Discussion: The Art of Saying Goodbye: A Novel by Ellyn Bache

SPOILER ZONE!!!

Read my review here.

1. In many ways, Paisley is the star of the suburban development where she lives — the pretty one who’s nice to everyone, who gives the best parties, who seems to enjoy raising her daughters and living her conventional life.  In what ways does her “stardom” inspire varying emotions in her neighbors?  Overall, how do they regard her before she gets sick?  How does this affect the way they feel after they learn she’s ill?

Considering that the story revolves around her, Paisley really is the star of the neighborhood.  If this were in high school, she’s the Queen Bee of the popular crowd.  Throughout the book, she was described in a very positive light – living what looks like a perfect life.  And I think Paisley was aware of how people see her.  And she uses this to inspire, to lift people up.  As if saying, “Hey look, I’m happy.  You can be too.  And I’ll show you how,” just like those smiling salespeople on TV.  Up to her last moments, she never showed people that there was a weak side of her.  The one time she did that, she got carried away.  To others, Paisley doing “something wrong” is unbecoming.  But having said that she’s a popular girl, of course there are those who envy her, such as Ginger.  But even so, Ginger’s jealously stems from admiration.  When Paisley fell ill, nobody in the neighborhood could believe it.  The strong and happy Paisley?  Sick?  Dying?  No!  To me, it sends a message with the effect of “It can happen to anyone”.

2. Julianne is horrified by what she sees as her dark “gift” of diagnosis.  Her ex-husband thinks it has a more traditional explanation.  Which one do you agree with?  Why?

To be honest, I am unclear whether I believe in the “paranormal” or not.  Do I believe in ghosts?  Yes, but I cannot tell you why.  Do I believe in faith healing?  No, and I do not have an explanation why I think it is a bunch of BS.  Julianne’s “ability”, let us call it that, could be something psychological.  One of those things that people say, “Oh you just know“.  ESP?  I really cannot tell.  After all, this is a work of fiction, Julianne is a fictional character.  If there is someone out there in real life like her, hey.  I would like to believe there’s another, a higher, power out there.

3. Although Paisley’s illness causes her neighbors to experience a wide range of emotions — everything from disbelief to sadness — at times some of them feel less than sympathetic.  Which ones struggle with this the most?  In what ways do their feelings rise directly from Paisley’s situation, and in what ways do they rise from their own, personal issues?

I feel that people rationalize things that happen to and/or around them.  They need something to blame.  As a defense mechanism to distance themselves from the situation.  Some of the women introduced the idea what Paisley’s excessive drinking may have caused the damage to her liver.  Maybe, maybe not.  That idea never was further discussed and remained just one of the many “causes” of Paisley’s illness.  I think the one who struggled the most was Julianne.  After all, she was the one who “discovered” the cancer.  I could imagine a million “what-ifs” going through her head… what if I touched her sooner, what if I wasn’t there that day to check on her.  I know some would say Andrea would struggle the most, with her daughter’s past with cancer, but I don’t think so.  Sure, she can relate but compared to Julianne, Andrea sort of knows how to deal with this sickness already.

If not weren’t for Paisley, I don’t think Julianne would have paid closer attention to her “ability”.  It happened once before but to a person she has no personal connection to.  Iona feels a connection not to Paisley per se but to the situation.  Even to Paisley’s husband, Mason.  Iona lost her husband and she knows that loss.  It made her reflect on her life at the present.

4. Who is the most selfish, and who is the most unselfish, in terms of the way she feels about Paisley?  How is this reflected in the way she acts?

I felt that Ginger came across as the most selfish.  She did not have much contact with Paisley compared to the other women.  And she was the only one who expressed feelings of jealousy towards Paisley… and she was the one who played the “suspicious wife” card, which in the end, was right all along.  Unselfish?  Andrea.  Like I said, because of Courtney, she knew how to handle the situation.  She just did not want to go through it again so she blocked it.

5. Ginger has never been as close with Paisley as some of her neighbors, but when Paisley gets sick, she feels helpless.  How does she finally resolve this?  Discuss how the theme of helplessness is played out with some of the other characters.

It makes sense.  Sure, she was not as close to Paisley as the others but still she was touched by Paisley’s positivity and light.  Ginger felt helpless because she did not know what to do, how to approach Paisley, how to help her.  And I think she felt a tinge of guilt; being jealous and a little bit bitter towards Paisley in the past and now that Paisley’s in need, she could have been regretting that feeling of jealousy.  She resolves this in the only way she could think of, the only contribution she could give.  The hot tub!  It might seem shallow, giving a material thing but it turned out that it was the last thing Paisley enjoyed in her life.  Ginger may not have made Paisley better but she sure helped her feel better.

