Synopses & Reviews
From the author of the beloved novel Three Junes
comes a rich and commanding story about the accidents, both grand and small, that determine our choices in love and marriage. Greenie Duquette, openhearted yet stubborn, devotes most of her passionate attention to her Greenwich Village bakery and her four-year-old son, George. Her husband, Alan, seems to have fallen into a midlife depression, while Walter, a traditional gay man who has become her closest professional ally, is nursing a broken heart.
It is at Walter's restaurant that the visiting governor of New Mexico tastes Greenie's coconut cake and decides to woo her away from the city to be his chef. For reasons both ambitious and desperate, she accepts and finds herself heading west without her husband. This impulsive decision will change the course of several lives within and beyond Greenie's orbit. Alan, alone in New York, must face down his demons; Walter, eager for platonic distraction, takes in his teenage nephew. Yet Walter cannot steer clear of love trouble, and despite his enforced solitude, Alan is still surrounded by women: his powerful sister, an old flame, and an animal lover named Saga, who grapples with demons all her own. As for Greenie, living in the shadow of a charismatic politician leads to a series of unforeseen consequences that separate her from her only child. We watch as folly, chance, and determination pull all these lives together and apart over a year that culminates in the fall of the twin towers at the World Trade Center, an event that will affirm or confound the choices each character has made or has refused to face.
Julia Glass is at her best here, weaving a glorious tapestry of lives and lifetimes, of places and people, revealing the subtle mechanisms behind our most important, and often most fragile, connections to others. In The Whole World Over she has given us another tale that pays tribute to the extraordinary complexities of love.
"The Whole World Over is a generous, tentacled, ensemble novel....[Glass] is deft at the quick portraiture and character shorthand, however, that this novelistic approach requires, and the mix-and-match love lives of her characters share common elements that help bind them together thematically." Los Angeles Times
"As the characters grapple with change and uncertainty in their lives, Glass gracefully builds up to the traumatic event that will affect them all, deftly exploring the sacrifices, compromises, and leaps of faith that accompany love." Booklist
"Glass's long but always captivating tale is a quilt of many colors and motivations whose strongest threads are love of family and sense of self." Library Journal
"The Whole World Over is a wise book, with breadth as well as depth." Portland Oregonian
"It's difficult to speak more of the novel's particulars without giving away its many satisfying surprises....Glass is too capable to need recipes and four-legged friends to make her fiction a pleasure." New York Times
"I foresee discussions in book groups and on blogs as readers try to decide if they think Glass' use of Sept. 11 is moving and illuminating or slightly discomfiting, and I'm looking forward to being part of those discussions." Newsday
About the Author
Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award for her novel Three Junes, was a 20042005 fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, and her short stories have been honored with three Nelson Algren Awards and the Tobias Wolff Award. Until recently a longtime New Yorker, she now lives with her family in Massachusetts.
Reading Group Guide
1. Julia Glass is a master at creating vivid, believable places. Describe the various places you remember from the novel–New York Citys West Village, Santa Fe, the small island in Maine, Uncle Marsdens house in Connecticut, Marions neighborhood in Berkeley. What are the crucial differences between the various settings? How does place influence lifestyle, life choices, and even the temperaments and the personalities of the characters? Where is “home” for Greenie? For Saga? What about Walter?
2. Describe the structure of the novel. Why does Glass divide her novel into three parts with various chapters? How does she note the passage of time over almost two years? Why do you think the seasons and the holidays are so crucial to this story? Much of Three Junes, Glasss first novel, was narrated in the first person and in the present tense. Here, however, shes told the story almost entirely in the past tense and in the third person, from alternating points of view. How is the reader affected differently by these choices? And what about the switch, in the final pages of this novel, to the present tense? Why do you think the author made this switch?
3. Why does Greenie take the opportunity to go to New Mexico? Do you think it was a good decision? Was it in character for her to go? Would you have gone if you were Greenie? Would you have returned to New York in the end?
4. How is teenage love portrayed in the novel? Describe Scott and Sonyas relationship. Do you think it will last? Why do both Alan and Greenie reconnect with their adolescent “loves”? Is it nostalgia, memory of youth, or is there something more powerful going on? Is it curiosity about the path not taken?
5. The past seeps into the novel through the various characters memories. Greenie does occasionally use recipes and she glances through cookbooks, but much of her cooking is done from memory and experimenting. For what else in her life does she rely on her memory? For Saga, who has lost a great deal of her memory, remembering is the key to being normal again. What is Alans take on this? How important are stories of our past in defining who we are in the present? Discuss the importance of family stories in this novel, particularly in connection with Saga and Walter.
6. What kind of mother is Greenie to George? Do you think being a mother defines her? Describe the other mothers in the novel–Alans depressed mother; the stylish, well-mannered Olivia Duquette; the Lutheran grandmother who raised Walter. How important in the characters lives are memories of their mothers? What do you think about the choices made by Joya and Marion–and Stephen–in their quests for parenthood? What happens to Saga when she learns she was pregnant at the time of her accident? How do you think it will affect her life beyond the end of the novel?
7. The two epigraphs to this novel are from a cookbook and a Dr. Seuss book. How do they set up or relate to the themes of the novel? To its tone? In Greenies interactions with her son, who has just learned to read, and then in certain scenes with Saga, Glass also alludes to or quotes from a number of other childrens books. Do you notice ways in which shes used specific books to add another dimension to the story that she is writing?
8. There are so many intersecting relationships in The Whole World Over. If you like, try making an actual diagram or map of these relationships. Does this reveal connections you did not notice before? Even Fenno, from Glasss earlier novel Three Junes, appears and plays an important part in this novel. If youve read Three Junes, do you think Fenno has changed or grown from the last novel to this one? Have the other characters changed by the end of this novel?
9. Choosing the right food for the right occasion is an important part of any chefs job. Food can be used as manipulation–for instance, in the scene where Ray McCrae asks Greenie to prepare a soufflé for the contentious Water Boys, suggesting that a fancier dessert will “placate” them. Discuss how different kinds of food influence the ways in which people relate. Have you ever used food to get something you wanted?
10. The first time Greenie takes Alan to her parents summer home in Maine, she quickly jumps into the cold ocean water, urging Alan to “just make a run for it,” joking that this is her personal motto. Alan retorts that his own motto is “Always test the waters.” How do their chosen careers reflect their personalities? Describe their marriage. Why is it falling apart? Do you think its salvageable? From what you learn about Greenies and Alans parents, how do you think those earlier marriages have shaped their own?
11. Alan remarks to his sister that “honesty can do more harm than good” in a marriage at times. Do you agree with him? If so, in what situations?
12. Why do you think Glass chose to make the monumental, historic events of September 11, 2001, so prominent in a novel about intimate emotions and relationships? Talk about the notion of destiny versus individual determination in this novel. To what extent does each of the major characters freely choose his or her own individual fate?
13. What about the theme of betrayal and forgiveness? Notice how many of the characters betray the people they care about, in subtle as well as obvious ways–not just by being unfaithful, as Gordie, Greenie, and Alan all are, but by threatening the confidence and stability of those around them. Whats going on, for instance, when Joya suggests to Alan that shes told Greenie about Marion? Or when Greenies mother speaks unflatteringly about her daughter to Alan? When Michael criticizes his fathers continuing indulgence of Saga? Does Greenie, in some way, betray her own son as well as her husband when she becomes involved with Charlie? And what about the sexual infidelities? Can you empathize with the characters who have strayed from their commitments? Do you think there will be lasting consequences?