (and certainly a common one). It was a tough call for me. However, I think that for Molly her own agency at that point was more important than anything else. And I honestly reject the idea that engaging in a sexual relationship based on mutual feelings is somehow failing in self-respect. To my mind, there’s an unconscious instinct towards slut-shaming involved in that that all of us have a hard time escaping. I also think she is very fortunate, though, that David truly wants what is best for her and isn’t just taking advantage of the situation, which he could very easily do.

      • “And I honestly reject the idea that engaging in a sexual relationship based on mutual feelings is somehow failing in self-respect.”

        I would reject that idea as well. I may not have made my point as I intended to. I do wonder if Molly was in a healthy enough space emotionally to make this kind of choice at that point in time.

        • She had ample opportunity to back out of it at every stage and didn’t. It had been her goal before what happened to her, too. I am inclined to give Molly the benefit of the doubt on that and treat her sexuality as just another thing she had to figure out, in this case with someone she trusted (whether she should have or not). As, indeed, so many teenagers do. It’s something that has the potential to do a lot of harm if they choose poorly or are just unlucky, but that’s true of a whole lot of stuff we do as we grow up.

  2. I wouldn’t recommend a new sexual relationship for anyone who had recently been sexually assaulted, regardless of their age. Even though she had wanted this beforehand, I think both David and Molly need more time to heal. It’s my personal opinion with respect to yours. I hope Molly decides to see a therapist.

  3. 8) Rape IS very upsetting, but it does sadly happen sometimes. That is reality. People can’t always be protected. It’s difficult subject matter that many of us don’t want to think about because it is so painful. I think, though, that we need to look if we want to help those who have been through this, if we want to understand why it happens and how we might help prevent it, if we want to possibly change laws…So many who suffer suffer in silence. They deserve a voice. They need to be heard. Of course I was upset that Molly was hurt, but maybe we can learn from Molly’s experience and help those who have been through this in real life.

    • I knew of it happening to at least one of my freshman students at UNH (at a frat’s “ladies’ tea,” of course). And I’m sure it has happened to other students who never say a word. It happens far too often.