Good Harbor

( 24 )

Overview

Anita Diamant whose rich portrayal of the biblical world of women illuminated her acclaimed international bestseller The Red Tent, now crafts a moving novel of contemporary female friendship.
Good Harbor is the long stretch of Cape Ann beach where two women friends walk and talk, sharing their personal histories and learning life's lessons from each other. Kathleen Levine, a longtime resident of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is maternal and steady, a devoted children's librarian, a...

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Good Harbor: A Novel

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Overview

Anita Diamant whose rich portrayal of the biblical world of women illuminated her acclaimed international bestseller The Red Tent, now crafts a moving novel of contemporary female friendship.
Good Harbor is the long stretch of Cape Ann beach where two women friends walk and talk, sharing their personal histories and learning life's lessons from each other. Kathleen Levine, a longtime resident of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is maternal and steady, a devoted children's librarian, a convert to Judaism, and mother to two grown sons. When her serene life is thrown into turmoil by a diagnosis of breast cancer at fifty-nine, painful past secrets emerge and she desperately needs a friend. Forty-two-year-old Joyce Tabachnik is a sharp-witted freelance writer who is also at a fragile point in her life. She's come to Gloucester to follow her literary aspirations, but realizes that her husband and young daughter are becoming increasingly distant. Together, Kathleen and Joyce forge a once-in-a-lifetime bond and help each other to confront scars left by old emotional wounds.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The author of the phenomenal bestseller The Red Tent again delves into the secret lives of women with a contemporary novel that reaffirms her remarkable gift as a natural and resonant storyteller.
Library Journal
Linda Emond's performance helps to enliven the second offering by the author of the best-selling biblical epic The Red Tent. This novel, far narrower in scope than Diamant's first, focuses on two women: Kathleen Levine, a 59-year-old children's librarian undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, and Joyce Tabachnik, a 42-year-old journalist and romance novelist struggling to cope with a workaholic spouse and their increasingly impertinent 12-year-old daughter. Kathleen is a longtime resident of Cape Ann, MA, while Joyce and her husband have just purchased a summer home there. The two women meet one night after synagogue and immediately hit it off. While taking long walks along Good Harbor beach, the two gradually share their personal histories, developing a deep friendship that helps them cope with their domestic problems. Diamant's smooth prose, well-drawn characters, and vivid descriptions of Cape Ann help to compensate for the novel's slow-moving, minimal plot. A solid choice for large fiction collections.DBeth Farrell, Portage Cty. Dist. Lib., OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Contemporary yet familiar tale about a consoling summer friendship as two women-one undergoing radiation therapy, the other unhappy in her marriage and career-share their fears and pasts as they walk a Massachusetts beach. Set in Cape Ann, the story begins in the spring when Kathleen Levine, 59, diagnosed with breast cancer, emerges from surgery only to face radiation treatment over the summer. A librarian at the elementary school and the mother of two sons, Kathleen is having a hard time with her diagnosis. A Catholic who converted to Judaism when she married local businessman Buddy, she can't help but remember how her sister Pat, a nun, died painfully and young from the same disease, even though doctors assure Kathleen that her cancer is different. In addition, Kathleen is tormented by memories of her son Danny, who was a toddler when he was killed by an out-of-control car. Forty-something Boston writer Joyce Tabachnik is also feeling down. She's written a pseudonymous bodice-ripper successful enough to finance a vacation house in Cape Ann, but she really wants to write serious fiction; her husband Frank is a workaholic; and her daughter Nina, on the cusp of adolescence, is no longer sweet and tractable. The two women, meeting for the first time after a synagogue service, start taking walks together along the beach. As the summer progresses, Joyce, who's fixing up her house, suffers writer's block and has a brief affair with a mysterious Irishman; Kathleen, more and more depressed, experiences panic attacks, especially when she's behind the wheel of her car. But their friendship sustains them, as Kathleen overcomes her fears of driving to warn Joyce on her way to a rendezvous that the police are after her lover, and owns up to Joyce the responsibility she feels for Danny's death. Though questions of religious faith are touched on, the bestselling Diamant (The Red Tent) never wanders far from a nicely written but conventional celebration of female friendship.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743225724
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 454,907
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is the bestselling author of the novels The Red Tent, Good Harbor, and The Last Days of Dogtown, as well as the collection of essays, Pitching My Tent. An award-winning journalist whose work has appeared regularly in The Boston Globe Magazine and Parenting, she is the author of six nonfiction guides to contemporary Jewish life. She lives in Massachusetts. Her most recent novel is Day After Night. Visit her website at www.anitadiamant.com.

Biography

Anita Diamant is an award-winning journalist and the author of several bestselling novels (The Red Tent, Good Harbor, The Last Days of Dogtown, Day After Night), a collection of essays (Pitching My Tent, and six nonfiction guides to contemporary Jewish life.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Anita Diamont:

"Modern dance concerts inspire me like little else. I'm amazed at the creativity and the range of the human imagination in the human body. Along a similar vein, I tend to prefer contemporary art museums and galleries for the visual/mental kick-in-the-pants. I don't go in expecting to like everything I see; I'm just... looking!"

"I unwind by walking on the beach. Sky, sea, sand, rocks, birds -- the great noisy emptiness. Nothing like it."

