Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in small-town Ohio, mourning the loss of her grandmother, June. But the noise of the rusted doorbell forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary movie star Jack Montgomery's fortune.
Soon Jack’s famous daughters arrive, entourage in tow, determined to wrestle Cassie away from an inheritance they feel is theirs. Together, they come to discover the true reason for June’s silence about the summer she was eighteen, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered. Shifting deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.
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|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Houses don’t always dream. In fact, most don’t. But once again, Two Oaks was dreaming of the girls—the one called June, who looked like a woman, and the one called Lindie, who looked like a boy. In the dream, June and Lindie lay together in what was, in that era, June’s bedroom, just off the stairs.
It was dreaming that rescued Two Oaks out of its present state— from its third-floor ballroom wheeling with bats, down its dusty master staircase, into the foyer piled with mail addressed to the dead, and then back up the ruddy pine of the servant stairs—almost fooling the mansion into believing itself still on the precipice of adventure. The old house summoned the whispers swirling off the girls’ tongues, the secrets scuttling inside their quick minds, the push of June’s will and the pull of Lindie’s desire.
Houses that dream are built for the ages (one or two perhaps, in every small American town). Once revered as grand homes, they are now merely called “buildings.” They’re the columned fortresses stranded on the back streets you pass on the way to visit elderly aunties; sights to whistle at while snapping a cell phone picture, before motoring on. Constructed by ambitious dreamers (in the case of Two Oaks, an oilman named Lemon Gray Neely, who broke ground on the lot in the heart of St. Jude, Ohio, in 1895), such grand estates spend their infancies priding under the touch of skilled craftsmen, certain they’ll provide shelter to everyone who steps across their oak thresholds for centuries to come.
But after decades of relative emptiness, save the occasional mail carrier or handyman, after feeling the sun rake across their sooty floorboards on thousands of mornings, of enduring the undignified encroachment of ivy up their outsides, not to mention the mice nibbling the wainscoting, these houses finally accept the sad truth: they have been forgotten for good. Their foundations grow heavy with the memories of the great men who once burnished the banisters with their warm palms; of the diligent women who baked yeasty swaths of bread in their ovens; of the whistling boys who delivered light blue dairy through the milk doors; and the wild girls who clambered up the Corinthian columns to the second floor under the full moon, hoping for a glimpse of something new. Accepting their decline, these houses slip into their reveries and lose track of their place in the world. They slump their proverbial shoulders, nod to the side, and forget to notice when someone steps in from the snow with a suitcase and a pile of heavy boxes, and opens the chenille bedspread over the most comfortable mattress, and burns a can of Chef Boyardee on the only burner that still works.
But if Two Oaks was lonely, it was also lucky. Unlike other houses, at least it knew what it felt like to be full. At least it had gotten to have a Lindie and a June. Like an old retriever who, abandoned by his human family, lays his head upon the floor and sinks into the sweet fancies of the life he once knew—an exuberant towheaded toddler, a favorite shoe, the smoky waft of bacon—a house falling into decrepitude will luster to life remembering all that came before, which, in the case of Two Oaks, included the dark, terrifying night Lindie bashed in the man’s head, his hot brains quivering on her fingertips, yes; but also the open, shimmering promise of the movie stars; the silky noose of the blackmail around everything the girls had come to love; the soft, open moans of the stolen kisses; and the baby.
Cassie knew nothing of houses dreaming; she’d have balked. She only knew that since coming to St. Jude, Ohio, the previous December, sheltering in what she still thought of as her grandmother’s house—she could not bring herself to call it the snobby-sounding “Two Oaks” with a straight face, or to think of it as her own—she’d had the most elaborate, vivid dreams. Cassie, twenty-five, was going through “a quarter-life crisis,” and the house—where she’d never lived before, where even her grandmother hadn’t lived very much since moving to Columbus to raise her—had, at first, provided a practical (if frigid) solution: a landing pad just before Christmas, when it became obvious Cassie needed to clear out of Jim’s Williamsburg loft, specifically, and New York, in general.
The basement’s rusty furnace was broken (as were the roof and the stove and who knew what else); the grizzled handyman she called the next morning jerry-rigged a temporary solution to keep the pipes from freezing, loaned her a space heater, and urged her to call the repair ser- vice for an estimate. But now it was June; Cassie still hadn’t called. To be fair, the pipes hadn’t frozen, but she knew that was pure luck, and she was a fool to think that luck would hold. The roof was, well, soggy in parts, if she was being honest, especially in one of the closets off the ballroom—and keeping the door closed probably wasn’t the most mature solution to the problem. Nor was it a great sign that you could stand in the cellar and detect daylight through a chink in the foundation. Cassie didn’t know much about houses, but she did know that was bad.
