The Hazards of Good Breeding

The Hazards of Good Breeding

by Jessica Shattuck

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The Hazards of Good Breeding by Jessica Shattuck

The "pitch perfect" (Los Angeles Times) first novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle.

This "richly appointed and generously portrayed" (Kirkus Reviews) debut novel tells the story of a WASPy, old-Boston family coming face to face with an America much larger than the one it was born in. Told from five perspectives, the novel spans an explosive week in the life of the Dunlaps, culminating in a series of events that will change their way of life forever.

Caroline Dunlap has written off the insular world of the Boston deb parties, golf club luaus, and WASP weddings that she grew up with. But when she reluctantly returns home after her college graduation, she finds that not everything is quite as predictable, or protected, as she had imagined. Her father, the eccentric, puritanical Jack Dunlap, is carrying on stoically after the breakup of his marriage, but he can't stop thinking of Rosita, the family housekeeper he fired almost six months ago. Caroline's little brother, Eliot, is working on a giant papier-mâché diorama of their town—or is he hatching a plan of larger proportions?

As the real reason for Rosita's departure is revealed, the novel culminates in a series of events that assault the fragile, sheltered, and arguably obsolete world of the Dunlaps.

Opening a window into a family's repressed desires and fears, The Hazards of Good Breeding is a startlingly perceptive comedy of manners that heralds a new writer of dazzling talent.

A New York Times Notable Selection and a Boston Globe Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393347708
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/06/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 297
Sales rank: 123,190
File size: 683 KB

About the Author

Jessica Shattuck is the New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle, The Hazards of Good Breeding (a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award), and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, and Wired among others. A graduate of Harvard University, she received her MFA from Columbia University. Shattuck now lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, MA.


Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

April 2, 1972

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A. Harvard College, 1994; M.F.A. in Writing, Columbia University, 2001

Reading Group Guide

Our Book Club Recommendation
Jessica Shattuck's debut novel is hard to describe without using the age old term "comedy of manners," but the phrase is misleading. The Hazards of Good Breeding is certainly an exploration, in a comic mode, of the somewhat embattled remnant of the once-powerful Northeastern blueblood class. And its focus on the world of the Dunlaps, a longstanding Boston area family of means who have been splintered by very modern circumstances, means that Shattuck can keep her gimlet eye trained on the issues that have captivated novelists from Jane Austen to Edith Wharton and Henry James. Reading groups will find that, like these writers, Shattuck peers beneath the veneer of refined education and comfortable circumstances, showing how the members of these sorts of close-knit, often highly traditional circles find themselves prey to the same kinds of drives and needs which are common to the wider world.

But while privilege, education and "good breeding" characterize the world of the Dunlaps, Shattuck is not in this novel out to satirize her subjects. Book clubs will be drawn to this book and particularly to several of its appealingly dysfunctional major characters, precisely because of the compassion and complexity with which the author treats her creations. They include Caroline Dunlap, whose post-collegiate uncertainty has brought her back to the crumbling 200-year-old family homestead she both loves and despises, to her father Jack, soldiering on after the breakup of his marriage, to the rudderless Rock Coughlin, Caroline's childhood friend who is thinking about becoming a Tibetan monk. Reading groups will find that Shattuck has made it impossible to dismiss these figures-- even as she sends up the world in which they live.

As the novel builds to a carefully foreshadowed crisis and climax, the two figures who emerge as the twin moral centers of this keenly observed little universe are Rosita, the former housekeeper for the Dunlaps, and ten-year-old Eliot, a precocious boy whose love for Rosita (his surrogate mother) has never left him -- and provides him with a secret determination. The forces which Shattuck charts in this study of repression, neglect, postponement, and self-delusion are not pleasant to confront; but reading groups will love discussing how the author places each Dunlap in a position where he or she must confront unspoken -- and even dangerous -- assumptions. The transformation she effects in her conclusion is stunning, and book clubs are sure to debate both the circumstances and the rightness of all the choices made in the book's memorable end. The Hazards of Good Breeding may bid adieu to a hoary set of social traditions, but when it's over, readers may be forgiven for not wanting to say goodbye. Bill Tipper

The Author on Her Work
A few summers ago, I was visiting friends at their summer house—a rambling, pedigreed old house on the Massachusetts shore. It was a bright, beautiful, hot July day and it was absolutely quiet—people were napping, or reading on the big old front porch, or lying out on the dock below, listening to the slap of waves. I decided to take a walk.

From this quiet corner of the world I ventured down a dirt road, which turned to pavement, and which brought me to the next town over—home to a whole different New England beach scene. Here the houses were chock-a-block, lining the street across from the water, their windows decorated with flags and cardboard cutouts of sea shells, their decks full of coolers of beer and collapsible beach chairs. There were people playing radios and games of football, lots of movement, activity, and noise. It was less than a mile away from the house I had come from but it felt like an altogether different, and in many ways more vibrant, world.

There was a melancholy that came with the peace and quiet of the secluded place I as visiting and, in contrast, a frenetic, contagious energy in this less exclusive, more modern place I had walked to. And the contrast was interesting to me. The Waspy old New England house seemed like part of an obsolete story, a vestige of a one-time American dream. This crowded strip of row houses seemed closer to the heart of the new America—a place where people long to be Hollywood celebrities, not members of old families, where the immigrant success story trumps lineage any day.

It made me think of people caught between these two worlds—by choice, by inertia, or by circumstance—people living in an America much larger than the one they were raised to inhabit. And with that came Faith Dunlap, a woman stunted by her life—long adherence to other people's sense of right and wrong, and her ex-husband Jack, an arrogant man, resistant to change and isolated by his own stubbornness. And then their children, Caroline and Eliot, both struggling to break out of the claustrophobic and increasingly irrelevant social order their family lives by.

