From Dana Spiotta, the author of Eat the Document and Stone Arabia, “A brilliant novel…about female friendship, the limits of love and work, and costs of claiming your right to celebrate your triumphs and own your mistakes” (Elle).
Innocents and Others is about two women who grow up in LA in the 80s and become filmmakers. Meadow and Carrie have everything in common—except their views on sex, power, movie-making, and morality. Their friendship is complicated, but their devotion to each other trumps their wildly different approaches to film and to life. Meadow was always the more idealistic and brainy of the two; Carrie was more pragmatic. Into their lives comes Jelly, a master of seduction who calls powerful men and seduces them not with sex, but by being a superior listener. All of these women grapple with the question of how to be good: a good lover, a good friend, a good mother, a good artist.
A startlingly acute observer of the way we live now, Dana Spiotta “has created a new kind of great American novel” (The New York Times Magazine). “Impossible to put down” (Marie Claire), Innocents and Others is “a sexy, painfully insightful, and strangely redemptive novel about the ways we misread one another—with an ending that comes at you like a truck around a blind curve and stays with you for much, much longer” (Esquire).
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About the Author
Dana Spiotta is the author of Innocents and Others; Stone Arabia, A National Books Critics Circle Award finalist; and Eat the Document, a finalist for the National Book Award. Spiotta is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize for Literature. She lives in Syracuse, New York.
Hometown:Cherry Valley, New York
Date of Birth:January 15, 1966
Place of Birth:New Jersey
Education:B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1992
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Innocents and Others includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Carrie and Meadow are best friends, two women from Los Angeles who grew up together, forging a friendship through shared experiences and a love of film. Both Carrie and Meadow pursue careers as filmmakers, though their lives, and their art forms, differ. Their paths cross with Jelly, a mysterious woman who develops intimate relationships with some of the most powerful men in Hollywood by allowing them to unburden themselves of their fears and insecurities on the telephone. She never meets the men. When Meadow decides to make a documentary about Jelly, the consequences force both Meadow and Carrie to reflect on who they are, how their successes have defined them, and the power of honesty in the search for love and connection.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. The opening line of the book is “This is a love story.” Do you believe that line could be used to describe the whole novel? How does it set the stage, and how did your expectations shift with the twist in the opening scene?
2. We know that Meadow has been raised in privilege by indulgent parents: “[My father] encouraged me to believe that my particular possibilities had no limits, and one strategy he apparently had for conveying that idea was not giving me any limits, financial or otherwise” (page 15). How did these statements, made so early in our introduction to Meadow, influence your perception of her, and how did this perception change and develop as you read?
3. In her essay on how she came to be a filmmaker, Meadow says the following about the old theater in Gloversville, New York: “I knew that cinema had touched every small town in America. Cinema is everywhere. And to discover it in the most obscure places made me believe that it mattered. Its decay only meant there was room for me somehow” (page 15). How much do you think film has shaped American culture, and in what ways? How does this abandoned, decrepit theater reflect Meadow’s aesthetic or personality?
4. Confession is a major theme in this story. Discuss the ways it impacts the characters. What are your thoughts on confession? Is there a difference between a public act of confession and a private one? What happens when you hear and watch a person’s confession in a documentary film or in person?
5. Jelly does not reveal her true appearance to the men that she calls, nor does she share her real name or background. As the novel puts it, “Once imagining preceded the actual, there was no escaping disappointment, was there?” (page 152). But to what extent does she remain honest with her listeners, Jack especially? What does the novel say about identity if Jelly is most herself when she is just a voice on the line?
6. Jelly’s story and Meadow’s story don’t overlap until deep in the book, but both women are good at seducing other people. What connections and differences do you see between these two women and how they interact with the world?
7. At one point, Carrie says, “Unlike a marriage, which must be fulfilling and a goddamn mutual miracle, a friendship could be twisted and one-sided and make no sense at all, but if it had years and years behind it, the friendship could not be discarded” (page 229). Considering the huge differences between Meadow and Carrie as artists and people, what do you think allows them to stay friends with each other? How are the life-long friendships that you form when you are very young different from other kinds of friendships?
