LAURA RIDER'S MASTERPIECE
BY JANE HAMILTON
Laura and Charlie Rider have been married for twelve years. They share their nursery business in rural Wisconsin, their love for their animals, and their zeal for storytelling. Although Charlie's enthusiasm in the bedroom has worn Laura out, although she no longer sleeps with him, they are happy enough going along in their routine.
Jenna Faroli is the host of a popular radio show, and in Laura's mind is "the single most famous person in the Town of Dover." When Jenna happens to cross Charlie's path one day, and they begin an e-mail correspondence, Laura cannot resist using Charlie to try out her new writing skills. Together, Laura and Charlie craft florid, strangely intimate messages that entice Jenna in an unexpected way. The "project" quickly spins out of control. The lines between Laura's words and Charlie's feelings are blurred and complicated, Jenna is transformed in ways that deeply disturb her, and Laura is transformed in her mind's eye into an artist. The transformations are hilarious and poignant, and for Laura Rider, beyond her wildest expectations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jane Hamilton is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, and A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and named one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Miami Herald, and People. Both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World have been selections of Oprah's Book Club. Her following work, The Short History of a Prince, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998, her novel Disobedience was published in 2000, and her last novel When Madeline Was Young was a Washington Post Best Book of 2006.
Jane Hamilton brings us Laura Rider, a Midwesterner, and her husband Charlie, who together run a successful nursery with Laura really running things while Charlie is content to do the manual labor. They have been married 12 years and the sexual spark has gone out of the marriage, especially for Laura. They don’t sleep together anymore, mostly because of Laura, but the plan seems to be OK for both of them, or so it seems on the surface. This is such an odd situation considering Laura really wants to be a romance novelist. Where ever will she get information and do research if she is locking her husband out of their bedroom?
To Laura, the excitement and chance at writing her romance novel comes when a radio host, Jenna Faroli, comes to town with her show. Laura has always enjoyed Jenna’s shows and is thrilled that she is now living in their little town of Hartley. When Charlie and Laura do happen to meet Jenna one day, it dawns on Jenna that if she can build a relationship between Charlie and Jenna, she would have the material she needs for a great romance novel. Laura persuades Charlie to email Jenna and things heat up fast as their emails turn from simple to very intimate. As one might suspect, Jenna starts to fall in love with Charlie, or at least the Charlie who writes to her. This turns out to be just what Laura thinks she wants, as she will be able to study and write about how the relationship started and grew. She will write what a woman wants in a man and have proof of it, at least in her mind! Laura doesn’t stop to think about the consequences of what she is doing. When Jenna and Charlie’s relationship blossoms, it is not something this gardener can deal with. What Laura does and how Charlie and Jenna wind up is what makes this book tick.
Readers are brought into this book and you get very involved on many levels. This is more than the comedic review may sound. Laura is dealing with deep emotional baggage and the layers of each character are peeled away and readers can get down to what all is really going on in this novel beside what you read about on the surface. If you want a cute, funny little beach read filled with loveable characters, you may need to look further. However, if you want to read about a story that will involve you and have your loyalties and emotions constantly changing, then Laura Hamilton’s LAURA RIDER’S MASTERPIECE will give you the ride of your life!READING GROUP GUIDE:
The Complete Reading Group Guide can be downloaded from here. I have included a copy of the Discussion Questions from the Guide just in case you are unable to open the document. You get these as well as other helpful information with the complete Guide.
1. Laura muses that “she could only be her ultimate self when she was alone.” She isn’t the only one who has a clear “real” self and a constructed self. In what ways do the characters create new personas? Are these personalities convincing? Are they necessary?
2. Does Laura have the talent to be a writer? Are there rules that writers must follow, as she believes? Is Jenna correct when she suggests that it’s impossible to write without a historical knowledge of what has come before you?
3. How does the first interaction between Charlie and Jenna at the side of the road set the tone for their relationship? What changes and what remains the same once Laura is involved?
4. It is made clear during her interview with Jenna and again at the writers’ conference that Laura is not terribly knowledgeable about books and writing. Was she also naïve to involve her husband with another woman? What other characters display inexperience or ignorance?
5. Charlie and Laura are similar to Jenna and Frank in that both couples’ passion for one another has cooled after years of marriage. In what other ways are the couples similar? How are they different?
6. How has e-mail affected correspondence? How has it affected writing in general? What opinions would Charlie, Laura, and Jenna each have on the topic?
7. When Charlie thinks back to his childhood and his life with Laura, he recognizes that Prairie Wind Farm “had never been his goal, in part because he’d never had any particular goals.” If not his job, what else drives Charlie? What other examples are there of the gap between desire and reality?
8. Is a “conscious romance” possible? What kind of relationship would that be like?
9. Is it possible that Laura did, in fact, mean to paste Jenna’s e-mail, whether Laura realizes it consciously or not? Why would she have done it intentionally? Why is her reaction to the e-mail being sent out so different from Charlie’s and Jenna’s reactions?
10. Laura Rider starts a list of what women want. What would be on your list?
11. Who, in the end, has the upper hand in the Jenna Faroli Radio Show interview with Laura Rider? Or do neither or both have the upper hand?
12. Is any character responsible for Jenna and Charlie’s affair? Who or what would be the cause according to Laura? Jenna? Charlie?
13. What is the attraction, either romantic or not, between Charlie, Laura, and Jenna? What does each of them provide to each of the others?
14. In this satire, are all the characters skewered equally?
15. What does Hamilton seem to be saying about the writing life? Are writers necessarily ruthless?
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