This reading group guide for A Dangerous Age includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kelly Killoren Bensimon. 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. Introduction
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It’s another sweltering summer in New York City, and four fabulous best friends who once had Manhattan at their feet are secretly falling apart at the seams. Lucy’s marriage to the notoriously temperamental artist Titus Brockton threatens to unravel due to a closely guarded secret. Sarah’s audition for a new television show wreaks havoc on her wedding plans and her social status. Billy has partly succeeded in reinventing her career as a culinary artist, but she faces bleak prospects in the world of online dating. And then there’s Lotta, a reckless habitué of the city art scene and its high-flying clubs, who seems destined for a hard fall, or a last-ditch intervention. As Lucy, Sarah, Billy, and Lotta share their trials and triumphs over the course of their weekly Tuesday gatherings, they must reckon with what it means to be fortysomething in the city that never sleeps. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What do the weekly gatherings of Lucy, Lotta, Sarah, and Billy reveal about the unique dynamics of their friendship? How would you describe their attachments to each other? Which of the four women would you most enjoy adding to your own group of friends, and why?
2. “We’ve fallen out of love or lust or something or everything, I’m not even sure. It’s the oldest story in the book” (p. 5). Describe Lucy’s floundering relationship with her husband, Titus. How do Titus’s career and artistic temperament factor into the quality of their eighteen-year-long marriage? What role does Lucy play in Titus’s artistic success?
3. “When I first met him on that flight from Chicago, he was forty-two to my seventeen” (p. 13–14). What role does the age difference between Titus and Lucy play in the balance of power in their marriage? How does Lucy’s mom, Cheri, factor into the equation? When Lucy describes Titus in the early days of their marriage as “the Pygmalion to my Galatea,” what does she mean?
4. How does the author’s use of the names of actual people and places, such as artists like Julian Schnabel and Cy Twombly; fashion icons like Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg; upscale restaurants like Per Se and Kappo Masa; and tony Manhattan neighborhoods help to establish the specific milieu of this novel? In what respects is the New York City setting of this novel integral to its story? Can you imagine it being set anywhere else?
5. “Full disclosure: I’m having an affair” (p. 30). Describe the relationship that develops between Lucy and her anonymous texter. What do the texts she sends and receives reveal about her openness to an extramarital relationship? To what extent does her virtual involvement with a stranger count as emotional infidelity? Who did you envision was the source of these electronic missives?
6. “Maybe she’s an old man . . . [m]aybe she’s me. Maybe we’re getting catfished” (p. 58). Discuss the “catfish” phenomenon. To what extent does Lucy’s mysterious texter succeed in “catfishing” her? In what respects do Lucy’s efforts to profile Odin for SNOB
Magazine lead to her being a catfish victim? What does catfishing suggest about the complex relationship between reality and perception, truth and fiction?
7. Kelly Killoren Bensimon, the author of A Dangerous Age
, appeared in the reality television series The Real Housewives of New York City
. How does her intimate acquaintance with reality television inform your impressions of the fictional reality television concept, Under the Plaid Skirt
, that Sarah Porter aspires to join?
8. Why are Odin’s online musings especially compelling to Lucy and her peers? In what ways does the seemingly omniscient Odin serve as a satirist of these characters and their first-world preoccupations? How does the revelation of Odin’s true identity impact Lucy?
9. “Lotta was stoned. Billy was in a funk. Sarah was planning scenes with her embryos for a show she wasn’t even on yet. I was checking my phone every minute for texts from an invisible lover” (p. 99). How would you characterize the friends’ adjustment to life in their forties? What aspects of their transition into early middle age did you find the most amusing, or tragicomic, and why? Enhance Your Book Club
1. When Lucy and her friends throw a dinner for reality show producers, they wear their sexiest clothes, offer their most daring food and drink, and invite compelling guests, and they do it all
to excess. Have your club plan its own unique version of a socialite dinner, tailoring it to the personalities and quirks of the members. You may want to coordinate a potluck meal that represents the wildest and most eclectic recipes, and ask members to dress up in their most over-the-top style, in keeping with the extravagant nature of the party. You might even go around the table and ask members to compare themselves with the protagonists of A Dangerous Age.
2. Despite the many glamorous aspects of their lives, in A Dangerous Age,
Lucy and her friends find themselves beset by typical middle-age difficulties (waning passion for their spouses, broken relationships, financial and career instability, etc.) and by not-so-typical concerns (getting onto a reality television show, substance abuse, profiling anonymous celebrities, getting seduced by one’s hairdresser). Ask your friends to consider the major and minor challenges they have faced through each of the decades of their lives. What are the significant events from these decades that define their lives and have shaped who they are today?
