READERS GUIDEpie crust
1 cup Crisco
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup ice-cold water
Use a pastry blender or fork to mix the Crisco into the flour, salt, and sugar until the dough is pea-sized. Add the water gradually until the dough forms itself into a ball (you may use a bit more or less water, as needed). Divide the dough and roll it out with a good rolling pin on a floured surface (I use a pastry cloth); move quickly, rolling in one direction, not back and forth. Act like you know what you’re doing. The pie crust will rebel if it knows you’re afraid.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What did the epigraphs mean to you before you read the book? Did they seem to hint at any major themes in The Story of Arthur Truluv? How did the meaning of the epigraphs change for you, after you finished the book?
2. Arthur has a special connection to the dead. Every day he talks to his late wife, and he sees glimpses into the lives of other people who are buried in the cemetery. Do you think the connection he has with the dead influences how he views and lives his life?
3. Maddy is bullied by her classmates, both at her school and online. How does this effect the choices she makes early in the book, and how is she eventually able to overcome it?
4. Lucille is an incredibly talented baker. She puts so much time and effort into her recipes that it seems like more than just a hobby to her. What role does baking play in her life, and in the relationships she has with others?
5. Maddy and her father have a strained relationship. Why is it so difficult for him to give Maddy the affection and support she needs? Do you feel sympathy for him and the situation he is in? Does their relationship change over the course of the book?
6. Maddy and Arthur have many differences, the biggest of which is their difference in age. When they first get to know each other, there is a funny scene that highlights this, in which Maddy tries to get Arthur to use a curse word. Do you think differences in a friendship are an advantage or a disadvantage? Can you think of an example where this is true in other works of literature or in your own life?
7. Although Maddy never knew Nola, she honors her in a beautiful way at the end of the book. Why do you think she does this?
8. There is a popular adage that says: “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” That statement feels especially true for the characters in The Story of Arthur Truluv, who build an unconventional family out of friendship. Have you ever had friends that are as dear to you as family, or who are even closer to you than your relatives?
About this AuthorA Conversation with ELIZABETH BERG
Random House Readers Circle: Arthur and Maddy’s unusual friendship is the heart of The Story of Arthur Truluv, and it’s something that readers have been particularly drawn to. What is it that brings these quite dissimilar people together? Have you ever had a friendship with someone very different from you that greatly affected your life?
Elizabeth Berg: Both Maddy and Arthur are, however unconsciously, looking for a kind of love as a replacement for what they have lost—or, in Maddy’s case, never had. They accept each other as they are, a necessary component in any good friendship. I’ve always appreciated and enjoyed older people. As a nine-year-old, I once made a dear friend in a woman who was probably Arthur’s age, and she spoke only German. She used to sit out on the back stoop and I would come over and visit with her and try to teach her English by showing her animals in my favorite book. Not much English got learned, and not much German, either, but we very much enjoyed each other. There was a great warmth that came from her to me, and vice versa.
RHRC: Lucille finds love and happiness again when she reconnects with Frank. Do you think we ever get over our first loves? Is it ever too late in life to start over again?
EB: I never got over my first love! And no, I don’t think it’s ever too late for love. We always have that particular porch light on. I think many of us have fantasies about seeing “that one” again, meaning someone who had a profound effect on us, someone we loved very much but lost for some reason or another. For Lucille and Frank, it’s almost an extreme example of that happening, in that they are so old when they get back together. But what they both learn quickly, and in a very visceral way, is that the emotions that fuel love are ageless; they live in our heart, and therefore operate independently of our bodies. And I believe there is a particular sweetness that comes with love in older people. They’ve been around the block; they’ve suffered some wounds, and here they are, still going. What a wonderment to understand that you have a second chance at love and romance and companionship at a time when your junk mail is full of requests for you to will your estate money to this organization or that! What a pleasure to know that someone loves you for what’s inside, because for both of you, your outsides are shot! Frank and Lucille are taken up by the breathlessness and joy and comfort and just plain fun of a realtionship. Now, more than ever, they want to get all they can out of life. What a blessing!
RHRC: Arthur has a very unique nickname, “Truluv,” which Maddy comes up with after hearing how much he loved his wife, Nola. How did you come up with the name “Truluv”? What do you think “true love” means in this novel? What does it mean to you?
EB: I was riding a bus once, and the driver’s name was Truelove Moses. (Although, now that I think of it, maybe it was Moses Truelove.) Anyway, I thought it was the most wonderful name. I asked if I could use it sometime, and he said sure. It was [my editor] Kate’s idea to change it to Truluv.
I think the kind of love that comes after romantic love is the best, richest love of all. At some point, I think we all want someone we can look ugly around, reveal our vulnerabilities to, and, most important, trust. And as a former nurse, I found that when people are at their most vulnerable, at their “ugliest,” is when they’re the most beautiful. In this novel, I think true love is saying, “I see you wholly and I love you anyway.”
RHRC: Lucille’s baking is one of the great treasures of this book. Why did you decide to make her a talented baker? Are you a baker yourself?
EB: When I write fiction, the characters write themselves. So it was Lucille who made herself a baker extraordinaire. I was thrilled, because I love to write about food. I am a baker, though a pretty unexciting one—I just follow the recipe. I do make a terrific pie crust, but my daughter, Julie, has it all over me when it comes to baking.
By the way, my pie crust came from a woman in the audience on The Phil Donahue Show who rattled it off, and it was easy to remember. I’ve used it ever since.