Helplessness.  They really could not do anything else.  All they could do is put a smile on Paisley’s face, however temporary.  Be there for her and her family.

6. Iona is older than the other women in the novel, and more cynical.  Yet early on, Paisley brings her into their circle by inviting her to her hot tub party.  Why do you think she does this?

Paisley is that one friendly neighbor that everyone likes.  Unlike Marie – the neighbor that you barely could tolerate.  Paisley wanted the neighborhood to come together.  As the tag line suggests, “She was the thread with which their tapestry was woven”.  And besides, Iona certainly brought diversity into their group.

7. What do you make of Iona’s shifting relationship with her stepson and his wife?  Why does she respond so powerfully to the prayer meeting she doesn’t want to attend?  At the end of the book, do you think she is a different person than she was at the beginning?  If so, what caused her transformation?

At first, I’m sure Jeff, Iona’s stepson was not happy about her entering his life.  But when Richard, Iona’s husband and Jeff’s dad, died, they sort of had no other choice but to bond together.  When push comes to shove, people will do anything.  I think Jeff grew up and eventually saw Iona, maybe not as a mother, but someone he could rely on.  Come to think of it, Jeff and Lori are Iona’s only family.  And before Lori, Jeff only had Iona.

The prayer meeting was kind of tricky.  I said before, I believe there is a higher power out there no matter how skeptical or cynical I may come across as.  I think Iona wanted to believe but was waiting for something concrete, a sign (as I’m sure a lot of us are).  Sometimes things can be so intense that it moves us.

And yes, I think Iona was the one who changed the most throughout the story.  On the surface, it did not look like Paisley affected Iona’s life much.  But I think Iona was the one who was affected the most by Paisley’s death rather than her illness.  Iona lost a husband.  She was the one left behind.  She knew and understood that feeling of loss.  She was the only one who brought up the question whether or not Mason would marry again.  She saw herself in those people that Paisley left behind.  The difference was, Mason, Brynne, and Melody had each other.  Iona did not have a child of her own and were distant from her other blood relations.  It was just Jeff.  Then Lori.  Then their daughter, Rosalie.  Iona spent most of the story denying that Jeff was family.  In the end, she finally accepted that they, in fact, are her family.

8. Andrea is grateful to Paisley for her kindness when her daughter was sick.  She wants to play the same role for Paisley, but she feels shut out.  Is she, really?

This goes back to Paisley.  Remember my Queen Bee analogy?  Paisley is the most popular girl in town.  Everyone looks up to her.  She never lets anybody see her weak or in need.  Even in her most painful moments, Paisley kept a brave front, kept her smile.  Paisley wanted to go as quietly as possible.  She did not like people fussing over her.  I do not think she wanted to deliberately shut Andrea, or anyone, out.  She wanted to keep it private and to not have anybody worry very much.

9. Early in the novel, Julianne muses that Andrea’s life is still dominated by the illness of a child who got well ten years ago.  Why do you think Andrea is finally about to take action and free herself from that bondage?

Because she realized it was time.  Yes, ten years is a long time to mull over something but there is a moment when something hits your over the head and you suddenly see the light.  She had to come to terms and accept that everything around her reminded her of Courtney’s illness.  She needed a change of scenery and with it, a new outlook in life.  Courtney was okay, thus there was nothing holding her to Brightwood Trace anymore.

10. Paisley helps people in some unconventional ways.  What is your sense of the rightness or wrongness of her approach in various situations?

Well, I thought that the shoplifting was a bit extreme.  I love my friends but I will never ever shoplift for them and I think the number of people out there able to sweet talk her way out of an arrest for theft is slim to none.  But I digress.  I think she did things to cause the biggest possible reaction from people.  The shoplifting scared Julianne out of her wits.  It had nothing to do with her family situation but it sure did wake her up.  In a way, Paisley was the “kick in the butt” that they needed in their life.

11. What do we learn about Paisley in the sections told from Paisley’s POV?  How do these sections influence the way you think about her?

Even though people in the neighborhood see her as this perfect wife and mother with a perfect family, she had her low points too.  The only difference was that she never talked much to anyone about it.  She kept her miscarriages to herself and if ever she told anyone, only to her closest friends.  She knew how to fly a plane but she was never vocal about it; was not grandstanding.