"I'd rather be home, or close to home. Traveling around the US or abroad is fascinating, but I lack the bug or gene that inspired people to visit the four corners of the globe. I'm not uncurious, honest. Maybe I'll grow into it..."

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    1. Hometown:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 27, 1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      M.A. in English, SUNY, Binghamton, NY, 1975; B.A. in Comparative Literature, Washington Univ., St. Louis, MO, 1973.
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Kathleen lay on the massage table and looked up at the casement windows high above her. The sashes were fashioned of rough oak, the glass uneven and bottle-thick. Propped open on green sapling sticks, they were windows from an enchanted castle. Having been a children's librarian for twenty-five years, Kathleen Levine considered herself something of an expert on the subject of enchanted castles.

She smiled and closed her eyes. The massage was a birthday present from her coworkers at Edison Elementary. They'd given her the gift certificate at a surprise party for her fifty-ninth birthday, almost five months ago. When Madge Feeney, the school secretary, had learned that Kathleen still hadn't used it, Madge had harrumphed and made the appointment for her.

Kathleen stretched her neck from side to side. "Comfortable?" asked Marla, who stood at the far end of the table, kneading Kathleen's left instep. Marla Fletcher, who was nearly six feet tall, sounded as though she were far, far away. Like the giant wife in the castle of "Jack and the Beanstalk," Kathleen thought, and smiled again.

She sighed, letting go of the tension of driving from school to this odd, out-of-the-way place. Kathleen had thought she knew every last side street on Cape Ann, but Marla's directions had taken her along unfamiliar roads leading, finally, up a rutted, one-way lane that looped around the steep hills overlooking Mill Pond. She nearly turned back once, convinced she'd lost the way. But then she spotted the landmark: a stone gate, half-hidden by overgrown lilac bushes, weeks away from blooming.

It must have been a stunning estate in its day. Much as she hated being late, Kathleen slowed down for a better look. The great lawn had been designed to show off the pond, which shone platinum in the spring sun. Beyond it, Mill River glittered into the distance, silver on mauve.

She turned the car toward the sprawling hewn-granite mansion. Those windows seemed piteously small to be facing such a magnificent scene, she thought. And the four smaller outbuildings, made of the same majestic stones, with the same slate turrets, seemed oddly grand for servants' quarters.

Kathleen drove past two young couples in tennis whites standing by the net on a pristine clay court. They turned to watch as she pulled up beside the round stone tower, where Marla waited by the door. Rapunzel, thought Kathleen, at the sight of her waist-length golden hair.

Lying on the massage table, Kathleen wondered whether she could translate this amazing place into "once upon a time." She had tried to write children's books, she had even taken classes. But that was not her gift. Kathleen was good at matching children to books. She could find just the right story to catch any child's imagination — even the wildest boys, who were her pet projects, her special successes. It wasn't as grand a gift as writing, but it was a gift. And in her own private way, Kathleen was proud of it.

Yet, here she was, in a castle on a hill in the woods, stroked and kneaded like a happy lump of dough by a kind lady; it seemed like an engraved invitation. Was this the kind of scene that had inspired Charles Dodgson to become Lewis Carroll? Was this the world that Maurice Sendak visited whenever he set out on a new book?

"Time to turn over," Marla said, draping the sheet so Kathleen remained covered. Warm oil trickled over Kathleen's sloping shoulders, velvet drops that soothed and tickled. "Nice," she said, overcome by gratitude to this pleasant stranger who made her feel so well cared for, so...cradled. Curious word, Kathleen thought. Curiouser and curiouser. She closed her eyes.

The next thing she knew, two warm hands cupped her face. "Take your time getting dressed," Marla whispered. "I'm going to get you a glass of water."

But Kathleen was no dawdler. She saw from the clock beside her that nearly two hours had passed since she had lain down. She swung her legs over the edge of the table and reached for her bra, fastening the hooks in front, bottom to top, just as her sister had shown her when Kathleen was twelve years old, before she needed a bra at all. She had no idea she was weeping until Marla raced back up the winding stone staircase, an empty glass in her hand.

Kathleen tried to regain control of her breathing. "I have breast cancer," she said, staring down at her chest.

"Oh my God," Marla said softly. She sat down and took Kathleen's hand. "I wish you'd told me. I would have brought up my amethyst crystal. I could have burned myrrh instead of sage."

Kathleen sniffed and stifled a laugh. "That's okay. It was a wonderful massage."

"Do you want to make an appointment for another one? That might be a good thing to do."

Kathleen wiped her nose on her slippery forearm and turned the bra around, filling it with her breasts — first the good one, and then the traitor. "I'll call you after I know when...After..." Her throat closed. Marla put an arm around her shoulders.

The only sound was the volley on the tennis court below. The juicy pop of ball hitting racket, court, racket, sounded back and forth for a long time before someone finally missed a shot. The players' laughter filtered up through the windows, like an echo from another day, another story.

Copyright © 2001 by Anita Diamant

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Kathleen lay on the massage table and looked up at the casement windows high above her. The sashes were fashioned of rough oak, the glass uneven and bottle-thick. Propped open on green sapling sticks, they were windows from an enchanted castle. Having been a children's librarian for twenty-five years, Kathleen Levine considered herself something of an expert on the subject of enchanted castles.

