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The Three Miss Margarets Reader’s Guide

By Louise Shaffer

The Three Miss Margarets by Louise Shaffer


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. When the three Miss Margarets took the law into their own hands, there were fatal consequences. Do you think they were justified in what they did?

2. As we discover early in the novel, Josh is not exactly who he appears to be. Do you think he is a trustworthy character? What exactly are his intentions, and how do they shift? How do your feelings for him change throughout the novel? Do you think he and Laurel are ultimately meant to be together?

3. For their era, the three Miss Margarets were unusual women in the sense that none of them had settled down into conventional families. Does a lack of that kind of responsibility or connection empower a woman to think outside the box? Do relationships and focusing on others hinder us in some ways? Do you think the unraveling of events would have occurred in the same way had all three Miss Margarets been wives and/or mothers?

4. Throughout the course of The Three Miss Margarets, the author often shifts the setting back in time. What effect do these flashbacks have on the reader? And why does Shaffer especially focus on the three Miss Margarets’ adolescences when she revisits their pasts?

5. The action the three Miss Margarets took thirty years ago continues to have repercussions for them and Laurel. Has any decision you’ve ever made affected you for many years? Do you think the three Miss Margarets have any ultimate regrets about what they did? How did other characters’ choices, particularly those of Vashti and Grady, for example, affect them emotionally?

6. Do you agree with Dr. Maggie that happiness usually comes to you when you aren’t necessarily looking for it, through unexpected ways–often through one’s line of work? Do you agree with her that the one great source of joy in life that you can control is the work you do? On another note, do you think Maggie would still have become a workaholic if she had been able to love freely?

7. Discuss the prominence of alcohol in The Three Miss Margarets. How does it affect the characters and how they interact with each other? Do you think its presence is unhealthy in every instance throughout the novel?

8. It seems that Li’l Bit’s relationship with Walter Bee was defined by limitations. Why do you think they didn’t move in together or get married? What was their ultimate downfall? Do you understand Li’l Bit’s rationale for lying to Walter? What do you think would have happened if she had told him the truth?

9. Is the Southern locale of The Three Miss Margarets essential to the novel? Do you think events would have played out differently in a different location?

10. Louise Shaffer worked as an actress and a television writer for many years. Do you think that background is reflected in the way she writes novels? In her use of dialogue, her way of setting the scene for the reader, and her development of character? Do you think this book has a particularly theatrical feel to it? Would it make a good film or television movie?

11. If you answered yes to the last question and you think TheThree Miss Margarets would make a good movie, for the fun of it discuss how you’d cast such a production.

12. To varying degrees all the women in The Three Miss Margarets had unhappy or difficult childhoods. So often we find that is the case with remarkable or especially accomplished
people. Do you think early unhappiness or difficulty is a prerequisite for greatness later on? Or can happy children become extraordinary adults?

13. Do you wish Laurel had stayed in New York, either with Josh or on her own? Do you feel that her roots are in Charles Valley and that she needs to work out her life in this town? Or do you wish she had turned away from all the pain she suffered there and gotten a fresh start?

14. By coming back to join Li’l Bit, Maggie, and Peggy on the porch, Laurel forgives them for what they did to her and her mother. She also agrees to keep their secret. Should she have done that?

From the Hardcover edition.
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