My love of book clubs recently brought me to Sacramento, California, where I met with members of each of my two sisters’ book groups to talk about Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate. My sister Liz Mekjavich’s club, featured in this post, has been meeting for twenty-five years. Members who were mothers of toddlers when it began are watching their children’s toddlers grow. Think of how many life experiences those women have shared!
The club was very interested in the development of the story’s characters and, to my delight, talked about them as if they were real. There were two psychologists in the group, so there was a lot of focus on mental illness and the spectrum of Bipolar Disorder. One woman recommended Kay Redfield Jamison’s groundbreaking book about her own manic depression, An Unquiet Mind. We also discussed the ways in which bipolar sufferers self-medicate, often with alcohol. The group was very sensitive to the fact that the drugs that keep manias under control can have the side-effect of damping down emotion to a point that the patient no longer feels like him or herself, a fact that causes many to stop taking the medication.
Using Clare’s garden as a metaphor for her states of mind didn’t escape notice. One reader picked up on the architectural aspects of the Los Angeles garden, which was perceptive because I took the story’s plantings from an article about the architect Frank Gehry’s architectural plants in his Santa Monica garden. Another club member was bothered by the choice of those particular plants; she thought they didn’t fit with her idea of Clare’s character. That was my intention–a “telling detail.” A quote from Paul Auster expresses this concept best: “The truth of the story lies in the details.”
That is true of book clubs as well. Learn as much from them as they do from me. Thank you, Sacramento readers, for sharing the truths of your stories.
P.S. To book clubs in or near Hartford, Boston, or San Francisco Bay Area: If you’d like me to visit your group when they’ve read Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, send me a note and we’ll work out a date.
Next week: Teaching Young Writers at Our Sisters School