She smiled and closed her eyes. The massage was a birthday present from her coworkers at Edison Elementary. They'd given her the gift certificate at a surprise party for her fifty-ninth birthday, almost five months ago. When Madge Feeney, the school secretary, had learned that Kathleen still hadn't used it, Madge had harrumphed and made the appointment for her.

Kathleen stretched her neck from side to side. "Comfortable?" asked Marla, who stood at the far end of the table, kneading Kathleen's left instep. Marla Fletcher, who was nearly six feet tall, sounded as though she were far, far away. Like the giant wife in the castle of "Jack and the Beanstalk," Kathleen thought, and smiled again.

She sighed, letting go of the tension of driving from school to this odd, out-of-the-way place. Kathleen had thought she knew every last side street on Cape Ann, but Marla's directions had taken her along unfamiliar roads leading, finally, up a rutted, one-way lane that looped around the steep hills overlooking Mill Pond. She nearly turned back once, convinced she'd lost the way. But then she spotted the landmark: a stone gate, half-hidden by overgrown lilac bushes, weeks away from blooming.

It must have been a stunning estate in its day. Much as she hated being late, Kathleen slowed down for a better look. The great lawn had been designed to show off the pond, which shone platinum in the spring sun. Beyond it, Mill River glittered into the distance, silver on mauve.

She turned the car toward the sprawling hewn-granite mansion. Those windows seemed piteously small to be facing such a magnificent scene, she thought. And the four smaller outbuildings, made of the same majestic stones, with the same slate turrets, seemed oddly grand for servants' quarters.

Kathleen drove past two young couples in tennis whites standing by the net on a pristine clay court. They turned to watch as she pulled up beside the round stone tower, where Marla waited by the door. Rapunzel, thought Kathleen, at the sight of her waist-length golden hair.

Lying on the massage table, Kathleen wondered whether she could translate this amazing place into "once upon a time." She had tried to write children's books, she had even taken classes. But that was not her gift. Kathleen was good at matching children to books. She could find just the right story to catch any child's imagination — even the wildest boys, who were her pet projects, her special successes. It wasn't as grand a gift as writing, but it was a gift. And in her own private way, Kathleen was proud of it.

Yet, here she was, in a castle on a hill in the woods, stroked and kneaded like a happy lump of dough by a kind lady; it seemed like an engraved invitation. Was this the kind of scene that had inspired Charles Dodgson to become Lewis Carroll? Was this the world that Maurice Sendak visited whenever he set out on a new book?

"Time to turn over," Marla said, draping the sheet so Kathleen remained covered. Warm oil trickled over Kathleen's sloping shoulders, velvet drops that soothed and tickled. "Nice," she said, overcome by gratitude to this pleasant stranger who made her feel so well cared for, so...cradled. Curious word, Kathleen thought. Curiouser and curiouser. She closed her eyes.

The next thing she knew, two warm hands cupped her face. "Take your time getting dressed," Marla whispered. "I'm going to get you a glass of water."

But Kathleen was no dawdler. She saw from the clock beside her that nearly two hours had passed since she had lain down. She swung her legs over the edge of the table and reached for her bra, fastening the hooks in front, bottom to top, just as her sister had shown her when Kathleen was twelve years old, before she needed a bra at all. She had no idea she was weeping until Marla raced back up the winding stone staircase, an empty glass in her hand.

Kathleen tried to regain control of her breathing. "I have breast cancer," she said, staring down at her chest.

"Oh my God," Marla said softly. She sat down and took Kathleen's hand. "I wish you'd told me. I would have brought up my amethyst crystal. I could have burned myrrh instead of sage."

Kathleen sniffed and stifled a laugh. "That's okay. It was a wonderful massage."

"Do you want to make an appointment for another one? That might be a good thing to do."

Kathleen wiped her nose on her slippery forearm and turned the bra around, filling it with her breasts — first the good one, and then the traitor. "I'll call you after I know when...After..." Her throat closed. Marla put an arm around her shoulders.

The only sound was the volley on the tennis court below. The juicy pop of ball hitting racket, court, racket, sounded back and forth for a long time before someone finally missed a shot. The players' laughter filtered up through the windows, like an echo from another day, another story.

Copyright © 2001 by Anita Diamant

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Introduction

In Good Harbor, Anita Diamant, author of phenomenal bestseller and book group favorite The Red Tent, explores the emotional lives of two mothers in present-day Cape Ann, Massachusetts. At the moment, Kathleen, a graceful and maternal librarian, meets Joyce, a little younger, restless and funny, each woman has reached a turning point in her life. Kathleen, whose sister died of breast cancer fifteen years earlier, has just been diagnosed herself. Joyce, increasingly distant from her adolescent daughter, is taking stock of her marriage and struggling to write her second novel. When these two women meet for the first time, they recognize an immediate kinship. As they take long walks at Good Harbor beach, they begin to bare their intimate histories and help each other to heal old wounds.

A natural and resonant storyteller, Diamant brings to life the passions, traditions, and turmoil of these two women and their families, exploring the tragedy of loss, the destructive and restorative power of secrets, and the tenderness of friendship and love.