3. In A Dangerous Age,
Lucy finds herself falling in love with a stranger through the anonymous and instantaneous medium of texting. Discuss with your group the way that technology has enabled new sorts of illicit romantic attachments. Members of your group may want to consider the Ashley Madison hacking scandal, cyberstalking, online dating, and Internet romances in their discussion. A Conversation with Kelly Killoren Bensimon A Dangerous Age is your first novel. How do you respond to readers who find themselves wondering if any of the protagonists in the novel reflects your personality?
This novel reflects so much of me and what I’ve been exposed to. Lucy isn’t me, but I’ve colored aspects of her personality. Like me, she’s flawed, overly loyal, and confused as to what the next part of her life will look like. You’ve been quoted as having said that the best piece of advice ever given to you was “Have no regrets.” What challenges do you face in living out this mantra?
I’m a single mother of two teenage girls. I got divorced to have a better life for my girls. I am committed to showing them that you can be whomever you want to be as long as you work very hard and always try your best. I may not be the best, but I always try my best. The friends in A Dangerous Age are all in their early-to-mid forties, a decade not especially beloved by women the world over. Why did you decide to populate your book with characters who are entering the middle of their lives?
New York City is populated with the most beautiful and intelligent women who are “of a certain age.” In New York, time flies, and one day, the gray hair starts coming in faster than your colorist can color it. The time clock for the world’s most incredible women ticks loudly as the new millennials are hot on their heels and their new bosses are in their early twenties. I wanted to show this new kind of woman and allow the women all over the world who are in their forties to breathe and enjoy the amazing life and friendship they have created. We are all in it together: four friends. Titus Brockton is something of an enigma in the novel. At what point in your writing did you realize that he would have a double identity of sorts in the book?
Men in New York are complicated. They have a thirst for wealth, and women of all ages are drop-dead gorgeous and easy to catch and release. Titus has it all, but he needed to create that desire which was lost in his conquistador lifestyle. The female friendships you examine in the novel are complex—Lucy, Lotta, Sarah, and Billy disagree with each other, conceal things from each other, and can be downright brutal in their judgments and assessments of each other. In your experience, is that what deep friendships resemble?
These women are real. After filming a reality show and watching women be blatantly rude to their “friends,” and raising two teenage girls who speak in a new tone and vernacular, I needed the women to be strong, fearless, and judgmental. The difference between these women is that no matter what happens, they are there for each other, every week. They aren’t Facebook friends; they are together solving and resolving the same questions for over twenty years. They are four friends. None of the characters in A Dangerous Age has children, which makes their shared Manhattan existence feel more like Sex and the City than The Real Housewives of New York City. Why did you decide to keep kids out of your fictional narrative?
While I was filming The Real Housewives of New York City
, the fanbase I ran into was a strong group of single women in their forties. Having a fortysomething age for the women further reinforces that they are at a “dangerous age,” and that their clocks, like many women’s, are literally ticking. The theme of appearances versus reality comes up again and again in the novel. What attracted you to this narrative theme?
New York is a city built on smoke and mirrors. People can reinvent themselves seasonally. Jail time, who cares? A jailbird could be next year’s biggest entrepreneur. The novel examines aspects of the art world that may be unfamiliar to many of your readers. Can you describe your own familiarity with the world of contemporary art
I spent so much of my early twenties exposed to the art world. For my first book, In the Spirit of the Hamptons
, I researched the advent of modern art, the illustrious Peggy Guggenheim, and her entourage of artists, including Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein, and Willem de Kooning. When I was the editor of Elle Accessories
, I would leave for a “coffee” and walk around my two favorite M
s: the MoMA and Manolo Blahnik. I’ve even taken my oldest daughter to the catacombs in Italy at ten months, and my youngest daughter, Teddy, inspires me with her painting and piano. It’s what we know. What does a perfect day look like to you?
I have a perfect day all the time when I am with my Sea and Teddy. They make me laugh so hard I could pee in my SoulCycle leggings, and they are so curious and introspective. It’s exciting to watch them navigate everyday life. You and the protagonists of A Dangerous Age share the same decade. To what extent have you found it to be “dangerous” so far?
It’s a “dangerous age” for me because I am at a midpoint in my life, just like the four women. I am often forced to reflect upon and process the past, while still having the freedom to explore and celebrate my future. Just like every woman of any age, I find myself on a constant quest to have it all. One day I will have it all, just like Lucy.