Synopses & Reviews
This provocative, funny, perceptive novel tells the story of the trials of over-conscientious parenthood, as the devoted Braithwaites watch their bright, gifted eighteen-year-old take her disturbing initial steps toward independence, integrity-and failure.
The action is set in Morningside Heights, the Manhattan neighborhood surrounding Columbia University where the Braithwaites live in a community in which adults aspirations are firmly focused on the achievements of their children. Talented, troubled, and self-centered, Jane Braithwaite makes her well-meaning upper-middle-class family miserable, enmeshing them in the complicated lives of a homeless family, a poor teenager with no family, and a would-be family foundering on childlessness. When catastrophe finally threatens, all their dilemmas are resolved by the same stunning and unexpected means.
All the while, the Braithwaites involve old and new friends in their struggles-a lovesick clergyman, a lonely doctor and his baby-obsessed wife, a libertarian billionaire, a money-loving philosopher, and a hard-bitten but sexy poverty activist. Their social and political clashes provide entertainment both comic and serious.
Anything for Jane is a fast-paced, beautifully crafted, moving tale of parent-child discord, class conflict, and young love. Erudite and playful, it offers readers a feast of rich satisfactions.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Cheryl Mendelson received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Rochester and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. She has practiced law in New York City and taught philosophy at Purdue and Columbia universities. She is the author of Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House
and the novels Morningside Heights
and Love, Work, Children
. Anything for Jane
is the final novel in her Morningside Heights trilogy. She lives in New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why is Jane so unhappy?
2. Why is Jane mostly indifferent to what people think of her? Why is it that Ellen gets through to her? How does Jane get through to Ellen in the end?
3. Why does Jane fall in love with Andres?
4. This novel presents us with a number of parents and surrogate parents: Charles, Anne, Michael, Helen, Gabriela, and more. Which, if any, do you admire? What flaws do you see in the way they carry out parental roles?
5. Cheryl Mendelson opens the book by writing: “Good parents made bad citizens.” Do you agree? Does the author? Why? Do you think overlydedicated parenthood is a form of selfishness?
6. Agree or disagree: When the older generation recognizes no social obligation except to children, they endanger the children. Jane must take terrible risks for Andres both as a means to free herself from a stifling life and in order to meet the social obligations that her parents have sought to fulfill through her.
7. On page 239, Michael Garrard thinks to himself that the only child hell ever have is Adriana. “That was his punishment for trying to bring the dead back to life.”What does he mean?
8. Do you feel sorry for Adriana on Christmas Eve when Michael is too upset by her gift to be very appreciative? Do you feel sorry for Michael?
9. Michael accuses himself of having been complicit in Adrianas descent into obssession. Does he really bear some responsibility for it?
10. Are you disappointed in Greg Merriweathers choice of a mate? Do you think Greg and Carla will have children? Would you agree or disagree with the idea that people who take on heavy social responsibilities make bad parents? Or, to put it another way, do the best citizens make bad parents?
11. Do you blame Gabriela for being unable to love Andres?
12. Andres has been essentially parentless since early childhood yet he is presented as having strong values, intelligence, insight, and a huge capacity for love. Can this happen? Is Andres Janes superior in certain respects?
13. Sometimes Mendelson seems to assert that all moral values and all moral behavior have something parental in them. How much or how little truth is there in such an idea?
14. Do you think the way Anything for Jane ends is optimistic or pessimistic?
A Conversation with the Author
Random House Readers’ Circle: Anything for Jane is the last in a trilogy of novels about Morningside Heights. Is there any chance you would set future books there?
Cheryl Mendelson: I don’t expect to. What interested me in the setting was that it offered the chance to follow characters I loved through a bittersweet experience of loss and change. A neighborhood that had held a certain character for a century did at last change. Anything for Jane takes place in the new Morningside Heights. But never say never!
RHRC: This novel makes a point of linking good parents and poor citizenry. Is part of that point the idea that the people of the new Morningside Heights are less socially engaged than their predecessors?
CM: Yes, like many people elsewhere. The fattening of parenthood is an obvious consequence of the starving of other roles. But idealism can turn away from the world in a variety of ways of which this is only one.
RHRC: How important is place in today’s world and in today’s novels?
CM: In real life, place becomes less and less important as cities and towns grow more and more alike and because it is easier and more comfortable to move than ever. People do move constantly from one place to another, making the homogenization go farther and faster. Except for the real estate values that affect the square footage of their apartments or houses, the people you’ll run into today in Seattle aren’t terribly different from those in Atlanta, London, Rome, or Morningside Heights. Until very recently, that wasn’t true. I sometimes think that’s why lately Americans so enjoy novels about India and Afghanistan—places that are still different, at any rate for a little while longer.
The Morningside Heights novels are about a place in the process of losing its differences. For a century, Morningside Heights was home to a distinctive society whose character reflected the institutions of learning, music, and religion that clustered in this small and self-contained neighborhood— Columbia University, Riverside Church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, the Manhattan School of Music, and many more. The existence of all these institutions within walking distance of one another created an idiosyncratic and resilient world dedicated, as its founders hoped it would be, to matters of mind and spirit. It is testimony to the gargantuan power of the social changes our country is undergoing that Morningside Heights, with its unusually sturdy roots in the past, resisted such changes only a few decades longer than other places did.
RHRC: How important is place to you?
CM: It is all-important to me both personally and as a novelist. So far, at any rate, I seem not to be able to imagine stories in which place is not highly significant. In my life, I have lived many places, but only two have had the feeling of home to me. The first is the farm and neighboring village in Appalachian southwest Pennsylvania where I grew up. A place whose loss I have never recovered from and where an amazing number of my dreams still take place. The second, the only replacement for my Pennsylvania roots that I ever found, is Morningside Heights.