Megastar of stage, screen, and television, Geneva Jordan now has a command performance in Minnesota, where she agrees to look after her thirteen-year-old nephew, a boy with Down’s syndrome, while his parents take a long-overdue vacation. Though Geneva and her sister, Ann, are as different as night and day (“I being night, of course, dark and dramatic”), Geneva remembers she had a family before she had a star on her door. But so accustomed is she to playing the lead, finding herself a supporting actress in someone else’s life is strange and unexplored territory. Then the discovery of an old scrapbook that she and her sister created long ago starts her thinking of things beyond fame. For The Great Mysterious is a collection of thoughts and feelings dedicated to answering life’s big questions—far outside the spotlight’s glow. . . .
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
All right, so I'm a diva. There are worse things--a mass murderer, a bigot, a telephone solicitor.
I'm surprised my sister even uses the word as an insult. Why should I be offended by the truth? My dictionary defines diva as "a distinguished female singer." I certainly am that. The word, however, is cross-referenced with prima donna, defined as "a temperamental person; a person who takes adulation and privileged treatment as a right and reacts with petulance to criticism or inconvenience."
Well, I might ask, who likes criticism or inconvenience? And why shouldn't one take privileged treatment as a right? A little self-esteem is not a bad thing. Ann, for instance, could use a serious infusion of it.
Throughout my life I have heard the question, "Are you really twins?" It's an understandable query; Ann and I are as different as the proverbial night and day. Ann once elaborated on that analogy in an interview, describing me as being night--dark and dramatic, living among stars--and herself as light and plain and about as exciting as an afternoon nap.
We're fraternal twins, obviously, and don't share that spooky, ESPy you're-my-other-half thing identical twins do. Ann and I are more like sisters who could have been born years apart if Mom hadn't been such an industrious egg layer. We're very close and have shared everything from chicken pox to clothes to deep secrets, but when I look at Ann face-to-face, I don't see my mirror image. In fact, if I looked at Ann right now, what I'd see is a big pest.
For those of you who don't know me (where the hell have you been living, in a cave with no TV or cable access?) I am Geneva Jordan, star of stage, screen (unfortunately, my theatrical schedule hasn't allowed me to do the movies I've been offered), and television (if you didn't see me accept my Tony award, I'm sure you heard my voice singing the Aromati-Cat cat litter and Chef Mustachio Frozen Pizza jingles). Recently I just ended a year and a half's run in the title role of Mona!, a musical about DaVinci's mysterious model.
She's a gal with a crazy half smile, she's Mona Lisa! Oh, what I wouldn't do to get a piece a . . . that Mona Lisa!
You'll have to trust me that the music is so catchy, the lyrics actually work.
My role as Mona Lisa brought me my second Tony, a cover story in New York magazine, and a relationship with Trevor Waite, my costar. My role as Mona Lisa and its resulting dividends, especially my relationship with Trevor Waite, is also what brought me close to mental and physical collapse. Which made my sister's request all the more preposterous.
"Please," she begged over the phone, changing her tack from insulter to supplicant. "Riley and I need this time together."
"I'm not arguing that, Ann. It's where I come in as baby-sitter that I'm objecting to."
"You're Rich's godmother."
"I'm aware of that, Ann. But godmother does not mean rescuer."
"Then what does it mean?"
I looked at my watch. I didn't have to be anywhere for another hour, but she didn't have to know that. "I have to run, Ann. I've got a hair appointment."
"What does it mean?"
"Listen, Ann, I don't--"
"Quit calling me Ann."
"That's your name, isn't it?"
"Yes, but whenever you're in one of your I'm-right-and-you're-wrong modes, you overuse my name. Like a cranky old schoolmarm or something."
"First I'm a diva and now I'm a cranky old schoolmarm. Nice talking to you too, Ann."
I could hear her protests as I hung--okay, slammed--the receiver back in its cradle.
She called back immediately, not grasping the concept of a dramatic exit. I let my machine pick it up.
"Geneva," she said, "please. I'm sorry. I don't know where else to turn. Please pick up. . . . Please help me, Dee."
Oh, that was low. Dee was a reference to the childhood nicknames bestowed on us by our Grandma Hjordis. "It's Tweedledee and Tweedledum!" she used to say in her Norwegian accent, "my favorite twin grandchildren in the world!"
We were her only twin grandchildren, but she made us feel that we couldn't have been surpassed by quintuplets.
