Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Throughout the story, Amanda seems to be alternately portrayed as either sinister and mentally unbalanced or as a sad woman who is a victim of circumstance. What are your feelings about her? Were you mostly sympathetic to her or turned off by her controlling spirit?
2. Did you find most of the main players in Drowning Ruth to be complicated and not easily categorized? Who intrigued you the most?
3. Do you think the author skillfully built up the suspense of the fateful night on the lake? Did you guess what would happen?
4. Ruth and Amanda’s relationship is one of the most compelling elements of the novel. At times they are presented in a mother/daughter dynamic, but at other moments they seem poised as siblings almost, or even as foils to each other– especially when Amanda speaks to us about her own childhood. How do you think Amanda regarded Ruth? What, in your mind, was the real significance of their relationship? Did Amanda truly love Ruth?
5. The lake is a striking backdrop throughout the novel, and most of the traumatic or profound moments occur there: Mathilde and Clement die there, Amanda forces Ruth to swim in it, Imogene and Ruth both fall in love upon it. Do you think the author intended for it to be symbolic of something? If so, what?
6. The complicated and varied relationships between women– friends, sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces–lie at the heart of this novel. Did any of these relationships, in particular, strike a chord with you?
7. Do you feel that Amanda’s jealousy of her sister was abnormal or just common sibling rivalry? Why do you think the author juxtaposed their relationship with Ruth and Imogene’s?
8. Men hover at the edges of the novel. The three main male characters–Carl, Clement, Arthur–though different, are all ultimately ineffectual in some sense. Carl leaves, Clement womanizes, Arthur cannot determine whom he truly loves. Even Amanda’s father is barely realized. Why do you think the author created these male characters this way?
9. The island seems to be a very important metaphor. Both Mathilde and Amanda become pregnant there, and it is where they retreat to during Amanda’s term. She, especially, is preoccupied throughout the novel with this locale. What does the island represent?
10. Did you like the continuously shifting narration? What was the overall effect of this plot device?
11. Ruth and Imogene’s intense friendship commences with the voluntary loss of Ruth’s dead, black tooth. Why do you think the author chose such an unusual, visually graphic scene to mark the unfolding of their intertwined lives?
12. In the end, does Ruth follow her heart, or is she still under Amanda’s control? Does Ruth return home truly of her own volition?
13. Were the book to continue, do you think the author would have chosen for Ruth and Arthur to unite? Why or why not? What type of man do you envision Ruth with?
14. Drowning Ruth was an Oprah Book Club selection. Have you read any other Oprah picks? If so, how did this compare?