READERS GUIDE

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Engagements, a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage from the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine.

Introduction

Relationships have as many facets as a diamond. There are those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.

Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years-forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love-the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding-beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings-and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. 

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America and the way-for better or for worse-these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The Engagements’s epigraph refers to diamonds as “nothing more than an empty cage for our dreams-blank surfaces upon which the shifting desires of the heart could be written.” What does this tell us about the novel we’re about to discuss?

2. Feminism and the role of women is a recurring theme in The Engagements. Which character’s attitude did you relate to the most, and why?

3. Two of the novel’s major characters are anti-marriage, with story lines that are decades apart. How does time change society’s attitude toward intentionally unmarried women?

4. On page 27, Evelyn thinks, “Men made mistakes and when they asked forgiveness, women forgave. It happened every day.” Does this prove true throughout the novel, with other characters?

5. Did you know that Frances Gerety was a real person? How does that change your feelings about the character? 

6. Why do you think Frances is the only character whose story moves through time?

7. On page 100, in a section set in 1972, Evelyn thinks, “Since she and Gerald were young, what it meant to be an American had changed. There was so much emphasis on the self now-self over country, self over family, self over all else. Her son was a shining example of the consequences.” How does this play out in more contemporary sections of the novel and with other story lines?

8. While the novel is clearly about marriage, parental relationships also play a major role. Discuss and compare the parenting styles of Evelyn, James, and Kate. 

9. How does Delphine’s bond with her late father influence her romantic life?

10. In the novel, a Stradivarius violin and a diamond ring are each cherished heirlooms. Which do you think has more value? Which does the author value more?

11. What did you think about Delphine’s reaction to P.J.’s betrayal?

12. On page 175, Meg says to Frances, “Sometimes it just feels like we can’t tell what we’ve given up until it’s too late.” What other characters could have uttered that line?

13. Sullivan paints Kate as principled yet judgmental. Does Sullivan want us to like her?

14. On page 275, May says to Kate, “It’s very rare to find anyone who’s absolutely certain that she chose the right ring.” What metaphor is at work here?

15. Late in the novel, on page 344, Gerald says to Evelyn, “No one has the right to comment on the way anyone else falls in love.” He says that in 1972. How does it apply in other decades?

16. What did you think when you learned how James was connected to the other stories?

17. What point do you think Sullivan is making about the ethics of diamonds? Did reading this novel change your feelings about them?

18. Which story line did you enjoy the most? Whose story would you like to keep reading?

About this Author

J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of the New York Times best-selling novels Commencement and Maine. Maine was named a Best Book of the Year by Time magazine and a Washington Post Notable Book for 2011. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Allure, Real Simple, and New York magazine, among others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Suggested Reading

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg; Later, at the Bar by Rebecca Barry; The Hours by Michael Cunningham; Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell; Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close; The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner.
 
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