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Game of Secrets (Random House Reader's Circle)by Dawn Tripp
Reading Group Guide
Dawn Tripp on GAME OF SECRETS
My novels start in pieces—on the page for months—fragments of character, story, scene. I write longhand, in notebooks or on scraps of paper, the backs of receipts, the leftover white space of a grocery list—which I then transcribe into my laptop. Some of those ﬁrst thoughts are imagined, some are stripped from real life. But out of those pieces of raw material, I begin to map a story. I don’t polish up my early drafts. I leave some passages entirely without punctuation. I leave things untidy, open to change. That openness, I feel, is criti- cal. I ﬁnd that when I can let myself stay open to possibilities in a story that I may not yet have uncovered, when I can let myself be driven by what I do not yet know, the story often turns, deepens, in un- expected, revelatory ways.
Game of Secrets started with four primary fragments—the real-life story of a skull that surfaced out of gravel ﬁll with a bullet hole in the temple, and three images: a fourteen-year-old boy driving fast down an unﬁnished highway; two lovers meeting in an old cranberry barn; and two women playing Scrabble. I did not know their names. I did not know the details speciﬁc to their lives, but I could feel the under- currents of tension between them.
The image of the Scrabble game hit me especially hard. Not just because the unfolding of the mystery in the novel mirrors the play- ing of a Scrabble game: clue after clue is revealed, the story comes together piece by piece like a puzzle, as in Scrabble, disparate letters are arranged into words, which in turn are arranged into a larger co- gent grid. That image hit me hard because I have always loved Scrabble. I grew up playing with my grandmother. She taught me cards as well—pitch, gin, poker, bridge. But it was Scrabble that I loved. I remember the thrill I felt when I was old enough to keep my own letters, to have my own rack. We would play with my father after lunch and, after a game or two, my father would drift off to something else. “You want to play again, Nana?” I’d ask. And my grandmother would nod, light another cigarette, and start ﬂipping over the tiles. We would play game after game. Until it was time for her to ﬁx supper. Then we’d eat, clear the table, wash the dishes, I would dry them for her, then I’d ask to play again.
The idea for Game of Secrets came to me years after she was gone. The story has nothing to do with her life; the women in the story are not modeled after her, but the sense of my time with her— generational, intimate, lost—is strung all through it. As I wrote, I remembered those long childhood hours: the stillness of the house, the light tick-tack as she lay down her tiles, the smell of her cigarette balanced on the ashtray, just resting there untended, dwindling down.
And I remembered, too, things she had taught me over the years as we played. She played Scrabble for the words, as many women in her generation did. I always played for the numbers. How we play that game can reveal so much about how we tick, how we live, who we are. In Scrabble, some play to keep the board open, some play to shut it down. Some play with an eye to the sum of the total scores of all players; some play, simply, to maximize their own score. Most players will look at the board and see the words that ﬁll it. But a really good player, a canny player—and she was one of those—will also see opportunity in the skinny spaces still left open in between.
As I wrote the scenes for Game of Secrets, the game for me became the perfect lens for a story about two women and their families bound together and divided by unspeakable secrets—a brutal past, a murder, a love story. Because what are words if not a bridge—in a game of Scrabble or in a novel? Between one person and another. Thought and reality. Past and present, present and future. Words bridge silence. Words, and the stories they comprise, bridge time.
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