Pony Carteret -- the lovely headstrong youngest member of the Carteret family -- has always been a strong swimmer. So when she is discovered drowned at the family's summer home on Lake Aral, Vermont, her red hair tangled in an anchor chain and her baby abandoned on shore, her family is stunned by disbelief.
As the police conduct their investigation, Jasper Carteret, the patriarch, calls an urgent family meeting. Had any of her siblings known that Pony would be at the house that day? Was she having personal problems, was she depressed? Had she ever revealed the true identity of her baby's father? Neither sister -- Tinker, the family caretaker, nor Mira, the moody, thoughtful one -- has any information, and ultimately the police rule the drowning an accident.
But William Carteret, Pony's older brother, can't accept the explanation that his favorite sister's death was an accident. Determined to uncover the truth, he eventually learns the disturbing fact that a stranger had been present at the house the evening Pony died. Who was this man, what was he doing at the house, and why hasn't he stepped forward? As William digs deeper, his investigations quickly lead him to a new and more daunting series of questions, not only about the mysteries in Pony's life but also about the shadowy details of his deceased mother's past and even his own. Before long, he has opened a Pandora's box of family secrets, including one dangerous fact his mother has kept hidden for a generation.
Pam Lewis's Perfect Family is a masterful, atmospheric tale about the ways in which family secrets, no matter how long they're buried, can wield their tremendous power.
Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics For Discussion
1. The quote by John Steinbeck from the Grapes of Wrath at the beginning of the book reads, “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?” Much of Perfect Family centers on identity and a deeper understanding of one’s self. Which character’s identity, or perception of identity, shifts the most throughout the course of the book?
2. Although William is one of the more dominant characters in the book the point of view of the story changes from chapter to chapter. Why do you think that the author chose to do this? What does this voice allow her to do as a storyteller? Which voice do you find most compelling? Most trustworthy and believable?
3. Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, Depression, Acceptance and Hope make up what many physiatrists call the stages of grief. Discuss if and how William and the other family members go through any or all of these stages? Which lasts the longest? How do the circumstances of loss affect how the family expresses their emotions?
4. The author writes, “Jasper ran the show. He always had and he always would.” (p. 62) Is this true? Who do you think really has the most control in the family? Who has see more