Skip to Main Content (Press Enter)

Swan Reader’s Guide

By Frances Mayes

Swan by Frances Mayes


A Guide for Reading Groups
A Novel by Frances Mayes
Author of the international bestseller
Under the Tuscan Sun


Fans of Frances Mayes have delighted in the sights and flavors of her Tuscan life. Now, in her first novel, Frances’s prose takes us to her native Georgia. In the fictional town of Swan, we witness both the hospitality and the hostilities of a close-knit Southern community. As Swan’s citizens grapple with a mysterious death, and a fractured family confronts long-held secrets, Frances paints an intriguing world of contrasts. With its backdrop of lush palmettos and spooky woods, wilting heat and refreshing rivers, Swan inspires spirited conversation. With that in mind, we offer the following questions to enhance your reading group’s discussion of this masterly work.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The first two chapters introduce J. J. and Ginger in settings where they seem fulfilled and at peace. What does J. J.’s cabin have in common with the farmhouse Ginger rents in Italy? Is there any similarity between Ginger’s relationship with Marco and J. J.’s experience with Julianne, the teacher from Osceola? How does Julianne measure up to Georgia Larkin?

2. Discuss the narrator’s voice in Swan. What traits do you recognize from Frances Mayes’s non fiction and poetry? How did her accomplished writer’s eye serve her in creating a novel?

3. Compare her depiction of small-town Georgia to that of Tuscany. Are there any similarities between the Mason’s family house and Bramasole?

4. Frances told her editor that Swan is “a book of memory, how it cuts and comes again, and of a powerful landscape, which is always at work shaping the people who live on its surface.” What are some of the ways in which memory and landscape define the inhabitants of Swan? Were Swan’s “old days” good ones?

5. Holt’s relationship with Lucy is considered just as taboo as Catherine’s extramarital affair. As time passes, how is this legacy of racism handled in the town of Swan? In what ways do Tessie and Scott reflect their generations?

6. Frances Mayes is renowned for her description of Tuscany’s cuisine. What are some of the most tempting Southern dishes presented in the novel?

7. From Big Jim to Ginger, the novel portrays a variety of traditional and highly non-traditional men and women. Discuss how Swan’s characters compare to the men and women in your life. Do you think that Southern gender roles are different from those found elsewhere in America?

8. Occurring early in the novel, Ginger’s passionate scene with Marco is immediately followed by gruesome events in Magnolia Cemetery. How are attitudes toward sex and death entwined in the town of Swan?

9. Why do Ginger and J. J. have such opposing reactions to their father? How did your impression of Wills change when you learned of his connection to Dachau?

10. Do you suppose that Catherine would have rebuffed Austin’s marriage proposal if she had been born twenty years later? Is her situation reflected in Ginger’s first marriage? How does Catherine’s affair compare with her children’s romances?

11. Who were your primary suspects in Catherine’s murder? How would you have reacted in Sonny’s place?

Suggested Reading

Remembering Blue by Connie May Fowler
Provinces of Night by William Gay
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
All We Know of Love by Katie Schneider
The Southern Woman: New and Selected Fiction by Elizabeth Spencer
Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price
A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons
Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

Also by Frances Mayes
Under the Tuscan Sun
Bella Tuscany
In Tuscany

Back to Top