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One hundred and ninety-two hours before Jenny Greenspan's pills start working, Connor's head is between her thighs in a pile of dead leaves in Lakefront Park.
"Higher, higher." Jenny is on her back, jeans and panties bunched around hiking boots at her ankles.
He and Jenny have been going down on each other every weekend for the past four months, but he still has no idea what she's asking for, what he's supposed to be doing. His friends offered bad metaphorical advice-like your tongue is a fine-point pen; not like you're trying to wallpaper a house. None of them warned it would taste very, very bad or that her pubic hairs would get caught in his throat. Jenny's orgasm-a series of uninspired "oh Gods"-seems largely faked, far too similar to that scene in When Harry Met Sally.
"Your turn." She pulls up her pants and runs fingers through her long ponytail. "But I don't see why we have to do this here. Your brother never cares if we're in your room."
"It's a nice night." Connor flips onto his back and unzips his jeans. "And the woods are romantic."
When he thought of it earlier in the day, it had seemed romantic--sort of rustic, a mountain man kind of thing. But it's about thirty-five degrees, and they're both freezing, having fashioned a makeshift blanket from their ski jackets and scarves. The leaves and crisp grass itch his ass, and a stick practically poked his eye out while he was going down on Jenny. They're really in the park because Connor wanted to get away from Jack, and the Sentra, and the new girl with the red hair.
Jenny curls her fingers around his dick, and he trembles-more because her hands are cold than because of anything she's doing. Then her hot mouth on his cock, going up and down, up and down. He props himself on his elbows and reaches for her breasts, malleable and firm like balled socks. Her cheeks are red from the breeze off the lake and her tan has almost completely faded.
They met as lifeguards at Euclid Beach last summer, peeling sheets of dead skin off each other's leathery brown shoulders and making out under the pier during breaks. She lives a few suburbs away in Solon and wanted to keep dating when school started. He likes the oval muscles in her calves, the dimples deep in her checks, how she says "soda" instead of "pop," is pretty sure he doesn't love her and often finds he has nothing to say in response to things she talks about when she calls.
As he feels himself starting to give, he taps her shoulder.
"Jen," he moans, "you should move."
She bobs out of the way and white jizz arcs into the air, landing on the sleeve of his coat. He just stares at it until he remembers to kiss her forehead through her knit ski hat; she likes that. Clothes and coats back on, they make their way to the car, branches and dying autumn things cracking under their feet. She threads her arm round his waist-always touching him, as if that could fill the awkward spaces between them.
Hand resting on Jenny's on the armrest, he drives her mother's station wagon back to his house. A Simon and Garfunkel song comes on the radio, and they both sing, quietly at first.
"Kathy, I'm lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping. I'm empty and aching and I don't know why."
Squeezing his hand, Jenny smiles, and they sing louder. Her voice is thin but pretty-one more thing to like. On the high notes, his tenor splinters. Jenny laughs, and Connor forgets that they have to have sex in one hundred and -ninety--one hours, that he can't drive stick, that Jack keeps pressuring him to apply to Case Western.
"Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they've all come to look for Amer-i-ca--"
He stops singing when he sees the strange car in his driveway, realizing it must belong to Jack's reporter.
"Don't forget to get condoms before next weekend," Jenny says, as if she were reminding him to call ahead and find out movie times. "It's good to have a backup method, just to be on the safe side."
Connor gives a nod punctuated by the birth-control-announcement stomachache.
From the Hardcover edition.
2. What does this title mean? What “accidents” happen, and do you agree that they are accidents? Or are Jack and Connor fully in control of their destinies regardless of their pasts?
3. Where do you think the climax of the novel occurs and why? Do Jack and Connor ever reach any understandings about each other? If so, what might some of those understandings be?
4. What motivates Jack’s and Connor’s infidelities? Are those motivations the same or different?
5. What effect does the irregular passage of time between chapters have on the plot? Why did the author write it this way instead of in a straightforward, linear way? Similiarly, what effect do the multiple narrators have on the movement of the plot?
6. Jack and Connor view themselves as very different people, but in what ways are they more similar than they think? In what ways are they truly different?
7. By the end of the novel, Jack and Connor have one son and two daughters, respectively. In what ways does the next generation of Reeds carry on the family traditions and the characteristics of their parents?
8. The author gives Mona, Laine, and Kathy the opportunity to narrate chapters and give their perspectives. How do the narrative, plot, and perspectives differ from Jack’s and Connor’s when the women are given the narrative power?
9. How do you think that Mona and Laine feel about each other? About the other’s marriage?
10. What changes Jorie’s perspective at the end of the novel? Is it just fear or a genuine maturing? Can you speculate on what happens in each of the other characters’ lives after the last page of the novel?
Posted April 25, 2007
I really did not enjoy reading this book. That being said, I did read it quickly and was motivated to find out how it ended. It was one of those books that is very readable, but which leaves you with an unpleasant feeling. There are literally no likable characters in this book. The author tries very hard to make them 'real' and 'flawed' but what she does is make them depressing, shallow, and stereotypically angst-filled and disconnected. A much better book about brothers and family and flawed, real characters is David Eggers' 'Heartbreaking work of Staggering Genius'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2007
I immediately became engrossed in the story of these two brothers and how their lives evolve over the course of twenty or so years. Its a great first novel and I read it in just 2 days. While I never really was sure if I 'liked' the two main characters, I really did want to know what happened to tham and was sad to see the book end. It could have told their story for another 20 years.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 11, 2006
¿Family and Other Accidents¿ works on many levels. Goldhagen is a gifted and talented writer who manages to introduce interesting yet flawed characters whose lives readers will care to understand and follow throughout years of their lives. Those of us from the Cleveland area will instantly recognize and fall in love with the author¿s depiction of the area and its attractions. Though it tends to drag a bit, the book itself manages to touch on issues of aloofness, adultery, and death while still giving readers hope that love is attainable for anyone. It¿s definitely worth checking out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 4, 2006
I just loved this book and can't believe it is Ms. Goldhagen's first novel! Her characters are so true to life with their strengths and faults. This book is so funny at times and also sad, lusty, frustrating, tender, etc... It has all the components of a great read! The book just flowed and I was hooked by the first paragraph. I finished the book 3 days ago and am already reading something else, but I am still thinking about Jack and Conner, Mona, Laine & Kathy, etc.... The only thing 'wrong' with the book was that it ended...... Highly recommended. I eagerly await Shari's next book!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 13, 2010
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Posted August 23, 2009
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