Every day, Cassie woke intending to call the repairmen. All she had to do was pick up the handset of the old-fashioned rotary phone in the round office at the front of the house, spiral the numbers with her pointer finger, adopt a casual, firm tone, and solicit the services of a handful of experts. Every day, she watched herself not do it. Perhaps it was because she couldn’t afford it, but the truth was, she didn’t really know if she couldn’t, because, since November, when she’d inherited the fourteen thousand dollars left in her grandma’s account—shockingly less than she’d assumed she’d find there—and set up automated payments via her now neglected e-mail account, she had just, well, kind of ignored every bill, letter, and phone call that had come her way.
She didn’t like this particular aspect of her character, nor did she want to spend the winter in a freezing house. In fact, on a daily basis, Cassie forced herself to remember the discomfort of awakening to iced nostrils and a raw throat. She spent a significant portion of her daylight hours wracked with anxiety about the squishy ceiling in the closet directly above her bed. But nothing could get her to call. Maybe she was drawn toward the notion that the freezing of pipes and the risk of roof collapse were exactly the punishing strife she deserved after leaving a good man like Jim, not to mention breaking her grandmother’s heart and being too proud and foolish to see that the old woman was dying.
The vibrant dreams that Two Oaks offered made it possible to ignore human needs like heat and shelter. Cassie didn’t know the dreams’ origins—she believed, as most of us do, that they were born of her own subconscious—but she did know, without exploring why, that these nighttime dramas were much better than anything her waking life offered in that chilly house on those dark, wintry days. Come April, when the tangle of flora out the windows started to turn a hundred shades of emerald, Cassie was sleeping fourteen, sixteen hours a night.
The house nestled further into its thick, auburn slumber, gathering Cassie under its drowsy wing. On the few occasions a sneeze or shattered plate forced it to notice the human in its midst, it brushed aside her potential, considering her presence a temporary state, like the grackles nesting under the eaves, or the family of possums who liked that spot under the milk door. The girl was sure to pass with the seasons too.
The dream of June and Lindie, which Two Oaks and Cassie shared, went, as it always did, like this:
They were about to enter the month of June. Houses don’t care much about time—like many inanimate objects (except for clocks), they don’t really understand it—but that particular June of that particular year marked a clear Before and After in Two Oaks’s journey from habitation to emptiness, and so the red-numbered calendar hanging above Apatha’s cast-iron stove was duly noted: 1955.
Lindie and June lay on June’s bed together, in the gilded light cast by June’s ballerina lamp, on the night that served as bridge between May and June. Lindie watched June giggle at the notion of being someone named June inside the month of June, a bounty Lindie had been planning to point out all day, since long before she’d clambered up what Uncle Lemon insisted she call the “porte cochere”—the overhang above the drive. Lindie’s skin still clung with the damp, warm night sawing with cricket song. First she’d climbed into June’s window, then into her bed.
The girls were surrounded by what Lindie had, over the past three years (since June’s arrival at Two Oaks), come to think of as her best friend’s most essential possessions: the watercolors and jewel-toned hair ribbons sashaying when the cool hush of the fan raked them; a round china box painted with rosettes; the dainty shoes lined up by the door.
A plate of Apatha’s oatmeal cookies, of which June had eaten one (and which Lindie, having already downed four, was planning to finish), waited on the side table.
June sat up to examine her face in the mirror. She began to hum a Chopin piano concerto. Lindie swiped another cookie and added the melody to the list of details locked inside her mind, noting June’s slightly sharp pitch on the higher notes; another, lonelier night, Lindie would be able to close her eyes in her small, drab bedroom just across the street and conjure up the pleasurable ache she felt here, and imagine herself still inside June’s universe.
Lindie opened one of the brightly colored movie magazines she’d splayed across June’s bed. Screen Stars, Photoplay, Silver Screen, Picture-goer; she’d tied them together with a piece of rough twine for the climb up, and was wondering if she could get away with pinching one of June’s ribbons—the emerald one, maybe, which June never wore—for the trip down. From out across the flat, sultry midwestern night floated the faint putter of an old engine, the mewling of a cat, and always, ever, the crickets. School was out. In June’s case, it was out for good; she was eighteen to Lindie’s fourteen, and she was going to be a bride.
