Monday, March 21, 2011

Last Lessons of Summer

Index to study guides/ book club questions / background:

Bloody Kin – 9 January 2011

Bootlegger’s Daughter– 16 January 2011

Death’s Half Acre – 23 January 2011

Hard Row — 6 February 2011

Last Lessons of Summer — 21 March 2011

One Coffee With – 30 January 2011 (Now on Kindle and Nook)


Several threads went into the plot of this book: (1) Years ago, I read that A. A. Milne’s son, the real Christopher Robin, was resentful that his dad had co-opted his childhood stuffed animals and imaginary world so I gave an exaggerated situation to a little girl named Maxine, Maxie for short. I made her parents a failed poet and a gifted illustrator who were so wrapped up in each other that they had little affection left for the child; (2) my own fascination with Argiopes, the common orb-weaving “writing” spiders; (3) a lovely “recovered memory” triggered by my first full-body massage; and (4) the realization that not every family clings to its ancestral land and that many are more than happy to sell the family farm to developers.

Last Lessons of Summer is a standalone novel set in “Colleton County,” the fictional home of Judge Deborah Knott. The crimes are investigated by two men close to her, SBI Agent Terry Wilson and Major Dwight Bryant of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department, yet she herself does not appear in this book.

Instead, this is a coming-of-age story about New Yorker Amy Steadman, a children’s book illustrator, who has inherited from her grandmother the controlling interest in a merchandising and publishing empire centered in Manhattan. She has also inherited the house where that grandmother was murdered and where that her own mother committed suicide when Amy was only a toddler.

An outsider with no sentimental ties to the land, Amy comes down to North Carolina to dispose of the house and her grandmother’s papers. In reconnecting with the relatives who still live on the farm, Amy hopes to learn why Maxie killed herself and whether her grandmother’s death was a robbery gone wrong or deliberate murder. Her cousin Curt tells her, “You have the right to ask those questions but you might not like all the answers you’re gonna get.”

Discussion points:

How does the myth that has grown up around the origin of Pink and Blue differ from the reality of their first appearance at that 1938 baby shower?

One of Frances’s coworkers declares that she’d rather have a tugboat for a husband than a dreamboat. Discuss.

How does this baby shower foreshadow the rest of the book and even affect Frances’s granddaughter years later?

At one point, Amy asks her stepbrother why he got to call her father Dad, but she was never allowed to call his mother Mom. How did that simple difference affect the dynamics of the blended family?

Amy’s younger sister Beth unwittingly causes Amy to recover a crucial memory. Has something similar ever triggered your own memory of something you had completely forgotten?

Beth tells Amy, “You’ve never had to worry about money. What’s pocket change for you might be a fortune to someone else.” One of the sub-themes of the book is power and money—who has it and who wants or doesn’t want it. Did you find the final division of PBM’s labor and power logical and fair?

In the end, has Amy chosen her future or has she settled for it?

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