8. When Meadow first starts making films, she begins to regard her camera as a “magic machine that made people reveal themselves whether they liked it or not” (page 123). Consider the power of a camera: what happens to the people being filmed, the audience watching, and the people behind the camera?
9. The ending of the novel touches on all of the main characters and a minor one. Why do you think the author ended it this way?
10. Discuss the title Innocents and Others. How does it relate to the themes of the story? What ethical or moral issues come up in Meadow’s story? Jelly’s? Sarah’s?
11. Carrie says that comedies are important to her because “they are both in the culture and pointing at the culture. Mainstream and subversive” (page 208). Do you agree with Carrie? How does Carrie’s essay change how you viewed her and her relationship to Meadow?
12. The form and style of the writing vary throughout the book: Meadow’s first person essay, comments in an online forum, a script, and notebook entries, for example. How do you think these various formats changed how you read the book? Why do you think Spiotta chose to write her novel this way?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Real films are referenced throughout Innocents and Others as inspirations for Carrie and Meadow. Choose one or two of the films mentioned in the story, and watch it with the group, then discuss what you liked and disliked, and any interesting technical elements used by the director to convey a particular emotion or idea. Was your understanding and appreciation of the film at all influenced by reading about it in the novel?
2. Share with the group stories of your own creative passions, either growing up or now. What were they? Do you think that in pursuing them you were more like Carrie or Meadow?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As others have noted, Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others is torpedoed by its cover copy, which promises a "collision" between the lives of filmmakers Meadow and Carrie and that of Jelly, who is described as "older, erotic, and mysterious," the purveyor of seductive phone - well, not sex exactly, but intimacy. It was, in fact, this very promise of drama tinged with immorality that led me to request an ARC from the publisher. What I got instead was a plodding exposé of each woman's life, which barely intersects with the others, much less revealing the others in a new light. That Spiotta chose to give the starring role in her narrative to shallow, self-obsessed, privileged Meadow - the poorest choice from an already sparsely populated pool - secured Innocents and Others's place among the worst books I have read this year. This is not to say that Spiotta can't write; she can, and does, beautifully on occasion: "A lie of invention, a lie about yourself, should not be called a lie. It needs a different word. It is maybe a fabule, a kind of wish-story, something almost true, a mist of the possible where nothing was yet there. With elements both stolen and invented—which is to say, invented. And it has to feel more dream than lie as you speak it." This theme of self-invention, the mutability of identity, is at the heart of this book, and what a timely theme it is. Too bad that the lies Meadow, Carrie, and Jelly tell about themselves are no more interesting than their realities. I received a free copy of Innocents and Others from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Original review @ 125Pages.com Innocents and Others is why I have a hard time DNF’ing (did not finish) books. I was reading and not enjoying, and then boom, right about the 60% mark it got good. Like really ridiculously good. I think my problem in the beginning was with the primary narrator, Meadow. In the words of her best friend – “God! Meadow could be so pretentious sometimes.” She was spoiled, and whiny and thought she was just so above everyone else. She pushes away her best friend Carrie, makes a few documentaries that don’t go over well and then, something changes her outlook and she becomes an actual feeling person. Carrie’s story arc I enjoyed and Jelly was hit and miss to me; some parts of her story were great and some just didn’t grab me. Dana Spiotta crafted a very real world in Innocents and Others. She structured it well and the actions of the characters fit in what she built. The pacing was slow and a little choppy on the first half, but smoothed out in the second half. The characters were the upside and the downside of Innocents and Others for me. I really liked Carrie, Jelly had her moments, but I actively disliked Meadow for the majority of the book. There was a good emotional base throughout; I think that is why I disliked Meadow as I did not care for her emotional patterns. Spiotta has a distinctive voice in her writing. When she made you care for a character, you did, but then she could also make you really not like a character. I will say, that that takes talent. A lesser writer can make you feel ambivalent but it is hard to invoke a true visceral reaction to someone, that takes skill. I was mixed about Innocents and Others. It had some amazing moments and some moments where I was just done reading. I am very glad I stuck it out as there were those places where the story just popped and I was so happy I read it. To sum it all up, did not enjoy the first half, loved the second half, so Innocents and Others is one I would say give a chance to. I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A very different novel which I enjoyed, I learned a lot about the creative process and filmaking