Of late, June’s mind swelled with white chiffon and boutonnieres, with chicken cordon bleu and a tall, tiered cake covered in rosettes. The fact that her fiancé, Artie, had been gone from St. Jude for seven months, not to mention that she could count the conversations she’d had with this future husband on one hand, had receded behind the promise of the grand affair her mother, Cheryl Ann, and Artie’s brother, Clyde, had been planning since that October day Artie had slipped a simple gold band onto June’s finger and promised her a diamond within the year.
June had excelled at geometry; she liked rules. The wedding would fix all that had come undone: her father Marvin’s death in Korea; the loss of the family home up on the grand “Golden Block” in Lima upon the discovery of Marvin’s gambling debts; and June and Cheryl Ann’s subsequent tumble from Lima’s high society onto the sawdust floor of small-town St. Jude. A tangential, distant relative had taken them in: Lemon Gray Neely, June’s great-uncle by marriage. He’d housed them in Two Oaks’s corner bedrooms.
June wondered if Uncle Lem (as her mother insisted she call him) had chosen to build his home with yellow bricks because they matched his name. Rumor had it he’d always been an eccentric, even before the apoplexy that all but silenced him. June was grateful for his charity; of course she was. But Two Oaks was the only mansion in St. Jude, and so, where June had once been one of many girls who inhabited grand homes, in her new life, she was an oddity. She’d started at Memorial High part of the way through sophomore year, when everyone already had friends, and, anyway, she wasn’t rich at all anymore, just living in the shadow of someone else’s money, although her mother seemed to forget the difference all the time.
“Wear this one,” June said, spreading out the cotton dress covered in strawberries that her bust had outgrown the year before. June was grateful for Lindie too, for the younger girl’s devotion, even if managing her felt, at times, like batting at a doggedly optimistic mosquito. June had chosen Lindie as her bridesmaid; she was hoping to wrestle the increasingly feral child into the seafoam chiffon number she’d picked for the July 3 wedding. A bridesmaid had to wear a dress, and though June hadn’t seen Lindie in one in more than a year, she wasn’t going to let that discourage her. A simple cotton frock in honor of all the excitement tomorrow seemed like a reasonable first step. They’d have to stuff the front, maybe pin up the skirt, but anything was better than Lindie’s current state, which summoned to mind a Victorian chimney sweep.
Lindie moved her filthy feet aside to accommodate the strawberry dress. June gestured at the other girl’s matted bob and stained dungarees and said, “You’re so pretty, Lindie. Why do you want to hide it?” Lindie really was pretty, under there somewhere. She had high cheek- bones and forest green eyes with specks of gold that lit up like fire when she laughed. June smiled indulgently as she pressed Lindie’s weak spot: “Just try it on. You know as well as I do that the Erie Canal people won’t cast you if you show up like this.”
Lindie frowned; June was right. She rubbed the fine cotton between her fingers. She told herself that the matter of the dress was a mere blemish on what would otherwise be a month of gorgeous possibility. For where June treasured the notion of her upcoming wedding, Lindie de- sired nothing more than to be cast as an extra in Erie Canal, the most extraordinary thing that had ever happened in St. Jude: Hollywood was coming, and tomorrow at that.
Trucks of equipment had already rumbled into town. All day, covered garment carts had rattled into Memorial High, and notices had gone up on the trees of Center Square, asking for volunteers to appear in costume in the background—“extras,” they were called, as if they were the cherries on top of the ice cream sodas served down at Schillinger’s Drug. But even though the night before, Lindie had overheard her father and his friends discussing the imminent arrival of the film crew, she would only truly believe it when she saw it. Something so good seemed just plain impossible.
“I’ll put the dress on first thing tomorrow,” she said. A dress wasn’t just a dress anymore. It stood for the lives she saw laid out before both June and herself, on the far side of the Hollywood fantasy. Quiet, adult lady lives marked by sanitary belts held on by metal clasps under rubber underwear, of regular bridge parties and dinner clubs, of loose face powder that smelled like old people. She flopped back onto the bed.
“What if you try it now?” June asked brightly, turning back to the wardrobe, riffling again through the other options, although she knew the rest had too many adornments for Lindie’s taste, not to mention too much room in the bustline. “We could do your hair. I’ll put some rouge on your cheeks. Just to make sure it all fits together.”
But Lindie wasn’t budging.
