Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Good-bye to All That includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Margo Candela. 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.
Raquel Azorian has finally found her niche: the habitual temp worker is just days away from a promotion to junior executive at the prestigious Belmore Corporation. However, right before her big break, her boss suffers a terrible meltdown that precipitates a chain reaction of rotten luck for Raquel. Her sister-in-law, Cricket, won’t stop calling; her brother is showing hints of unfaithfulness in his marriage; and her mother and father separate, leading Mrs. Azorian to spend her days boozing on Raquel’s couch and eating Raquel’s food.
Two men seem poised to change all this. Raquel begins sleeping with Belmore vice president Kyle Martin and discovers marketable hunk Rory from the little-known film Fire House Hero. Raquel hopes that her relationship with Kyle and the unearthing of Rory will put her back on the fast track to corporate stardom. Will this finally be her big break, or will Belmore prove to be just another paragraph on her professional and personal résumé?
1. We are introduced to Raquel as her client Belmore starlet Nicolette Meyers is taking her first turn down the red carpet. In contrast, Raquel explains that she has long since “stopped swimming in a sea of pretty and settled firmly in the land of frumpy” (page 5) because she feels she will be taken more seriously this way. Do you think Raquel’s attitude toward her own looks and style evolves throughout the novel, or will she always continue to put work first?
2. Raquel’s sister-in-law, Cricket, seems to have everything that Raquel doesn’t: a nice husband, money, two babies, and a beautiful new house. As the story goes on, the glossy exterior of her life is slowly chipped away. Do you see Cricket as a cautionary tale, a victim of her own idealism, or is she as dysfunctional as the rest of the Azorians?
3. Raquel subsists largely on Diet Cokes and strawberry Pop-Tarts. What do her unhealthy eating habits reveal about her character? Are her eating habits indicative of other problems in her life?
4. Following Bert’s meltdown, the Belmore party seems to represent a turning point for Raquel. At the party she is acknowledged by Walter Belmore himself; his niece Phoebe; and of course, Kyle Martin, proving that as Bert Floss’s assistant, she has earned some respect. How do you think she handled herself professionally after she is forced to step out of his shadow? Do you think it proved to be an opportunity?
5. No scene more perfectly describes the Belmore corporate culture than the opening of chapter five. Each person’s role in the company is defined by what floor they are on, how far from the elevator their space in the parking garage is, and what car kind of car they drive. In what other quirky ways does the Belmore hierarchy manifest itself? Does Raquel do a good job of fitting in?
6. Raquel and Cris Fuller have a very contentious relationship from the start. What aspects of their personalities cause them to clash so much? How do you think their relationship affects her job?
7. The relationship between Raquel’s mother and father, while amusing, is also very sad. How does their separation affect Raquel’s romantic relationships? Which romantic relationship did you think was the most healthy? Why?
8. Rory proves to be a great find for Raquel. Discuss how things might have played out if she had started dating Rory rather than pairing him up with the Ward twins. Would she have been able to accomplish similar results professionally while avoiding the relationship that led ultimately being fired?
9. How much do you blame Raquel for what happened with Kyle? Does she get what she deserves, or do you just feel bad for her?
10. Raquel, rather than immediately applying for marketing positions at other large firms, ends up back at a temp agency. What does it say about Raquel that she is willing to start again, when she was so close to becoming a junior executive? Is this a positive quality, or do you find it frustrating that she continually falls down to the bottom of the work totem pole?
11. What role do you think Raquel’s racial identity plays in the novel, if any? Does it have any effect on her relationships with her parents? Her colleagues? Her love interests?
12. To what extent is the city of Los Angeles a character in the story? Which events could take place anywhere in the country and which are a unique product of the setting?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Check out the latest news from Margo Candela herself on her blog, www.margocandela.com. You can e-mail her questions, read interviews she has done, and keep up-to-date on all of her current projects.
2. One of the most entertaining characters of the novel is Raquel’s mother. Consider a tribute to Marlene at your book club by spiking your coffee with some Baileys, uncorking a bottle of cheap red wine, or ordering a pizza and keeping it all for yourself.
3. If you liked Good-bye to All That, delve into Margo’s other books. Check out the much-lauded More Than This, Underneath It All, and Life over Easy.
4. Raquel goes to great lengths to get her marketing report for Fire House Hero ready to be presented upon Bert’s return. Using what you’ve learned from the descriptions of Raquel’s preparation, create your own mini-marketing report for one of your favorite movies. Try to make a hard sell to the other members of your book club. Why will this movie be appealing? Is there a budding young star/starlet? Who’s the target audience?
A Conversation with Margo Candela
What inspired you to tell this story of a temp worker’s foray into the corporate world? Were you interested in exploring the consequences of a tryst in that particular environment, or did the two themes blend together once you started writing?