She lived next door to us, and her home was a cinnamon-roll-smelling haven for my sister and me, a place where she played endless games of Hangman and War with us and let us upend all her furniture cushions to make elaborate igloos (when we played Roald Amundsen discovering the South Pole) or wigwams (when we played Leif Eriksson discovering America). She had a canoe in the backyard that we'd pretend was the Kon-Tiki.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Geneva initially has no intention of traveling to Minnesota to take care of Rich. Why does she change her mind?
2. What do you think would have happened to Geneva if she had decided not to help her sister's family?
3. What has Geneva gained and lost as a result of her successful, high-powered career?
4. As a celebrity, Geneva is fodder for the gossip columns and she is not happy about it. Do you think her complaints are valid? Or is the intrusiveness of the media part of the price of fame and fortune?
5. Geneva's failed first marriage really wounded her. Why does she finally decide to try again?
6. Geneva thinks that Trevor seems relieved by her rejection. Do you think this is really the case? Do you think Trevor could have changed?
7. Has Geneva made the right choice picking the boy in homeroom who would help you with your homework? Do you think the marriage will work?
8. Geneva remembers Conrad as a boy who knew "when it paid to be careful and when it paid not to." How do you distinguish between justifiable fears and those that hold you back and do more harm than good?
9. Geneva and James have both been paralyzed by their fears in some ways. Do you have a fear that you feel has had a detrimental effect on your life?
10. Do you think Rich is aware of Geneva's ambivalent feelings about him? If he is, why do you think he gives her a chance anyway?
11. Rich and Conrad's conditions can make those around them uncomfortable, particularly strangers. Discuss why people can feel so uneasy around those with special needs.
12. Rich and Conrad spend a great deal of time with peers who are notclassified as special education. What are the benefits and/or drawbacks of such a setup?
13. Everyone is concerned with how Rich is going to deal with his grief. How do you think he is going to handle it? Were his family and friends right to be concerned?
14. What do you think will happen to Barb and George's marriage? Do you think it can survive their loss?
15. Why did James decide to leave his corporate job and become a mailman? Do you think he has had a nervous breakdown as his ex-wife and parents believe?
16. James and his fellow hockey coach take very different approaches to coaching their players. With which approach do you agree? What should be the mission of youth sports?
17. James says, "faith isn't knowing, it's believing." Discuss the meaning of faith in all its forms.
18. What would your answers be to the "big" questions posed in "The Great Mysterious"? What is true love? What is the meaning of life? What makes you happy?
19. Think of a question you would pose in the "Great Mysterious."
20. Do you have a favorite character or characters in this novel?
21. If you had to give a name to one of your emotions, which would it be and what would you name it?
22. The author mentions that she often attends book clubs. Has your group ever invited an author to attend? If not, is this something you would consider doing?
23. If you had the opportunity to ask the author a question about this novel, what would it be?
24. Why did your group decide to read this book? Are you happy with your choice?
25. What is your group reading next?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am a big Lorna Landvik fan (so I might be biased). This is one of my favorites. I read this book years ago and I still remember every bit of it. That never happens to me. If you are looking for a sweet story that will make you laugh and cry, read this book.
I picked this up because I enjoyed her other works. It turned out to be a delight. Not soft and fluffy or Oprah depressing all the characters are believable and people you wouldn't mind spending time with if you knew them. I can heartily recommend getting to know them over a cool drink on a hot day!
If you can wait out the slow beginning, it is worth it.
This story made me smile a lot and cry a little too. It's the most heart-warming tale I've come across in a long time, and definitely puts one into a reflective mood about what's really and truly important in life. Once you've read this, you'll want to pass it along to your mom!
This is the first book in this series that I've read, I will certainly read another! Makes you look at your life and examine what you consider important in your life. Rich and Connie have such a true friendship that it makes you want to look up your own childhood friends.
The first book I've read of Lorna Landvik. The Great Mysterious scrapbook reminds Geneva of the wonderful lessons of life. It is funny, heart warming and insightful. Geneva goes from a self indulgent person to a warm hearted, understanding person while babysitting her twin sister's Down syndrome son. Her frustrations are real as are her understanding of her own shortcomings. I wanted to laugh and cry at the situations. I have a granddaughter who became retarded having a heatstroke in a race at age 12.
I have read with great pleasure, 'Patty Jane's House of Curl' and 'Your Oasis on Flame Lake'. I thouroughly enjoyed both of these novels by one of my favorite authors. I still have to read 'Tall Pine Polka'. How-ever, I was extremely disappointed with 'Wel-come to the Great Mysterious'. The characters were one dimensional, the story line obvious from the start as is the outcome. It more or less reminded me of a bad 'Lifetime' channel movie. This however will not deter me from reading any new material from Lorna as I normally love her stories.