Of course, at the time what happened was more immediate. I imagined Caroline Dunlap, a young woman in some ways like myself at her age, and in other ways not at all, coming home to a house much like the one I had left on that hot summer day. And then her mother, Faith, packing her suitcase—a fragile, but resilient woman completely unlike my mother, but yet so familiar to me it was as if I'd known her my whole life. And then Eliot, Rock, and finally Jack Dunlap, who I was a little bit afraid of, but who I knew I would have to give a voice. And the book took off from there. I wrote the first hundred pages at a racing clip, and then had to stop and unravel where it was all going: what exactly Eliot was up to, what Jack was going to do, how Caroline and Faith would be affected by the outsiders they had taken up with. I came to love my characters, for all their flaws, and I miss them now that I'm done writing the book.

I think of The Hazards of Good Breeding as being about individuals and families and love and frustration more than I think of it as being specifically about WASPS. The Dunlaps, like so many people out there, have hemmed themselves in with their own traditions, sense of propriety, and social insularity—and they are each struggling, in their own ways, to realize essential connections between their lives and the lives of others outside the narrow slice of the world they inhabit. Whether they succeed or not is up to each reader to decide for him or herself.

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. How does Caroline Dunlap change over the course of the novel? How might her choices for post-college life have taken a new direction?

2. Jack Dunlap is an inscrutable man to all who know him. How does Shattuck manage to elicit our sympathy toward him?

3. The Hazards of Good Breeding is a comedy of manners with dark undercurrents. How do these come to the surface over the course of the novel? What do they reveal about the Dunlaps' world?

4. Why is Faith Dunlap attracted to Jean Pierre?

5. The novel is very much about people's public front versus their interior worlds. How does the theme of role-playing manifest itself throughout the novel?

6. The Hazards of Good Breeding is told from five different perspectives. How does this shifting point of view (first we see through Caroline's eyes, then Eliot's, then Rock's, etc.) affect our reading of the book and our understanding of the events that unfold?

7. What does Paul Revere's ride embody for Eliot Dunlap?

8. Is Jack in love with Rosita?

9. Describe the role of humor in Shattuck's society portrait. Given that this is in some ways a story about a fragmented family at a moment of crisis, why didn't she choose a more sober tone?

10. What does Caroline realize from her experiences with Stefan?

11. Caroline is initially dismissive of Rock Coughlin. What accounts for her change of heart by the novel's end?

12. How does Shattuck's story relate to a larger portrait of contemporary America?

13. How does The Hazards of Good Breeding fit into the American literary tradition of authors like John Cheever and John Updike? What other writers' work does Shattuck's novel call to mind?

14. What are the "hazards of good breeding" in this book?

Customer Reviews

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Hazards of Good Breeding 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
jemsw on LibraryThing 10 hours ago
A vivid, compelling novel that has just the right mixture of quotidian realism and surprises. Every character in it is fully, passionately real, and the reader can feel the workings of the community that underpin the lives portrayed. The shifting view points bring compassion to the most seemingly unlikeable characters, and the prose is nicely taut.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a reflection on my lack of dedication to read good literature, I am certain, but Hazards just didn't hold my attention. I ended up abandoning it pretty early on, which is unusual for me. So sorry. Not a fan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very boring story that was just sad. Do not read if you're a dog lover! The characters are uninspired, bland, and unlikeable. Could barely finish it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book in a long string of good books I have recently read that were set in New England. It's very similar to Nancy Clark's The Hills at Home. Both have a New England family with it's blue-blood life becoming less and less relevant in the present day. And both have the family being documented by a young man who gets a little too close to the subject. The Hills at Home, however, made me feel as if I was in the house with the Hills, where Hazards felt like I was watching a documentary of the family. Plus, where Hazards was occasionally funny, The Hills was often laugh-out-loud funny. The Hazards of Good Breeding was a very good book, very well written, but came too soon after reading The Hills at Home to make me forget that excellent book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The writing of this book really distracted me from the plot. It felt like the work of someone who's just taken a class in creative writing, and looks for every opening to use any literary elements possible. The amount of similes used in the first 25 pages almost made me stop reading altogether. The dialogue was a bit forced and various situations in the book just didn't seem believable. I didn't like Shattuck's tendency to take the role of the completely omniscient narrator, laying out in the beginning of the book everything about the characters' lives in a 'just-so' manner, and somehow linking that in really trite fashion to their inner personalities ('There is something secretive, but not dishonest, about his demeanor that comes, maybe, because in his lifetime he has already had so much exposure to silence.'). I also thought that the choice of writing the entire book in the present tense made it awkward. However, once I got through the style, I did find myself hooked by the plot and ended up finishing. It seems Shattuck tried to write the 'Great American Novel' her first time out and failed, but ended up with a fairly compelling beach read instead.
Guest More than 1 year ago
if this is the same Jessica Shattuck who used to cover the video game sector? If it is, then one person applauds her grand escape. I am going to buy this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gripping and unpredictable, this book blew me away. Isn't WASP-dom a tired subject? Not in this sharp, funny yet elegaic account of an old world family struggling with modern life. The characters are deeply memorable, their inner lives complex yet all too real. Amazing. The best novel i've read this year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a lovely lyrical and perceptive book, rich with local color and larger significance. It shrewdly updates the comedy of manners and uses the anthropological technique of that genre to canny ends.