READERS GUIDEThe questions, topics for discussion, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Red Hook Road, Ayelet Waldman’s rich and rewarding story of love, loss, and the power of family.
IntroductionIn the aftermath of a devastating wedding day, two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, find their lives unraveled by unthinkable loss. Over the course of the next four summers in Red Hook, Maine, they struggle to bridge differences of class and background to honor the memory of the couple, Becca and John. As Waldman explores the unique and personal ways in which each character responds to the tragedy—from the budding romance between the two surviving children, Ruthie and Matt, to the struggling marriage between Iris, a high strung professor in New York, and her husband Daniel—she creates a powerful family portrait and a beautiful reminder of the joys of life.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Red Hook Road hinges upon an almost unimaginable and unfathomable tragedy. Was it easy or difficult for you to accept the book’s premise?
2. Think about this statement by Mary Lou, the librarian at the Red Hook Library: “Half the relationships I know are really support groups in disguise.” How does Mary Lou’s assessment apply to the relationships in Red Hook Road?
3. Talk about Iris and Jane. Are they similar to one another in any way? What was at the root of Jane’s intense dislike of Iris?
4. During Iris’s visit, Connie says, “Most of us could use an asylum sometimes. A refuge from the world,” (page 239). Talk about all the different forms of sanctuary taken by key characters. Do these “escapes” help anyone deal with their grief?
5. What is your definition of “family?” Does marriage play a part in forming familial bonds, or is family created purely through blood connections? What does family mean to different characters in Red Hook Road?
6. During “The Second Summer,” Ruthie wants to turn the family’s traditional Fourth of July party into a celebration of the lives of Becca and John. What did you think of Ruthie’s idea? Can you understand why Iris rejected it?
7. Think about the comfort that people take in following traditions; can rituals help people, like the Copakens and Tetherlys, move forward after a setback, or even a tragedy? Did having the party each summer after Becca and John’s deaths ultimately help or hurt Ruthie?
8. Discuss Iris’s father, Mr. Kimmelbrod, particularly the hardships he endured as a young man. In “The Second Summer,” Kimmelbrod reproaches himself for not offering Iris more comfort after the unveiling at the cemetery. Do you think that experiencing great sadness automatically equips a person to console others?
9. Mary Lou the librarian offers this piece of advice as Ruthie considers whether to return to Oxford: “Nothing one does in one’s twenties, short of having a child, is irrevocable,” (page 196). Was this advice something Ruthie wanted to hear, needed to hear, or both? Do you agree with Mary Lou’s sentiment?
10. Consider Samantha’s role in Iris’s life. Would Iris have felt the same way toward Samantha had Becca not died? Was Samantha a representation of the daughter that Iris lost, or the daughter Iris never was herself?
11. Did you guess that Iris would circumvent Jane and approach Connie with the idea of moving Samantha to New York City to pursue her musical studies? Had you been in Iris’s position, would you have done the same thing?
12. Reread the book’s Prelude and Coda, which describe parts of John and Becca’s wedding before they get into the limousine. What was the author’s intent in opening and closing the novel in this way, do you think? Did this device enhance your reading of Red Hook Road?
13. Were you surprised when Daniel left Iris? Given the depths of their sadness and the state of their marriage at the time Daniel moves out, did you expect Iris would have been less shocked than she was?
14. Talk about Iris’s decision to list Becca by her maiden name on the grave marker, despite Becca’s decision to change her last name to Tetherly after she and John married. What does this decision say about Iris, and her relationship with her late daughter? Do you agree with what she did?
15. Throughout the book we learn about Becca and John through flashbacks and remembrances by some of the book’s characters. Would you have preferred to learn about them first-hand, in real time?
16. What does music represent in Red Hook Road? Is it a source of joy or sorrow? A way to hide, or a means of expression?
17. Did you identify with any of the characters? Which one(s), and why? Do you feel it was necessary to have experienced tragedy in order to appreciate what each of the characters in Red Hook Road goes through as they deal with their losses?
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