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The Bramblesby Eliza Minot
Reading Group Guide
1. The Brambles begins and ends with women in the garden-Florence in the opening scene and Margaret in the final one. Why would Minot frame the novel in this way?
2. How does Eliza Minot manage to create such a rich and complex portrait of family life, with all its joys, frustrations, and tenderness, in The Brambles? What is it that makes her writing so convincing and so resonant?
3. What role do secrets play in The Brambles? Who keeps secrets? What effects do they have? What happens when these secrets are revealed?
4. Margaret asks what difference she is making in the world and answers herself with a series of rhetorical questions: “Wasnt it good enough to be raising three kids, giving as much as she could to them, as often as she was able? Wasnt it good enough to be nursing her father, bringing him to the house?” [p. 171]. Does Margaret think of herself as a martyr? What is the larger value of family life, of caring for ones family, as it is presented in the novel?
5. As shes about to dive into the ocean, Edie asks herself “Isnt this what life is for? To do things you want to do as long as you dont hurt anyone or hurt yourself?” [p. 196]. How does her attitude toward life differ from her sisters?
6. In what ways are Max, Margaret, and Edie self-absorbed? In what ways are they compassionate and concerned with others? In what ways do they try to deal with the grief over the recent and sudden death of their mother and the imminent death of their father?
7. What is so touching and powerful about the way Margarets children-Florence, Stephen, and Sarah-relate to their grandfather and his dying?
8. What effect does their fathers death have on Max, Margaret, and Edie? How does it change their sense of themselves and how they want to live their lives?
9. What small moments of daily life-and the consciousness of her characters as they are immersed in their daily lives-does Minot capture especially vividly? In what ways is her writing remarkably true to life?
10. How are the Bramble siblings affected by discovering, belatedly, the truth of their origins? Why would their parents have kept this secret from them for so long?
11. Margaret wonders, near the novels end, “What is it thats trapped within each of them, that rises up and grows, that shimmers along the edges of a life like a glistening fish, ready to burst through?” [p. 242]. Why does she feel compelled to ask this question? How might it be answered?
12. Eliza Minots prose is often described by reviewers as lyrical. What passages come closest to poetry in their music and subtlety of description?
13. What is the significance of both Margaret and Edie being rear-ended on the very same day? Do these accidents provide an emotional, as well as a physical, jolt? What role does Tammy play in the novel? Why has Minot included her?
14. At the end of the novel, Margaret recalls her father telling her “Its not all about love at all . . . . Its about the ability to do it, it seems to me.” In the final sentence Margaret hears one of her children asking, “Mom? Are you all right, Mom? Mom? Mom? What are you doing?” [p. 243]. Why does Minot end the novel this way? What does her father mean when he says its all about “the ability to do it”? What is Margaret doing as the novel closes?
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