Synopses & Reviews
In a single week, a family leaves behind its past and a daughter awakens to the future in Emily Chenoweths intimate and beautifully crafted debut novel.
In the winter of 1990, Helen Hansen-counselor, wife, and mother in the prime of her life-is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The following August, Helen, her husband, Elliott, and their daughter, Abby, a freshman in college, take a trip to northern New Hampshire, where Helen will be able to say goodbye to a lifetime of friends. Ensconced in a historic resort in the White Mountains-a place where afternoon cocktails are served on the veranda and men are expected to wear jackets after six-the Hansens and their guests must improvise their own rituals of remembrance and reconnection.
For Elliott, the trip is a parting gift to his beloved wife, as well as some needed respite from the caretaking duties that have become his main work. For Helen and the procession of old friends who come to pay their respects, the days offer a poignant celebration of a dear, too-brief life. And for Abby, still unaware that her mothers cancer is terminal, the week brings a surprising conflict between loyalty and desire as, drawn by the youthful, spirited hotel staff, she finds herself caught between the affections of two very different young men.
Heartbreaking and luminous, Hello Goodbye deftly explores a familys struggle with love and loss, as a summer vacation becomes an occasion for awakening rather than farewell, and life inevitably blossoms in the face of death.
About the Author
Emily Chenoweth is a former fiction editor of Publishers Weekly. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Bookforum, and People, among other publications. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Reading Group Guide
1. The novel is told from three different perspectives: Abbys, Elliotts, and Helens. Whom do you see as the central character? Which is your favorite?
2. Although death is very much a large part of Hello Goodbye, the book doesnt feel depressing. Why do you think thats the case? What elements does Chenoweth include in her story that prevent it from being too sad of a read?
3. How does the setting of the hotel and its grounds affect the plot and characters? Why do you think Chenoweth chose this particular location? How does she use nature symbolically?
4. For Abby, the week in which Hello Goodbye takes place serves as a kind of coming-of-age. How does she change throughout the novel? How do you think shell be different when she leaves New Hampshire?
5. Abby encounters two very different young men in her stay; what does she find appealing about them, and who do you think she would ultimately fit best with? Do you think these relationships could exist outside of the confines of the hotel?
6. Every character in this novel deals with grief differently; some express denial, others act out in surprising ways. Which reactions do you identify with most? How have you dealt with grief in your own life?
7. Chenoweth writes that Elliott had “read somewhere that people who lost everything in a fire or flood often felt a great and terrible relief. Waking in strange beds, and clothes theyd borrowed, they experienced a peace that was almost holy.” Can you understand this sentiment? How does loss sometimes liberate us?
8. How does Helen process what is happening to her? How have her relationships to her husband, daughter, and friends changed? How much do you think she knows about her fate?
9. Sylvies character is that of the outsider. How does her presence-and actions-change the atmosphere of the week? Do you find her to be sympathetic? What are her intentions?
10. What repercussions does Elliotts decision to keep secret the severity of Helens illness have? Do you think he made the right decision? What would you have done in his situation?
11. Abby behaves uncharacteristically with Dom and then Vic towards the end of the novel. Compare these two interactions and discuss her thoughts going into them.
12. Helens illness has changed her significantly, both physically and mentally. What do you think she was like before she became ill?