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Beautiful Inezby Bart Schneider
Reading Group Guide
Rich with the bohemian romance, music, and ethnic melding of 1962 San Francisco, Beautiful Inez beguiles even as it explores such explosive issues as sexuality, obsession, and authenticity. The title character, Inez Roseman, is a leading violinist with the San Francisco Symphony, a noted beauty, and a dedicated wife and mother. As charmed as her life may appear, however, Inez is preoccupied with thoughts of suicide. Enter Sylvia Bran, a waitress and showroom pianist ten years Inez’s junior, who sees the violinist perform and develops a fierce attraction to her. Her seduction is shockingly simple. But based as it is on a series of harmless–though unsettling–lies, their love affair forces each woman to face her demons, with lasting, deeply moving repercussions.
The questions that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Beautiful Inez.
1. On page 6, we’re told that “Sylvia Bran’s career as a voyant is about to begin.” What did you imagine that meant when you read it? What do you think it means now? Who turns out to be the more successful voyant, Sylvia or Inez?
2. What part do language and etymology play in the story? How does Sylvia use language as a barrier? Or a weapon?
3. Throughout the novel, questions of role and identity are raised: Sylvia pretends to be a reporter to meet Inez; Jake wears Bermuda shorts to court as a sort of costume; Christine dresses like a hooker for her final rendezvous with Jake. What role does Inez assume? Is she convincing?
4. On page 175, Inez admits to herself that “she doesn’t care who Sylvia is. Let her be whoever she wants.” Why is Inez willing to continue the affair after such a grave deception? How does their relationship change as a result?
5. How does the Cuban Missile Crisis impact the various characters? Do you think they might have behaved differently if it weren’t for the specter of imminent death?
6. Do you believe in Hy’s concept of a “mind lasso”? Which characters wield it best? Do they know they’re doing it?
7. Music is woven throughout the novel: Inez plays Paganini for Sylvia on their first meeting, then plays with the symphony; Jake whistles jazz everywhere he goes; Sylvia plays piano in the showroom, and for Bibi in the mental hospital. What does each character’s relationship to music tell us about him or her?
8. On page 273, Inez thinks, “A woman like her isn’t brave enough to walk away from her family, her children, and go on living. She cannot make so sharp a left turn in her life, nor can she sit idle.” Why do you think Inez feels this way and continues to contemplate suicide, even while she seems so happy? How might things be different if the story took place in a different era?
9. Food has a different significance for each character, in, for example, Inez’s fluctuating appetite or Jake’s gourmet assignations with Christine. How does Sylvia’s simple, sensual attitude compare? What does Isaac’s disdain for “goyish” mashed potatoes reveal?
10. Was it wrong for Jake to bring Isaac home to live with them? Did he have any other options?
11. How does Bibi’s benediction alter the relationship between Inez and Sylvia?
12. How does the fact that Sylvia’s mother was a suicide influence her response to Inez’s initial confession? And later, when Inez announces her “irreversible decision”?
13. What role does religious belief play in the story? Is it a help, or a liability?
14. Consider the theme of betrayal in the novel. Christine has a speech on page 223 in which she says: “Who’s betraying whom. Isn’t that the question we’re always at the point of asking our spouse? Or have we already decided? It’s them.” Who is betraying whom?
15. What do the chapter headings signify? Why do you think the author chose to name each chapter individually?
16. Did the ending surprise you? How might it have been different if the story took place in our era?
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