Discussion Points

1. Joyce and Kathleen become fast friends despite a seventeen-year age difference. What common traits, experiences, and challenges serve as the foundation of their friendship? How do their different perspectives on life help each other as wives, as parents, as friends, as women growing older?

2. Kathleen thinks that talking with men "just isn't the same." Do you agree? Is there an inherent difference in the way men and women communicate? What do Kathleen and Joyce derive from their conversations with each other that they don't get from their husbands?

3. How significant is the setting of thisnovel? How do Cape Ann and the beach at Good Harbor serve as "characters" or catalysts throughout the book?

4. Religion is an important theme for many characters in Good Harbor. How do Kathleen, Pat, Joyce, Hal, Rabbi Hertz, and Theresa Lupo, for example, approach their religion? How does religion help them define themselves? How does it bring them together?

5. Kathleen learns some surprising things about her son Hal in Good Harbor. How do these revelations affect their relationship? What does Kathleen learn about herself? About Hal?

6. Recall Kathleen's discomfort at friends offering their "cancer stories" when they learn of her diagnosis. Why do these sympathetic gestures make Kathleen feel worse rather than better? How does her sister Pat's death make Kathleen's diagnosis even more difficult to face?

7. What is the cause of Joyce's "funk" in the beginning of the novel? How does her house become both the outlet for her frustrations and a source of satisfaction?

8. Why does Joyce struggle between her desire to write a serious novel and her pleasure in writing about her romance heroine Magnolia? Why is she uncomfortable talking about her literary aspirations and accomplishments? What finally allows Joyce to get over her writer's block?

9. Kathleen says there are "lots of things she never said to Buddy" and believes this is "the secret of their marital happiness." Is she correct in that assessment? For Joyce and Frank, the lack of communication creates a deep rift in their relationship. What are some of the other silences and secrets in Good Harbor? What effect, both positive and negative, do they have on the characters' lives?

10. Kathleen and Buddy and Joyce and Frank experience different kinds of grieving over their children — the first couple over a death, the second over the inevitable passage into adulthood. How do these very different kinds of losses, and the couples' inability to talk about them, affect their marriages?

11. At the end of Good Harbor, Kathleen and Joyce have arrived at a new understanding of themselves, their families, and each other. Discuss the journey each woman makes to the new place in her life. What resources did they draw upon to get there? How do you imagine their futures?

12. If you have read Diamant's first bestselling novel, The Red Tent, compare and contrast it with Good Harbor. How does ancient womanhood differ from modern womanhood? What do Diamant's female characters have in common across the centuries?

A Conversation with Anita Diamant

Q. Most readers are familiar with your first novel, The Red Tent, a work of historical fiction that retells the biblical story of Dinah. Why did you choose a contemporary story for your next novel?

A. I don't feel that I chose the story so much as the story and setting chose me. Good Harbor was simply the next novel inside me. After years of writing nonfiction, I have discovered that fiction is a far less conscious process. The unconscious or perhaps subconscious has a much bigger part to play in the invention of stories and characters.

Q. On the surface, Good Harbor and The Red Tent seem very different, one set thousands of years ago, one set today. Where do the stories feel similar to you? Where do the concerns of Joyce and Kathleen in Good Harbor echo those of Dinah and her mothers in The Red Tent?

A. The stories are very different. There is a similarity, however, in the importance of women's relationships. I think that both The Red Tent and Good Harbor are about women's connections to one another as a source of solace, information, companionship, and love. In this, I think both books tell "untold" or perhaps "undertold" stories about the heart of women's experience.

Q. You write about Good Harbor as if you've done the "walk" a million times! Your descriptions of the beach and the sensory experience of being there are very evocative. Is there a real Good Harbor or did this wonderful place come out of your imagination?

A. Good Harbor beach is a very real, very beautiful place on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. I have walked that beach a million times and had life-affirming and life-altering conversations there with many dear friends. It's a place that always makes me feel both peaceful and energized. When I'm stressed out or unable to fall asleep, I try to think about walking along Good Harbor beach.

Q. The scenes describing Joyce's affair are pretty steamy. Was it fun to let loose on the page?

A. Fun but challenging. I think writing about sex is pretty difficult. Generally, I subscribe to the "less is more" philosophy in this. Even so, you have to describe at least part of what's going on. Choosing which part is, I admit, fun.

Q. Kathleen's treatment for breast cancer offers quite a lot of detail about what women go through when they receive radiation treatment. Did you do a lot research on the subject?

A. I did do research about breast cancer and I had great help from medical and social work professionals and also from friends who had undergone treatment. I did climb up on the radiology treatment table to see what it felt like. (It was pretty frightening.) Kathleen's diagnosis of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is a relatively common diagnosis, given the widespread use of mammograms and other imaging technology that show this early stage or "pre" cancer. I learned that women who are given this diagnosis sometimes find themselves being told they "only" have DCIS. Although this diagnosis is not as dire as some others, it is still a devastating, life-changing event in a woman's life. On the other hand, I also wanted to explore the way that a serious illness can be a catalyst for self-examination and growth.

Q. In your acknowledgments you thank your writing group. What role did the other members play in the development of Good Harbor?

