1. The novel opens with Jessie Maddox having fantasies of her husband’s untimely death, either by fate or by accident. What has happened in her life to cause this? What do you think she would do, and how would she react, if her fantasies were to come true? Do you ever have similar thoughts about those you love? If so, examine the way your innermost thoughts often conflict with what you believe you want in life.
2. Jessie is the one telling her story. What are the strengths and
weaknesses of Jessie’s first-person narration? Do you think she’s
able to remain objective when discussing her unhappiness, or
when describing her family and friends? How would the novel be
different if it were narrated by her husband Turner?
3. Jessie talks about wanting the perfect marriage and the perfect
home. She subscribes to House Beautiful, Southern Living, and
Psychology Today, trying to copy decorating ideas and lifestyle
tips. She joins the Glenville Society Cotillion, and she and her
husband are members of the local country club. Discuss how
Jessie is influenced by what she reads in books and magazines, or
sees in movies, and how her expectations of love and marriage
may be unrealistic. Do you know people who do the same thing?
How has she, as she admits, worked to create the life she always
dreamed of having? How much of Jessie’s dilemma do you believe
is based on her desire to keep up with what society expects of her?
4. We know Turner only from the details Jessie reveals, and from the
few scenes where he appears. What do you think of him as a husband,
and what about Turner hasn’t Jessie told us? Do you believe
he loves Jessie? What could he be doing to help her through this
crisis? Do you think he realizes how unhappy Jessie is? Consider
reading Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel Madame Bovary, and discuss
the similarities and the differences between the characters
and the plots of Madame Bovary and A False Sense of Well Being.
5. Is Jessie experiencing a typical midlife crisis? If so, what do you
believe she should be doing to work through it? If not, what do
you think triggered the wave of self-doubt and self-examination
she’s having? Discuss any time in your life when you may have felt
the same way.
6. The novel uses passages from The Book of Common Prayer to introduce
certain chapters. Why do you think the author chose The
Book of Common Prayer, and what is the significance of each passage
to the story that follows? Do you think Jessie, or any of the
characters, find any comfort in the passages and prayers that are
7. As a social worker at a mental health clinic, Jessie talks about the
power of confession, and wonders if her clients are helped by
telling her their secrets. Do you believe confession, as the saying
goes, is good for the soul? How do you feel about Jessie as a therapist?
Do you think she’s helped by the confessions she makes to
her friends and family? Discuss how the power of confession is
the novel’s central theme.
8. Unlike many contemporary novels, in which the male characters
are the ones making bad decisions, having affairs, or leaving
home, it’s the women in this novel who are the ones doing all the
misbehaving. What is the significance of this? Discuss the choices
these women make and how these choices affect their lives. Are
the women who are having affairs or running away from home
behaving, in a sense, like men? Do you believe–as does the self-help
writer that Jessie listens to on tape–that men and women
want the same things but have trouble communicating their
wants and needs to each other? Discuss the changing roles of
women over the past few decades, and how this has affected the
traditional ideas of marriage and family.
9. Jessie and her friend Donna have different ways of looking at
things, especially marriage. Jessie says, in fact, that she feels like
she can live vicariously through Donna, because of Donna’s affair