Questions and Topics for Discussion
Conrad Labarde is a first-generation Basque fisherman who casts his nets in the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. He is a working-class man in a region of Long Island sharply divided between those who inhabit this isolated finger of land year-round, and the rich who claim it every summer.
But in postwar America, things are changing quickly. And lives too will change—affecting everyone in the community—when Conrad’s nets pull in the body of a beautiful young woman, seaweed entwined in her hair…
“An excellently dark and thoughtful story.” —Chicago Tribune
“A timeless story of love and death in a divided community…a beautifully written and haunting tale.” —Nelson DeMille
“An evocative tale of love and murder in America’s legendary summer playground.” —People (Critics Choice)
ABOUT MARK MILLS
Mark Mills is a screenwriter; among his credits is the script for The Reckoning, adapted from Barry Unsworth’s novel Morality Play. Mills lives with his family and is at work on his second novel.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSAntagonism between the South Fork’s social classes is a major theme in Amagansett. It surfaces in the fishing community’s campaign against the wealthy “sports” and their proposed fishing ban, the growing Jewish aristocracy vs. the establishment; in general, the new vs. the old. How do Hollis and Conrad exploit different power struggles in order to accomplish their objectives?
The author makes a point of exploring the source of a family’s wealth, focusing on George Wallace’s sugar investments, the elder Labarde’s lucrative friendship with the corrupt Eusebio, and the Kemps’s whaling dynasty. Does the way in which families earn money have a bearing on their respectability in the context of this novel?
It is suggested that Hollis climbed as far as he could go professionally when he was a detective in New York City, and that his move to Amagansett is essentially a retreat from scandal. Discuss the role of regret and missed opportunity in Hollis’s life. What motivates him to take on the investigation? Why is he drawn to Mary Calder?
Although it could be argued that he exemplifies the privileged Golden Boy gone amok, is it possible to have sympathy for Manfred Wallace? Who deserves the most blame for Lillian’s death?
What would you have done in Lillian’s position?
The common thread of self-imposed isolation runs through the lives of all three protagonists: Conrad lives in an isolated house and seems to have only one friend in Rollo; Hollis chooses a “quiet life” in Amagansett over the city that shunned and shamed him; and Lillian Wallace rebels against her whole family by staying in the summer house through winter, not to mention seeing a lower-class fisherman on the sly. How is isolation a position of strength for these characters? How may it also be a position of weakness?
Why do you think Conrad Labarde is referred to as “the Basque” on and off throughout the novel?
What binds Conrad and Rollo together as friends? Is it simply their shared history, or is it something more?
Does being at one with the land and its history give characters an advantage?
Conrad is tormented by the memory of those he has left behind: his mother, Antton, his brothers in arms during the war—especially the Professor—and finally, Lillian. How does his deeply personal survivor’s guilt influence his actions?
Did it surprise you when the Wallaces offered Conrad the bribe? Does he seem like a man who can be bought? Discuss the preconceptions that led to this turn of events.
At a crucial moment, Conrad drops the name of Lizzie Jencks in conversation with Hollis—but he says nothing more, leaving Hollis to discover the connection on his own. Why doesn’t Conrad say more when he has the chance to speed up the investigation?
In their capacity as detectives, what strengths do Hollis and Conrad each possess? Could one have solved the case without the other?
If you knew what Hollis comes to know about Conrad’s mental health, would you trust him? Why does Hollis trust him?
In the end, we do not learn the name of the person who’s thought to have had an affair with Lizzie Jencks. Who do you think it is?
Is there any indication of what the future holds for Conrad?