A. The members of my writing group were a constant source of support and encouragement, which is crucial. Writing is a very lonely occupation, and it's easy to doubt and discredit your own work. My writing group also provided good perspective on my characters ("Would Joyce really say that?") and helped me to pare the story down to its essentials.

Q. Many women reading Good Harbor will recognize themselves in Kathleen and Joyce as they deal with their teenage and adult children, experience the ups and downs of a long marriage, face growing older, cope with painful losses, and examine their relationship with faith. How much did you look to your own life and that of your friends to write Good Harbor?

A. I certainly hope that many women will identify with aspects of Joyce's life and Kathleen's life. Their experiences — as mothers, wives, and friends — are universal in some ways. However, Good Harbor is not about me or any one of my friends. Good Harbor is not any more autobiographical than The Red Tent, which is my way of saying that all the fiction I write is of necessity born from my experience. My every conversation, every challenge, every joy, every memory finds its way into what I write, so of course my life is in Good Harbor. I identify with both Joyce and Kathleen, too. But I hope that readers will understand that their stories are not my life story.

Q.Good Harbor is filled with "bookish" people: Kathleen is a children's librarian; her son is an avid reader; Joyce is a writer and book group member. Were you influenced by all the readers and book group members you met on tour forThe Red Tent? What did you learn as a writer from those encounters?

A. Reading is an essential part of my life. I start my day with coffee and the printed page. I was raised among readers, and my friends, community, and family are all "bookish." My experience with readers of The Red Tent — so many of them in book groups — confirmed my belief in the power of reading as a source of connection among people. Although writing and reading are essentially solitary pursuits, the purpose of reading is to knit us closer together, to create understanding, to convene us as friends, coffee cups or wine glasses in hand, to explore what is most important to each of us.

Q. Will you go back to writing historical fiction again? Are you working on another book now?

A. I have started work on a third novel, set in the early 1800s in the United States. I'm at the very early stages of this book, so I can't say too much about it. However, it focuses on a group of strong, unconventional women living on the edge of society.

Visit Anita Diamant on-line at www.anitadiamant.com or go to www.bookclubreader.com to discover more reading group guides on-line.

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Interviews & Essays

Eavesdropping: Anita Diamant and James Carroll

From the November/December 2001 issue of Book magazine.

If you ask a bestselling novelist, a National Book Award winner, a former Catholic priest and a Jewish mother to have lunch together, how many people have you actually invited? The correct answer, it turns out, is two. Book recently arranged for James Carroll and Anita Diamant to meet at a restaurant just off of Harvard Square to discuss books, faith, sex and anything else that came to mind.

Carroll, a former priest and the National Book Award-winning author of An American Requiem, recently published Constantine's Sword, a controversial epic that is part history and part memoir and deals with anti-Semitism and the Catholic Church.

Diamant—journalist, mother and author of numerous books—published her first novel, The Red Tent, in 1997. This reimagining of the Old Testament story of Jacob, told through the eyes of his only daughter, Dinah, has become a word-of-mouth bestseller, with 1.5 million copies in print. In October she published Good Harbor, a story of the friendship between two contemporary Jewish women.

CARROLL: Anita, The Red Tent achieved a phenomenal success. It is important, because it presents our history, our past, in an entirely new way. Your novel is a good example of the kind of work all writers should be doing—changing the world by the stories we tell.

DIAMANT: People ask why I think it's successful, why it hit a nerve. And I think it's because there was, especially among women readers, a hunger to hear stories about women in their faith traditions, in their scriptures. For the most part, they're silent.

CARROLL: As a Christian, I immediately think of the vast silence of women in the Gospels and in the letters of St. Paul. We know that women were remembered as the first to rush to the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. The risen Jesus appeared first to women—yet they practically disappear from all accounts of the early Church. We know that Paul himself had close collaborators who were women, yet they are forgotten. Except for Mary, women in the Christian memory were shunted aside.

DIAMANT: Jews know very little about Christianity. And I don't know if it's defensiveness or fear or what.

CARROLL: Well, you have a character in your new novel, Good Harbor, who buys a house with the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the lawn. What's her attitude about that?

DIAMANT: At first she doesn't know what to do with it. It sort of gives her the creeps. And then she develops a relationship with it and talks to it. There's a need to give voice to those Biblical women. Mary in particular. There is such a need to understand her, and to give her a kind of honor.

CARROLL: What would it mean to that character if instead of seeing it as the Blessed Virgin Mary, she saw it as a statue of a Jewish woman?

DIAMANT: I don't think there's any way for her to see it as that.

CARROLL: And not only Jews have that problem; so do Christians. One of the things I insist on in my work is, until we Christians reclaim the Jewishness of Jesus, therefore of Mary, we are simply lost. That is because Christianity has its meaning in the context of its Jewishness. What you did in The Red Tent was give life to a woman in a very powerful way. Women are at the heart of the Biblical story. And equally, we Christians must know how Jewishness is at the heart of the Christian story.

DIAMANT: And to put sexuality, women's sexuality, in the Bible, readers have a realization that that was missing. There's so much silence surrounding Biblical women, and if you speak into any part of the silence, people will say, "Oh, of course it was missing, but I didn't know it was missing." Sex is part of life—I mean, if you write about life and you leave sex out, then you've left out a major part of it. There's a lot of food in The Red Tent. There's more food than sex, as a matter of fact. To not write about food, to not write about sex, is to not talk about women's experience.

