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Book Club Discussion Questions for the Second Daughter

From: mark l.
Sent on: Monday, February 25, 2013 10:48 AM

Fellow bibliophiles,

Sorry for the delay in getting this to you.  This earlier date has thrown me off my usual routine.  Below are the discussion questions for our meeting TONIGHT.

Hope to see you then,


Discussion Questions for The Second Daughter

(Beware of spoilers below!)

1. In Chapter Eleven Helen says, “Three things happened in my life that I—I never talked about with a soul. One I did, one was done to me, and one just—happened. They happened, I put them away, and I never looked back. Or so I believed.” What do you suppose these three things are? And why are they important for understanding Helen’s behavior throughout the novel?

2. Theodore tends to see himself as the victim, as having been driven out by Helen and her “coven.” In what ways is his position justified? In what ways could or should Helen and the two Gale daughters have treated him differently, at least leading up to The Very Busy Day?

3. Who, in the end, is more to blame for the disintegration of the family: Theodore or Helen?

4. What do you make of Theodore’s and Helen’s rather different approaches to parenting? Are they complementary (in a good way), or are they at odds (in a bad way)? Would there have been better ways to deal with the fighting between the two girls?

5. What important role does the Marvin Marvin story play in the narrative overall? What does it reveal about Theodore, and Helen? And Debra?

6. What important role does the Eddie Love story play in the narrative overall? What does it reveal about Helen, and Debra?

7. Why do you suppose Helen is so resistant to Melvin’s advances? Why is she so resistant to letting him help her, financially and otherwise? Why is she so resistant to so many suggestions, including selling the island in order to provide for her medical care?

8. The narrative is deliberately vague about time and place, giving only subtle indications about the specific years in question (until the end, anyway) and using expressions such as “the city,” “the town,” “the promised land,” etc. Why do you suppose the author chose to do that?

9. Once you realize who the author is, in what ways does that affect your interpretation of the various events of the novel? Does it make the “objectivity” of the narrative more suspect? (Or were there already signs in place either promoting or challenging the objectivity of the narrative?) Which events in the novel most need rethinking, once you understand who the author is?

10. Why does the author, in the Postscript, use the expression “whatever her mother may or may not have whispered to her at the end”?

11.Will Debra forgive Theodore? Should she?

12. What do you make of Debra’s romantic prospects, at the end? Is it going to work out? Or is it —is she—pretty much doomed?

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