1. When Amanda first visits Jane Kelly’s apartment to assess her clothes, she ponders, “funny how styles from your own parents’ day tend to call out with that seductive aura of nostalgia” (page 10). What era’s styles appeal you?
2. While Amanda is being hypnotized, her doctor asks her to think of a place that makes her feel “comfortable and content” (page 29), and she has some difficulty deciding on one. Why do you think it was such a challenge for her? What place would you choose?
3. Olive is both unable and unwilling to rely on financial aid from men—from her father or a potential husband—yet Amanda regularly accepts checks from her married lover, Jeff. Which of the two women seems more modern?
4. Amanda’s fascination with history was originally inspired by her collection of Time-Life books called This Fabulous Century. She thinks, “I used to pore over every word and stare at the glossy photographs with laser-like eyes trying to take in every detail and see beyond the edges to find aswers to questions I couldn’t quite put into words” (pages 74–75). Are there books in your life that have had a similar effect on you?
5. Do you think Olive’s father’s car accident was a true accident, or was it somehow suicide? If Olive had not been forced to find work to support herself after his death, in what ways might her life have turned out differently?
6. A woman of Olive’s socioeconomic background is expected to become a wife and mother; and the idea of working is considered base, and therefore shocking, to friends and family. As a store clerk she is offered low wages and few opportunities for advancement. Despite this, Olive pursues a career. How does this illustrate her character? How do Olive’s ways of dealing with change compare to Amanda’s? How are their challenges different?
7. Amanda continues to see Jeff even though she knows she shouldn’t. Why do you think it’s so hard for her to end the affair? Do you see this as weakness in her character? Does the fact that she dated Jeff before he got married affect your opinion of their affair?
8. When Amanda finds out she is not pregnant, why do you thinks she seem disappointed? How does her pregnancy scare contrast with Olive’s?
9. Psychic Lola Cotton seems to contact Olive’s dead mother, telling Olive: “‘She wants you to know . . . you must not feel guilty. She forgives you’” (page 49). Olive views this with skepticism. Is she too focused on looking forward to deal with feelings about her mother’s death?
10. Amanda wonders whether her whole life is “ruled by nostalgia.” She thinks, “The past doesn’t just go away; it lingers on. You can actually touch and see the remains, and to the extent that these souvenirs survive, the past is the present. You can’t say that for the future.... You can never hold the future in your hands” (page 100). Do you agree? Does Amanda spend too much of her life looking back? Why is it so hard for her to leave Jeff? What finally convinces her to do it?
11. As a single woman in the early 1900s, Olive cannot stay alone at a reputable hotel; there are women-only areas in restaurants and bars; the idea of her working is met with significant disapproval; and the Victorian attitudes about women’s sexuality leave her ignorant and unprepared. At the end of the book she thinks, “Perhaps the day will come when women exist in the world as equals to men” (page 386). Do you think that day has come? If not, do you think it ever will?
12. The theme of change as constant and unstoppable is present throughout the novel. Is the past always worth leaving behind? Is newer always better? Is it possible to strike a balance between preserving what is worthy about the past while allowing for modern developments?
13. The author leaves the story open at the end, and we never know whether Jane Kelly reads the journal, whether Amanda starts a relationship with Rob, even whether Olive and Angelina ever open a hat shop. Why do you think the author chose to end her book this way? What do you think happens to the characters?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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