CARROLL: And men's. It seems to me that we are all quite confused when it comes to sexuality. Perhaps a reason for that is the way in which the politics of sexuality has such power over everything we think and do, and yet we are hardly aware of those politics. Or perhaps I should say, we males are hardly aware; I'll let you speak for females. Males who value control as a supreme virtue have a special problem with women's sexuality, which males try to control through law and custom, but really can't. Which brings us back to the Virgin Mary. Why is it, do you suppose, she is such a source of creeps for many people?

DIAMANT: Maybe because she didn't have sex?

CARROLL: In the Christian memory, her sexuality has been taken away from her. She is a virgin! Speaking as a Catholic, I see this up close, an emphasis on sexual denial—but always as a way of control. Now, in the Church as much as outside it, women are taking that control back. The fights over birth control, abortion, celibacy, the ordination of women and so on. These are not peripheral questions, as the male hierarchs try to insist. They are questions of adult responsibility, of freedom, of human life. So, for me, this is the context within which I appreciate your work—and, as you say, your putting sexuality back in life.

DIAMANT: I think we've only started to hear the silence in the last thirty-five, fifty years. Because a lot of people have noted the silence and tried to write into it, with poetry and with music, and with fiction to some extent as well. So I feel like I'm part of a movement to give voice where there was none.

CARROLL: And now you have a new novel set in the contemporary world. It took courage to write a book so different from The Red Tent.

DIAMANT: One publisher said to me, "This shouldn't be your next novel." And I said, "This is my next novel. There's no should or shouldn't; that's what came out next." People would say, "Will you do Rebecca next?" They suggested another story from the Bible, you know, set up the franchise. But I think not following your instincts would be really doing violence to yourself. People and publishers would love another...

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Reading Group Guide

In Good Harbor, Anita Diamant, author of phenomenal bestseller and book group favorite The Red Tent, explores the emotional lives of two mothers in present-day Cape Ann, Massachusetts. At the moment, Kathleen, a graceful and maternal librarian, meets Joyce, a little younger, restless and funny, each woman has reached a turning point in her life. Kathleen, whose sister died of breast cancer fifteen years earlier, has just been diagnosed herself. Joyce, increasingly distant from her adolescent daughter, is taking stock of her marriage and struggling to write her second novel. When these two women meet for the first time, they recognize an immediate kinship. As they take long walks at Good Harbor beach, they begin to bare their intimate histories and help each other to heal old wounds.

A natural and resonant storyteller, Diamant brings to life the passions, traditions, and turmoil of these two women and their families, exploring the tragedy of loss, the destructive and restorative power of secrets, and the tenderness of friendship and love.

Discussion Points

1. Joyce and Kathleen become fast friends despite a seventeen-year age difference. What common traits, experiences, and challenges serve as the foundation of their friendship? How do their different perspectives on life help each other as wives, as parents, as friends, as women growing older?

2. Kathleen thinks that talking with men "just isn't the same." Do you agree? Is there an inherent difference in the way men and women communicate? What do Kathleen and Joyce derive from their conversations with each other that they don't get from their husbands?

3. How significant is the setting of this novel? How do Cape Ann and the beach at Good Harbor serve as "characters" or catalysts throughout the book?

4. Religion is an important theme for many characters in Good Harbor. How do Kathleen, Pat, Joyce, Hal, Rabbi Hertz, and Theresa Lupo, for example, approach their religion? How does religion help them define themselves? How does it bring them together?

5. Kathleen learns some surprising things about her son Hal in Good Harbor. How do these revelations affect their relationship? What does Kathleen learn about herself? About Hal?

6. Recall Kathleen's discomfort at friends offering their "cancer stories" when they learn of her diagnosis. Why do these sympathetic gestures make Kathleen feel worse rather than better? How does her sister Pat's death make Kathleen's diagnosis even more difficult to face?

7. What is the cause of Joyce's "funk" in the beginning of the novel? How does her house become both the outlet for her frustrations and a source of satisfaction?

8. Why does Joyce struggle between her desire to write a serious novel and her pleasure in writing about her romance heroine Magnolia? Why is she uncomfortable talking about her literary aspirations and accomplishments? What finally allows Joyce to get over her writer's block?

9. Kathleen says there are "lots of things she never said to Buddy" and believes this is "the secret of their marital happiness." Is she correct in that assessment? For Joyce and Frank, the lack of communication creates a deep rift in their relationship. What are some of the other silences and secrets in Good Harbor? What effect, both positive and negative, do they have on the characters' lives?

10. Kathleen and Buddy and Joyce and Frank experience different kinds of grieving over their children — the first couple over a death, the second over the inevitable passage into adulthood. How do these very different kinds of losses, and the couples' inability to talk about them, affect their marriages?

11. At the end of Good Harbor, Kathleen and Joyce have arrived at a new understanding of themselves, their families, and each other. Discuss the journey each woman makes to the new place in her life. What resources did they draw upon to get there? How do you imagine their futures?

12. If you have read Diamant's first bestselling novel, The Red Tent, compare and contrast it with Good Harbor. How does ancient womanhood differ from modern womanhood? What do Diamant's female characters have in common across the centuries?