“We’ll get up extra early, then,” June said, in a tone she liked to imagine she’d someday use to address her children. Lindie smiled, relieved, and June thought to ask how Lindie wanted to do her hair, but instead she just smoothed Lindie’s temple, which sent the other girl’s heart aflutter, then settled down beside her.
“What do you think they’re like?” Lindie asked in a romantic daze, eyeing Jack Montgomery on the magazine cover that lay at June’s elbow. Before Lindie’d heard of Erie Canal, Jack Montgomery was far down her list of favorite movie stars, well below Cary Grant and Bogie, and she’d have sniffed at the mention of Diane DeSoto—a studio actress who’d never been, until now, in a leading role. But Jack Montgomery and Diane DeSoto were (knock on wood) coming to St. Jude, which meant they were a hundred times better than every other movie star in the world.
“Do you think Diane DeSoto really washes her face in milk? How tall is Jack Montgomery? Do you think they’re really in love? Will you audition too? You’ll try for it, won’t you, June? I know for sure I’d get cast if I looked like you.”
“Hush.” June wouldn’t pretend she wanted to be cast. Nor would she tolerate the idea of Lindie crushed by rejection, when all she had to do was dress like a proper girl who washed her face every now and then; how could she be so blind to the advantage of those small improvements? June considered whether she was strong enough to wrestle Lindie into the dress herself, but she knew the other girl would beat her out of sheer cussedness.
“I heard there might be speaking parts,” Lindie pressed, even though she’d made that up. “I bet you could get one.”
“I can’t audition.” June rose from the bed and checked her face in the mirror again, an annoying habit she’d been exhibiting in recent months, along with rinsing her hair with apple cider vinegar to give it shine.
“You absolutely can.”
“No, Lindie.” June’s voice was firm. “I’m getting married. It’s not appropriate.”
Lindie sat up. “You are not getting married.” June’s sharp look in the mirror told her to adjust her tone. “I only mean you can’t get married without a groom, June.” Arthur Danvers had been gone for months— since October—and who knew where? Supposedly, he was overseeing his brother’s business interests in the South, but Lindie wasn’t so sure. “And even if he was here, do you really want to spend your whole life looking up at that pasty face?”
June’s mouth tightened. But now all Lindie could think of was the stiff way Artie Danvers had taken June’s arm back in October before their fateful turn around Center Square. He was a thirty-five-year-old bachelor funded by his older brother. As far as Lindie was concerned, the only way he’d snagged a girl like June was because she had a greedy mother desperate to sell her daughter off to the highest bidder. “Artie Danvers is a nothing! He’s a straight line. He’s a cold bath.” Her arms stuttered in the space between them, hands pulling for the words that would finally make June see sense. “He’s—”
Was that June’s mother’s step in the upstairs hall, just on the other side of the door? The girls froze, straining to hear above the purr of the fan blades, waiting for a knock, for the scent of Pond’s cold cream, for Cheryl Ann to discover June had locked herself in, and insist she open the door right this instant, young lady. But no knock came, and, after a good long exhalation, June’s shoulders relaxed. She eased herself onto the bed again, brown hair haloing her face on the pillow.
Lindie put herself down carefully beside June. “My point is, you can’t marry someone you don’t love.”
“And how do you know I don’t love him?” “Because I know.”
June smiled again, a weary smile, as if Lindie’s affection was some- thing to be endured. “You’re sweet to me.”
Lindie gentled her voice. “We can leave right now. On my bicycle. We’ll pedal over to Idlewyld and hide out until we come up with our next step.” As the name of that place slipped off her tongue, Lindie felt the memory of a frog quivering in her hands, out on the edge of that lake five miles away, on the night she’d had June all to herself and al- lowed herself to dream it could always be just them.
“Little Bear.” June tucked Lindie’s bob behind her ear and fingered her earlobe. She rubbed it once, twice, as if for good luck, as if, like Lindie, she was memorizing the moment.
Lindie thought, hoped, there would be more. But June turned and nestled into sleep.
Imagine them then, two girls curled in a corner bedroom of Two Oaks, breathing in the metal fan’s whir. The floorboards shift and moan. The pocket doors hiccup. Lindie lays her arm across June’s warm hip. She keeps her eyes propped open as long as she is able, fancying herself on a still night aboard the Pequod, her shipmates at rest, the great white whale fathoms below. Her mind trades the tush-tush-tush of the Ohio crickets for the thrash of a wild ocean she’s yet to hear. Her eyelids succumb to the darkness. Only then does sleep steal her.