I’ve worked from home for the past few years, and as a consequence I’ve developed a fascination with office life. For someone like Raquel, whose office life and personal life have become intertwined, having her get involved with someone she worked with seemed only natural. She loves Belmore and could never be with anyone who wasn’t also, in a sense, married to the company, too. Plus, it makes for a lot of interesting complications to play with.
How has your background in journalism helped you as a novelist? Do you see yourself ever venturing into the world of nonfiction?
Journalism has absolutely structured the way I write, from giving myself deadlines to meeting word count goals—it all goes back to what I learned in Journalism 101. I do give myself a bit more leeway with structure, but I think my style will always lend itself to shorter chapters. If the right nonfiction project presented itself, I’d love to take a crack at it. It would mean a different approach to writing— more research and actually talking to real people—but it might be a nice change as well as a challenge.
Your first three novels all took place in San Francisco. Good-bye to All That, of course, is set in your hometown of Los Angeles. Why the change of scene? Did you find your native city creatively inspiring, or was it a struggle to bring it to life?
I lived in San Francisco for a decade and the city was a good fit for the characters in my first three books. More Than This is my sort of love note to the city. I had a wonderful time there and visit as often as I can. When it came time to move back to Los Angeles, I knew my own life would change and so would the characters and stories I would write. I realized how very different L.A. is not only from San Francisco but also from how I experienced it when I was growing up here. In some ways, Raquel is also experiencing that same culture shock. Like her, I grew up in northeast Los Angeles, which is not at all like Westside L.A. The part of Los Angeles I live in now is nothing like where my parents still live, even though it’s only about twelve miles away.
Have you ever worked as a temp or in the corporate world? If not, how did you go about conducting your research for the novel?
I was a horrible temp, which is why I only managed to do it for a few months, maybe weeks, right out of college. Some people thrive on hopping from job to job, but it made me feel unmoored. I relied on friends who have been much more successful at temping and made the transition to full-time jobs at the companies where they’d temped. Everyone likes to talk and complain about their jobs, so I was able to form a very distinct impression of what life in a company like Belmore would be like.
Your third and most recent novel, More Than This, has brought you a considerable amount of accolades and critical attention. Is it difficult to write with these new expectations, or do you feel a certain amount of freedom now that you have established yourself as a strong literary voice?
I took a break between writing More Than This and Good-bye to All That, and it’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done, writing wise. I knew I needed to step back and give myself time to think and get used to living in Los Angeles again. When it came time to start something new, I had to figure out what kind of story I wanted to tell. It took more than a few false starts, but it was worth all the hard work. Good-bye to All That is its own book and I hope readers can find value in that I’ve tried something new but familiar and entertaining.
How do you come up with the great names for your characters like Frappa Ivanhoe, Cricket, and the twins Cat and Cara? Are the names of your characters important to you and to the telling of the story?
I spend a lot of time on naming characters. More than once all work has come to halt when I realized someone didn’t have the right name. In real life people get stuck with the names their parents give them at birth, even if it doesn’t match up to the person who they turn out to be. As a writer, I get to think of a character, realize what kind of person she is, and give her the perfect name that goes with her personality. It’s a lot of fun and I always try to pick names that are unique but believable.
Did being a mother yourself influence the way you wrote the truly hilarious character of Raquel’s mother?
Raquel’s mother was more of a result of observing other people’s behavior and realizing that a person doesn’t stop being herself, for better or worse, the second they become someone’s mom. Raquel realizes this about her mother and it helps her accept Marlene as a person.
What sort of books do you read for pleasure? Do you feel any of your literary influences seeping into your own writing?
I read just about anything and everything. One of life’s greatest pleasures is finding a good book when you least expect it, so I try to keep myself open to all genres. Personally, I admire tidy writers like Delia Ephron and Anne Tyler, who write about messy life situations. As a reader and writer, their styles really appeal to me.
Your blog is a lot of fun, and seems to feature a number of nascent ideas that may eventually turn into subjects for future novels. Has the popularity of blogs and the opportunities they create changed your trajectory as a writer at all? Do you ever prefer writing blog posts to writing fiction?
Blog writing and book writing are two separate things. Some days, writing a blog can fire me up for a day of working on a manuscript. But blogging can take up a lot of time, as can keeping up with all the other social media out there. It’s a fun distraction, but as with all things in life, it’s all a matter of balance.
I always keep in mind that whoever reads my blog will be doing it while on a break or sneaking a read while at work. I’d never tackle anything too heavy or political on my blog, because there are other writers who can do that much better than I ever could.
What can your readers expect from you next? Will we hear from Raquel Azorian again in the future?
Raquel was a lot of fun and I’d love to revisit her in her new life as an agent in training. The parties, the swag, the scandals! It would be a very L.A. story if I ever get the chance to write it. For now I’m tucking Raquel away to make room for my next batch of characters. They deserve my undivided attention and I’m looking forward to getting to know them.