A Conversation with Anita Diamant

Q. Most readers are familiar with your first novel, The Red Tent, a work of historical fiction that retells the biblical story of Dinah. Why did you choose a contemporary story for your next novel?

A. I don't feel that I chose the story so much as the story and setting chose me. Good Harbor was simply the next novel inside me. After years of writing nonfiction, I have discovered that fiction is a far less conscious process. The unconscious or perhaps subconscious has a much bigger part to play in the invention of stories and characters.

Q. On the surface, Good Harbor and The Red Tent seem very different, one set thousands of years ago, one set today. Where do the stories feel similar to you? Where do the concerns of Joyce and Kathleen in Good Harbor echo those of Dinah and her mothers in The Red Tent?

A. The stories are very different. There is a similarity, however, in the importance of women's relationships. I think that both The Red Tent and Good Harbor are about women's connections to one another as a source of solace, information, companionship, and love. In this, I think both books tell "untold" or perhaps "undertold" stories about the heart of women's experience.

Q. You write about Good Harbor as if you've done the "walk" a million times! Your descriptions of the beach and the sensory experience of being there are very evocative. Is there a real Good Harbor or did this wonderful place come out of your imagination?

A. Good Harbor beach is a very real, very beautiful place on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. I have walked that beach a million times and had life-affirming and life-altering conversations there with many dear friends. It's a place that always makes me feel both peaceful and energized. When I'm stressed out or unable to fall asleep, I try to think about walking along Good Harbor beach.

Q. The scenes describing Joyce's affair are pretty steamy. Was it fun to let loose on the page?

A. Fun but challenging. I think writing about sex is pretty difficult. Generally, I subscribe to the "less is more" philosophy in this. Even so, you have to describe at least part of what's going on. Choosing which part is, I admit, fun.

Q. Kathleen's treatment for breast cancer offers quite a lot of detail about what women go through when they receive radiation treatment. Did you do a lot research on the subject?

A. I did do research about breast cancer and I had great help from medical and social work professionals and also from friends who had undergone treatment. I did climb up on the radiology treatment table to see what it felt like. (It was pretty frightening.) Kathleen's diagnosis of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is a relatively common diagnosis, given the widespread use of mammograms and other imaging technology that show this early stage or "pre" cancer. I learned that women who are given this diagnosis sometimes find themselves being told they "only" have DCIS. Although this diagnosis is not as dire as some others, it is still a devastating, life-changing event in a woman's life. On the other hand, I also wanted to explore the way that a serious illness can be a catalyst for self-examination and growth.

Q. In your acknowledgments you thank your writing group. What role did the other members play in the development of Good Harbor?

A. The members of my writing group were a constant source of support and encouragement, which is crucial. Writing is a very lonely occupation, and it's easy to doubt and discredit your own work. My writing group also provided good perspective on my characters ("Would Joyce really say that?") and helped me to pare the story down to its essentials.

Q. Many women reading Good Harbor will recognize themselves in Kathleen and Joyce as they deal with their teenage and adult children, experience the ups and downs of a long marriage, face growing older, cope with painful losses, and examine their relationship with faith. How much did you look to your own life and that of your friends to write Good Harbor?

A. I certainly hope that many women will identify with aspects of Joyce's life and Kathleen's life. Their experiences — as mothers, wives, and friends — are universal in some ways. However, Good Harbor is not about me or any one of my friends. Good Harbor is not any more autobiographical than The Red Tent, which is my way of saying that all the fiction I write is of necessity born from my experience. My every conversation, every challenge, every joy, every memory finds its way into what I write, so of course my life is in Good Harbor. I identify with both Joyce and Kathleen, too. But I hope that readers will understand that their stories are not my life story.

Q.Good Harbor is filled with "bookish" people: Kathleen is a children's librarian; her son is an avid reader; Joyce is a writer and book group member. Were you influenced by all the readers and book group members you met on tour forThe Red Tent? What did you learn as a writer from those encounters?

A. Reading is an essential part of my life. I start my day with coffee and the printed page. I was raised among readers, and my friends, community, and family are all "bookish." My experience with readers of The Red Tent — so many of them in book groups — confirmed my belief in the power of reading as a source of connection among people. Although writing and reading are essentially solitary pursuits, the purpose of reading is to knit us closer together, to create understanding, to convene us as friends, coffee cups or wine glasses in hand, to explore what is most important to each of us.

Q. Will you go back to writing historical fiction again? Are you working on another book now?

A. I have started work on a third novel, set in the early 1800s in the United States. I'm at the very early stages of this book, so I can't say too much about it. However, it focuses on a group of strong, unconventional women living on the edge of society.

Visit Anita Diamant on-line at www.anitadiamant.com or go to www.bookclubreader.com to discover more reading group guides on-line.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2005

    DIAMANT DOES WHAT SHE DOES BEST...

    I read the red tent first and thought 'oh my god i can hardly wait for the next book!!' good habor was good just as good as the red tent only different. instead of being taken back in time to a history that didn't exist, Diamant tells an everyday story about two lonely women who find each other and surprisingly enough themselves. Women need books like these to keep their sanity. It's nice to know that some one is at least thinking thoughts if not living what my life is like. I'm a true crime buff but every now and then my friend forces me into fiction, which is a real good thing cause now I have another writer to choose from.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Nothing Beats a Walk on the Beach

    I put this book down a few hours ago and I still have tears in my eyes thinking about it. Every now and then a great book comes out about the power of friendship and companionship between women and this, to me, is one of those great stories.

