Small Blessings (Woodroof)

Small Blessings
Martha Woodroof, 2014
St. Martin's Press
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781250040527

From debut novelist Martha Woodroof comes an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year old son he never knew he had.

Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life.

An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing the oddball faculty in his department and caring, alongside his formidable mother-in-law, for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom’s brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.

Then, one evening at the bookstore, Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the shop's charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to their home for dinner, out of the blue, her first social interaction since her breakdown.

Tom wonders if it’s a sign that change is on the horizon, a feeling confirmed upon his return home, where he opens a letter from his former paramour, informing him he'd fathered a son who is heading Tom's way on a train.  His mind races at the possibility of having a family after so many years of loneliness.

And it becomes clear change is coming whether Tom’s ready or not.

A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings's wonderfully optimistic heart that reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Martha Woodroof was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR,, Marketplace, and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau.

Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle. Small Blessings is her debut novel. She lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley. Their closest neighbors are cows. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Woodroof nails the debut novel: This warm, wise tale leaves a smile long after the final page is turned.
People Magazine

This book is a charmer: quirky, clear-hearted and effervescent.

A delightful tale about what happens when good intentions go well.
Good Housekeeping

Woodroof’s charming debut deals with a bizarre paternity case set against the backdrop of a quirky college town.... Along with dark humor and a confident command of story, strong characters and absurdist twists add to the fun.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) A warm, caring and thoroughly entertaining debut that reads remarkably well.
Library Journal

Woodroof’s light hand and compassion for her characters make the story flow naturally. The question of what makes a family is gently asked and answered throughout. A pleasant read about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances and the optimism that guides them.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. At the beginning of the book, Tom Putman is resigned to a not very-fulfilling home life. Does this mean he’s kind or passive? Brave or timid? Did he make a mistake marrying Marjory?

2. Why has Rose Callahan worked in bookstores her entire professional life? How does the experience of working at The Bookstore for Mr. Pitts seem different to her from her earlier work experiences?

3. Why are Russell Jacobs and Iris Benson so antagonistic toward each other at the start of the story?

4. How does Agnes Tattle view her son-in-law? How does Tom view his mother-in-law?

5. What is the importance of Marjory Putnam inviting Rose to dinner?

6. How do you feel about Tom having a brief affair that seems to have produced a son?

7. How does Rose Callahan view her childhood? Her mother, Miss Mavis Callahan?

8. Does the community at small women’s college where Small Blessings takes place seem cozy and supportive, or isolated and self-absorbed?

9. What effect does Henry have on Tom? On Rose? On Agnes? On Russell?

10. Why does Agnes wear her long-dead husband's pajamas?

11. Does it take courage to admit you are happy? Does Small Blessings have a happy ending? If so, why?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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