Cassie was already half way to the bedroom door when she properly awoke. The world was shrieking. She knew the horrible sound wasn’t coming from inside her head, but it was already doing damage in there, clawing at the quiet she’d stored up. She could guess what would come next: an anxious headache, a churn- ing stomach, maybe even the sharp urge of diarrhea, tingling palms, the light too bright even with the blinds and curtains closed, with the eye mask on, with a pillow over her head. Until only moments before, she’d been so sweetly nestled in the palm of that dream of those two girls, which she realized had taken place in the very same bed she now called her own, although the room had been full in the dream, of ribbons and watercolors, and also of a succulent devotion that made her ache now that it was out of reach.
The modern world clawed in. The house howled a dreadful, screeching protest. Cassie couldn’t bear it. She grasped at the floor for clothes, coming up with a dish towel. She realized she didn’t have her glasses on—of course, that was the first problem, she was awake enough now to realize that she was blind—and grappled at the side table and cursed aloud when she heard her glasses crash to the floor. All that time the vi- cious noise continued. She understood, once she found her glasses and the room crisped into view, that the sound was one only a place as old as Two Oaks could make, as though it were clearing its throat of ancient, thick phlegm, coughing and groaning in the process. But that didn’t mean she knew what it meant, why it had begun, or that she liked it.
Then, for a fleeting moment, the clamor ended. Cassie experienced a blessed instant in which the house was just as it was supposed to be—not exactly silent (the dog barking down the street, the rattle of the windows atop the porch line as a breeze scuttled west), but contained. Her eardrums buzzed against the silence. She looked around the bright corner bedroom—the chenille bedspread she’d kicked aside in her sleep, the dust-filled lace valances framing her view like fancy sideways parentheses, the glass of water she had managed not to push off the scratched side table—and remembered herself: she was naked, but not insane. She could resist her body’s desire to break at the threat of the world.
But then the sound came back, eight million times worse than fingernails on a chalkboard, and infinitely louder. Cassie wrapped the bedspread around her body and blinked her way out her door and into the upstairs hall. Out here, the clang rattled her jaw. She could feel the sweet residue of the dream sifting off her. She momentarily considered going back into the bedroom to try to grasp the last golden bits of it— two girls, was it? Two girls, both churning with their future prospects— but already she knew it was futile, that the dream was lost. The air on her twenty-five-year-old skin let her know she was all the way back into herself. Released. And if she stood here much longer, she felt certain she would lose her sense of hearing.
She stepped down the stairs, sun refracting through the stained-glass window and casting a green patch onto her right pinkie toe. The house blared on. In the same moment she realized that it was the doorbell she was hearing, it occurred to her that it might be someone from the bank who was ringing it. Anxiety swooped over her as she thought of all that mail she’d watched the blue-suited mailman stuff through the slot in the front door day after day: past-due notices, letters from the bank, from the legal firm that had handled the transfer of the estate. She marveled at her own irresponsibility. The broken furnace, the leaky roof, the cracked foundation. To be the person who lost, or destroyed, the family home after more than a hundred years seemed inevitable and tragic. But then, she was an orphan, her grandmother was dead, and she had no siblings; could she really be faulted for being a screwup if everyone had abandoned her?
Cassie’s ankles were briefly patchworked in a rosy bit of light from the stained glass as she stepped down toward her fate. The bank, the bank. Fourteen thousand dollars had sounded like enough money back in November, when she’d gotten the check and the deed, but she hadn’t opened any of the cellophane-paned notices, and the phone had been ringing off the hook since yesterday. Shit. It had to be the bank.
By the time Cassie descended the stately home’s quarter-hewn oak staircase, slippery from a century of floor wax despite the grime, the bell—it was laughable to call it a bell, really, but there was no such word as doorblast—had shut up. Wrapped in the old bedspread she’d pulled from the bottom of the four-poster, Cassie squinted down the ample foyer—dark no matter how sunny the day—and out the front door. She saw movement, but it was far away, and hard to make sense of through the lace curtain that sat against the thick, leaded glass. In between her and the door lay a great heap of envelopes, delivered in manageable daily bits by the whistling mailman, whose face she’d never managed to see; she usually spied on him from the second-story window.