    Full Review; http://bookywooks.blogspot.com/2010/01/nothing-beats-walk-on-beach.html

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2001

    Great Tale!!!!

    This is my first Anita Diamant book. What a great story. I felt like I actually knew these two women and I laughed and cried with each of them. I loved how the author wove the different traditions of Judaism and Catholicism into the book. I also felt anger at the one friend for her 'affair'. I can't wait to read The Red Tent.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A real keeper!!!

    I was just sitting here wondering if I should buy Diamants' newest book. I was checking what everyone else thought of it and I saw how low the rating was for Good Harbor. This is one of my favorite books about female friendships. I am shocked that these other ladies rated it so badly. I sell my books at a used book store and this is one book I have kept in my library. Whenever I want a soothing, wonderful world to go to, I reread this book. I am very sorry the other ladies did not enjoy it to it's fullest. They all say they read The Red Tent and I never have, maybe that is the difference. All I can say is, give the book a try and make up your own mind!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    not as good as Red Tent, but worth a read

    This was definitely not as good as Red Tent. I was apprehensive to read it since i enjoyed Red Tent so much(and didn't want to be disappointed in Diamant), and after reading the back cover I thought it sounded a little hokey. But I am glad I read it. Being 42, with 3 children at various ages, back in school, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, and dealing with the constant struggle called marriage, but knowing that I am going to be okay through all of it because of the good friends I have, I really connected to this book(sorry, that was a lot!). It was a little hokey at times, but overall I think middle-aged women like me will really enjoy it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2004

    Boring, No Real Ending

    I'd never read a book by Diamant before . . .after this I don't want to pick up another. The books seemed slow, boring, and dull; I thought the whole thing was predictable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2004

    A good read

    I enjoyed this book and liked seeing how these women became friends and helped each other out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    What a disappointment

    Being a huge fan of The Red Tent I was eager to read Good Harbor. I was astonished at how bad the book was. Are there two Anita Diamants? How could The Red Tent be such a triumph and Good Harbor be a poor generic Harlequin romance both be written by the same person? 1 star is being generous.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2003

    A Ok Read with no real ending....

    I found this book just OK at best. I didnt care about the characters the way I thought I would I enjoyed their friendship but didnt really feel it emotionally I found the whole drug dealer chain smoking boyfriend pretty offensive and The rabbi just disappeared at the end with no closure. I liked the husbands and couldnt find the reason why there was so much anger toward them Just a OK book at best

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2002

    Real and Supportive

    I really enjoyed Good Harbor for a variety of reasons including the fact that as person undergoing treatment for breast cancer (surgical biopsy, surgery, chemo and now just finishing radiation) I appreciated the non-sensationalist approach to this disease. Ms Diament didn't see fit to throw every single horrible side effect at its absolute worst at Katherine. None of this experience is pleasant and Katherine definitely had it easier that most (me included to some extent) but it was nice to read a good story without having to feel like flagellating myself over someone else's misery. I've got the Red Tent on order and am looking forward to some more very good writing even if in an entirely different context.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2001

    Don't expect another Red Tent

    Diamante's The Red Tent was a moving story told in a unique and powerful way. It was a 5-Star book, for sure. Luckily, I read a review of this book before I read it, so I knew enough not to expect another 'one of the best books I've ever read.' I actually read it because of its setting, one of my favorite places, the Gloucester-Rockport (Cape Ann) area. However, Good Harbor, is a relaxing read about the friendship between two middle-age women, and its assertion of the values of such a relationshp is a reassuring one to readers. If the characters, both major and minor ones, had been more developed, this could have been a 'great read' rather than just a relaxing one. The two husbands, female rabbi and the Irish drug peddler all needed fleshing out, for sure. But some days, we just need a relaxing,somewhat comforting book to read, and this fits the bill.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2001

    A Great Read!

    Picked up this book despite my feelings towards The Rent Tent. I enjoyed reading into Joyce and Kathleen's friendship and how it evolved. I finished the book wishing I had a friendship just as theirs'. It was just a really good read which left me feeling good...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2001

    Mediocre Novel Of A Likely Friendship

    This was my once a year delve into popular new fiction and, girl, was I disappointed. First, nothing, I mean nothing happens until three quarters through when the younger of the two women randomly meets a stranger on the beach and dives headlong into a brief triste that ends in the most unlikely of ways. I felt a few pangs for the older woman whose struggle with breast cancer is just about the most interesting thing the book had to offer. But still it was hard to warm up to her. Since she is always putting everyone off, it puts off the reader, too! The husbands are like old furniture, not even worth mentioning, and nothing happens to them either. Their outstanding quality is that they both bore their wives to some degree. Another character she introduces, a young female Rabbi, was mildly interesting but for some reason Diamante just drops her like a hot potato for no particular reason and without any closure as they say. In short, I kept reading because I figured the plot had to go somewhere at some point. Nada!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted March 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2011

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