Book Club Guest Blog: Motives, A Character Discussion

January 13, 2012 at 10:33 am , by

This week’s post is by Neely Kennedy of Reading Group Choices, a leading online resource for book club tips and discussible selections. 

In the LHJ Book Club pick for February, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, author Elizabeth Stuckey-French explores the motives that propel her characters to act in very strange ways in this wonderfully quirky novel. The main character, Marylou, is a woman hell-bent on exacting revenge for a secret government medical study that caused the death of her eight-year-old daughter.

Motives are a critical component in character development for compelling story telling, and in a book club setting, one of the most important focuses of discussion.  A gifted author skillfully develops characters that intrigue us, and keep us turning the pages to find out the “why” behind the characters’ actions. Similarly, a good writer will allow the characters’ motives to unfold in a way that, even if we find their actions morally questionable at the beginning of the book, we will gradually start to understand them, sympathize with them and, usually, forgive them for their flaws.

These descriptions of the characters in The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady are followed by brief excerpts that provide glimpses into the real emotions underlying the motives of each of Stuckey-French’s characters. This is a technique you can use as a tool to provoke fascinating book-club discussions of almost any title.

Marylou’s Motive: Revenge

Marylou’s underlying emotions of deep anger, grief, and loneliness stem from the loss of her daughter to bone cancer because of a ghastly radioactive cocktail she was instructed to drink during her pregnancy.

Desperation was the mother of invention. By the time she got back to Reeve’s Court, Marylou had devised a brand-new attack plan. She would continue with her efforts to make Wilson remember and apologize, but she would also take steps to destroy his family, the way he’s destroyed hers. It would surely make him miserable to watch his family suffer, the way she’d had to watch Helen and Teddy suffer.

Ava’s Motive:  Acceptance

Ava is admired for her beauty, but overprotected and misunderstood because of her Asperger’s Syndrome, she is desperate to be independent and live a life of relative normalcy.

It was depressing to realize that she didn’t fit in here, and she sure didn’t fit in with the so-called typical people. So what was left? Living with her mother for the rest of her life? She’d rather kill herself.

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Guest Blog: Life Choices, a Book Club Discussion

October 18, 2011 at 10:29 am , by

Today’s post comes from leading book club resource Donna Paz Kaufman of Reading Group Choices. “There is so much we learn from the characters in books, and many stories involve circumstances we will all deal with at some point in our lives.”

This month’s LHJ Book Club pick, The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass, tells the story of Percy Darling, a man dealing with his grief after the loss of his wife, and how it influences his relationships and decisions. When he decides to offer the use of his barn to a trendy preschool, he goes through yet another major life transition that brings his choices into question.

Ask your book club members to relate a story of someone they know who has lost a spouse and what they have learned by observing how the widow/widower handled the life transition. Sharing our personal experiences can be interesting and even therapeutic!

Here are some conversation starters to use when a character’s choices are curious or controversial. Some discussion questions relating to the The Widower’s Tale readers’ guide are in italics to help your book club dig into this book—find more here.

Describe the character’s perspective
How do they hear, see, and perceive the situation? Talk about the baggage they might be carrying to this situation and how their view of the situation may be clouded.

How do Percy’s age, background, and profession shape the way he thinks about the world? How does the way he sees himself differ from the way other characters see him? How has being a single father and now an involved grandfather defined him? How do you think he would have been a different father and man had Poppy lived?

Identify the choices
There are usually a variety of choices we can make when faced with a decision. Does the character see and consider them all?

Why do you think Percy chose to avoid romantic or sexual involvement for so many years after Poppy’s death? Why do you think he falls so suddenly for Sarah after all that time alone? Why now?

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