GROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: A WEDDING ON THE BEACH
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- Bess is the only one of the friends without real regrets in terms of her career or her love life. Then, on the eve of their wedding, Nathan announces he has received a promotion that will require a two-year stint in Stockholm. Bess is forced to make a decision that will affect the career she built with such passion and hard work. How do you feel about the decision she makes?
- Marta is currently doubting the wisdom of her decision to forgo a career outside of the home. She recalls that when she made the decision not to go on to law school, she felt too embarrassed to admit to anyone but Mike that what she wanted more than anything was to be a full-time, stay-at-home mother. Now, just as she had begun to consider how she might build a life for herself outside of the home, she is faced with another pregnancy. Why do you think she experiences such terrible dismay and self-doubt regarding her ability to handle the arrival of another child along with the challenges of a nascent career?
- Allison has come to see that her behavior in her marriage, i.e., her constant willingness to adopt Chris’s needs and desires as her own, was a big mistake. While her career doesn’t seem to have suffered due to this dynamic, she now considers how far she might grow her business without the restrictions of marriage to Chris. For example, she considers taking time off to travel and shoot a book of photographs. How might her reuniting with Chris impact her implementing these ideas?
- At one point Marta mentions that women can be harshest with other women. Has this been your experience? If so, how have you encountered prejudicial judgment or unhelpful criticism from other women? When have other women—friends, colleagues, family members—offered support and understanding of your choices?
- The theme of friendships over time is one of the most important in this book. The characters discuss what exactly holds long-term friendships together—love, habit, laziness, a desire to maintain the status quo, nostalgia. Old friends are compared to new friends, i.e., those with whom we share current circumstances and not the past. How does our need for old friends change over time? How important are our circumstantial friends? Is Bess naïve in her belief that friendships can last forever, and that old friends—the ones we make when young—are more valuable than friends we make later on in life? Do you think that marriage will alter Bess’s need for her old friends in any appreciable way?
- Chuck says to Bess: “Your life is your own. But being married complicates that truth. By taking that pledge of love and commitment, you’ve created a third being, the union, to which you each have a duty to contribute the best person you can be.” Do you think a person can ever be truly independent while in a committed relationship? Do you think that Dean is correct when he tells Bess that constant negotiation—talking and tweaking—is key to a good marriage?
- Talk about Bess and her awkward relationship with her family. For example, for most of her adult life, and for reasons that are understandable, Bess has felt isolated from her sisters. Do you think Bess can follow through with her resolve to get to know her sisters and their children more thoroughly?
- Talk about Allison’s struggle with adoration versus a healthier sort of romantic love. When is sacrifice for a loved one damaging to oneself? Chris, too, has his difficulties in this regard, viewing Allison as more saint than flawed human being. How is this unfair to both members of the relationship? When Chris tells Allison that he wants a divorce, he extracts a promise of silence from her regarding the circumstances that led to this moment. Later, Allison feels that guilt and shame have become her jailors, keeping her from reaching out for support. How is this situation typical or illustrative of their relationship?
- Marta, while reflecting on her one-night stand with Chris, realizes that: “To a young person, the future didn’t really exist; long-term consequences were insignificant; trouble could be dealt with in a mythical ‘later’; there was always time to give up the bad habit, start over, change direction. Until there wasn’t.” At another point, the women talk about the universality of regret. Discuss these ideas in relation to each of the friends.
- If you were writing the sequel to this novel, what would the future hold for the characters? Do you think Allison and Chris will make it as a couple? Do you think Allison will one day search for her birth parents? What do you foresee for Marta in terms of forging a career alongside the demands of her family? How do you think Bess will fare, both with Nathan and in her career? Will she make the effort to spend more time with her family? Do you think Chuck and Dean will adopt more children?