12. Which of Paisley’s neighbors do you like best?  Least?  Why?

Most – probably Iona.  I like that she is a strong woman on her own.  She had the most different experiences in life.  And her story interested me the most, personally.  Least – Ginger.  I thought she complained a lot.  From the hot tub business that she did not like at first but ended up running to her insecurity towards Paisley.  I just… did not want any of it.

13. To the people in the neighborhood, Andrea’s daughter, Courtney, seems such an angry, unappealing teenager that the little children call her “growly-face”.  Is she as unsympathetic as she seems?  Overall, what is your assessment of her?

Wait… not all teenagers are like that?  I kid, I kid.  😀  I think it is a combination of a lot of things.  You know how kids get – they pick on someone who looks different, they never let a childhood situation or nickname down.  Courtney had been through a lot in her life.  As said, their family had never left Brightwood Trace.  I would assume that many of the kids she went to school with are the same.  So they remembered that time when she has cancer, going through chemo and lost all her hair.  I am thinking that even when she got better, she was still being picked on as the “bald kid”.  I am sure that in her head, she thinks that life had not been good or easy to her.  Her growly-face… that’s a front.  A mask.  It is like saying “don’t mess with me”.

14. On the outside, Brynne is amazingly self-contained for a girl of fourteen.  She tries to ease her mother’s pain and to explain things to her younger sister.  How do you account for her calm exterior and apparent maturity?  Julianne fears for her.  Should she?

This question I can answer in full confidence.  No.  Julianne should not fear for her.  In fact, it is because of Brynne that I think the Lamm family will be okay.  I speak from experience on this.  I lost my father when I was 15 years old.  Everyone around me were in ruins and I thought I had to be strong for my mother and my younger brother.  Sure, I cried but I kept it together.  That did not mean that I was unaffected.  It was my defense mechanism… so I won’t feel the pain.  That is why I relate to Brynne the most.  I know what she was feeling and why she was doing the things she did.

15. Discuss the roles of the other young people in the book.  Ginger’s 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, has always idolized Brynne.  How does Paisley’s illness change that?  Is Ginger’s son, Max, as clueless as he seems?  What function does 8-year-old Melody play?

Melody is the innocent that you want to shield away from everything that is happening around her.  I feel that she’s there to represent the people one leaves behind.  Sure they all lost Paisley but Melody… she does not understand it yet.  Like, she keeps with her the happy memories.  (I hope that makes sense.)

With Rachel, I think Paisley’s illness made her appreciate her mother more.  Those little what-ifs, what if it were my (Rachel’s) mom who got sick?  As for Max… again, it’s a defense mechanism.  He distanced himself from the boo-hooing.  And he’s a boy.  A teenage boy, noless.

16. Given that we see the men in the novel only through the eyes of the women, what do you think of Paisley’s husband, Mason, and Ginger’s husband, Eddie?  Is there a hero in the book?  A villain?

Now that I think back on it, I honestly did not care much about the men.  Not even for Bill or Doug.  Well, I did for Jeff but he’s technically a “son” not a “husband”.  Although I do think Bill is still in love with Julianne; but that’s just me.  A villain?  Yes, the cancer.  A hero?  Not necessarily.  I think I would pick a hero if I knew how they all coped with Paisley’s passing in the long run.  Especially the Lamm family.

17. Julianne’s relationship with her ex-husband, Bill, is complicated by his niceness, which Julianne resents.  Does Bill provide a powerful, in unwanted, support system, or is he as meddlesome as Julianne sometimes believes?

Bill is a doctor, right?  In their filed, they call it bedside manner.  Haha!  But no, I believe that Bill still genuinely cares about Julianne.  And it bothers Julianne to no end because deep in her heart, she knows he is right.

18. If you had to take one of these women out to lunch, which one would it be, and why?

This might come as a surprise but… not Paisley.  Nor Ginger.  One the one hand, I don’t think I can stand Ginger’s whining (at least, that’s how she was portrayed in the book).  On the other, Paisley seems too… perfect.  Too bright and sunshiney.  I would probably have lunch with Andrea.  Apart from Courtney’s past illness, she has no drama in her life.  My life has enough drama for the both of us

*****

Whew!  That was long.  🙂  I am interested in what you guys think.  Have you read the book?  Let’s talk about it.

Thanks for reading!

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