She hesitated for a moment. Thought of going back to bed. But then the phone started up, relentless and desperate as it had been since yesterday morning. The touch of outside—first the doorbell, then the phone—unsettled her in the way little had since she’d moved to St. Jude. Maybe they were repossessing the house. Maybe she hadn’t paid enough taxes. Maybe maybe maybe, and as Cassie’s mind swirled with the day she feared she’d be having—sweaty palms, dry mouth, pulse scurrying away from her—the anxiety charged up and changed, like quicksilver, into bold anger. Cassie strode through the foyer, kicking the tangle of envelopes out of her way. Screw the bank. Screw whatever they, or anyone else, thought they could take from her. Her grandmother had left this house to Cassie and Cassie alone, and Cassie was allowed to do whatever she wanted here, even sleep until noon in order to spend more time with imaginary people.
Cassie’s footsteps sent the crystal chandelier rattling above her. The framed watercolor still lifes quaked as she strode to the heavy oak door. She threw it open.
It hit her like a hammer, a day like this, too much light and color, too many wild roses with too many insects drinking from their hearts. Jogging away from her, down the front walk, was a man in a gray suit, smartphone to his ear. The faint dulling of wind chimes, a tractor roaring up the road, wisps of clouds across the sky like lace netting over a blue dress. Her first impulse, even after six months, was to reach for her camera, to think aperture and focus and light, which way to shoot, what to place at the center of the frame. Her palms itched, her mouth watered; it would be a good picture, or at least the chance to make one. But no; she pushed that desire away. She didn’t do that, didn’t believe in it, anymore.
To distract herself, she focused on the stranger moving away from her. He was compact. His shoulder blades stretched against the slate gabardine, as though advertising how a jacket was supposed to fit a man. He was nearly to the sidewalk.
“What?” she yelled after him. She regretted the word the instant it slipped from her mouth. She was naked, after all, and wrapped, like a toddler, in a bedspread. Cassandra Danvers was no prophet, but, as the man turned, she instantly understood that she’d just taken the first step to dismantling her hard-won solitude. It was the direct way he looked at her, as though they already shared some kind of binding contract, one from which she would not easily escape.
Reading Group Guide
Do you have a book group? I’d love to speak with them about these and other ideas central to June, in person or via Skype; check out MirandaBW.com for details. As for the reader’s guide below, in order to provide you with the most thought-provoking questions possible, I found it necessary to reveal some of the plot’s secrets. If you haven’t finished reading June, I hope you’ll resist peeking at this guide! You can also access a fully designed book club kit, complete with recipes and bonus content, here: www.readitforward.com/essay/article/book-club-kit-june-miranda-beverly-whittemore/
Thanks for reading!
1. In what ways is Lindie’s love for June the driving force in both of June’s storylines (1955 and 2015)? Do you think June loved Lindie in return?
2. Two Oaks is its own dynamic character in this book; have you ever lived or visited somewhere that felt “alive” in this way?
3. In what ways does Lindie buck convention, and how do the other characters respond to her moments of bravery and daring?
4. In 1955, when June and Jack met, he was a world-class movie star in his thirties, and she was an eighteen-year-old from a conservative small town; can a relationship succeed with that kind of power dynamic in play? Do you think Jack and June were truly in love?
5. Was Diane a sympathetic character? Why did she cling so tightly to Jack? Do you believe Jack loved her? Why did he agreed to marry her?
6. Did June do the right thing by taking Diane’s deal (chapter sixty)? Was this a sacrifice of love?
7. In your opinion, did Clyde deserve to die? Why or why not?
8. What were the consequences—both positive and negative—of Apatha and Lemon keeping their marriage a secret? How do you imagine the revelation of their status changed Eben and Lindie’s relationship to Apatha once they moved to Chicago and she moved to Louisiana (see chapter sixty-seven)?
9. Why did June stay with Artie even after Diane died, when she might have gone back to Jack without any repercussions for Lindie? Did June love Artie, as Lindie claims she did? Once June reconnected with Jack in their old age, why did she go to such great lengths to keep that love affair hidden, even from Cassie?
10. Let’s talk about bloodlines. In what ways does Tate resemble Diane, Elda resemble Jack, and Cassie resemble June? In what ways are these descendants different from their forbears, for better or worse?
11. How has the experience of being a movie star changed from 1955 to today? What are the consequences of celebrity? Would you want to be one?
12. Did Jack do the right thing by leaving everything to Cassie (and cutting Tate and Elda out of his will)? Why do you think he did so?
13. Will Nick and Cassie make their relationship work? Was Cassie right to forgive him for doubting her multiple times?
14. How will Cassie and Tate’s relationship develop beyond the confines of the book? Is it possible to cement familial ties even with those whose bloodline you do not share? Do you think Tate and Elda will be able to be “sisters” again?