The Gin Closet

A Novel

The Gin Closet

From the author of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Empathy Exams and the memoir The Recovering, Leslie Jamison’s “exquisitely beautiful” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel about three generations of women and the inescapable brutality of love.

As a young woman, Tilly flees home for the hollow underworld of Nevada, looking for pure souls and finding nothing but bad habits. One day, after Tilly has spent nearly thirty years without a family, drinking herself to the brink of death, her niece Stella—who has been leading her own life of empty promise in New York City—arrives on the doorstep of Tilly’s desert trailer. The Gin Closet unravels the strange and powerful intimacy that forms between them. With an uncanny ear for dialogue and a witty, unflinching candor about sex, love, and power, Leslie Jamison reminds us that no matter how unexpected its turns, the life we’re given is all we have: the cruelties that unhinge us, the beauties that clarify us, the addictions that deform us, those fleeting possibilities of grace that fade as quickly as they come. The Gin Closet marks the debut of a stunning new talent in fiction.
  • Free Press | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439153239 | 
  • May 2011
List Price $16.00 (price may vary by retailer)
In Stock: Usually ships within 1 business day
Buy from another retailer

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Gin Closet includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Leslie Jamison. 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.



The Gin Closet recounts the story of a family stricken by grief, loss, and addictions. Told from the perspective of two narrators—Stella, a young cosmopolite searching for meaning, and Tilly, her estranged alcoholic aunt—the story follows what happens when Stella and Tilly meet after decades of separation, and tracks the unlikely friendship that forms between them. Both women struggle with addictions—Tilly abuses alcohol and Stella is a recovering anorexic. In the midst of their hardships they come to understand what it means to love the family you’re given, no matter the cost.


Questions for Discussion

1. The novel opens with the decline and eventual death of Grandma Lucy, as told from Stella’s point of view. Stella describes her Grandmother’s declining quality of life: “You couldn’t yearn like this unless you’d been lonely for years, practicing” (5).  Consider how the sickness see more

About the Author

Leslie Jamison
Photo Credit N/A

Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Los Angeles. She has worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. A graduate of Harvard College and the Iowa’s Workshop, she is the author of the essay collection The Empathy Exams, a New York Times bestseller, and the novel The Gin Closet, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and the Oxford American, among others, and she is a columnist for the New York Times Book Review. She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn with her family.