One of the most insightful novels about families to appear in recent years, A Family Daughter revisits the Santerre clan from Maile Meloy's highly acclaimed debut novel Liars and Saints. It opens in 1979, when seven-year-old Abby, the youngest member of the close-knit family, is trapped indoors with chicken pox during a heat wave.
The events set in motion that summer span decades and continents -- irrevocably changing the lives of the Santerres and those around them.
A Family Daughter is the story of four generations of Santerres. Discuss the evolving parent-child relationships within each generation.
Discuss the themes of resurrection and resilience in the novel. Consider incidents such as Abby and Jamie’s relationship, Saffron’s baby, Margot’s affair, and the family reunion at the end of the novel. What drives each character to overcome tragedy and adversity?
Why do you think the focus of the book, with the exception of Jamie, is on the women of the Santerre family? What is Yvette’s role as family matriarch?
When thinking of the photographer, Yvette realizes that although they never had an affair, she and Teddy “had used him to make each other unhappy, and they were still using him.” Do other characters use similar devices to hold grudges against each other?
Discuss the theme of sex and physical attraction in the novel. How does it influence each character in life-altering ways? Which characters use sex for comfort, and which use sex for power?
Following her father’s death, Abby doesn’t want contact with any of her family members except Jamie. Is this because he’s closer to her age, or does she not feel comfortable with the rest of her family? Are they the only two members of the family who truly know and understand each other?
What do you think of Abby’s decision to move from one “taboo” relationship to another? Is Abby drawn to older authority figures because her father died, or does she really love Peter? Abby tells Peter “I’m a different person with you and with my family…” Is this true? When do you think Abby is happiest?
Why does Abby decide to write a novel so similar to her own story? Is this merely a cathartic exercise, or does she want her family to know about her affair with Jamie? Why doesn’t the family seem too concerned about the incestuous relationship in Abby’s book? Do they think it’s fictional, or are they too afraid to ask if it’s true? How does each character react to the way they’re portrayed in the book?
Each character has a personal secret they keep from the others. Which characters do this to protect their family, and which characters keep secrets to protect themselves?
What role does guilt play in each character’s life? Consider the Abby-Jamie relationship, Margot’s adultery, Clarissa and Henry’s divorce, and Yvette’s decision to leave her family in Canada.
Yvette and Teddy raised their three children Catholic, but only Margot grew up to raise her children Catholic, as well. Why do you think this is? How would Clarissa and Jamie be different if they were religious? How would their children differ?
How are the members of the Santerre family affected by the various outsiders – Saffron, Martin, Fauchet, Katya—who pass in and out of their lives? What qualities do these supporting characters have that the Santerres lack?
How does the novel’s unusual structure—alternating chapters told from many different points of view—strengthen the story? Why is it so important for this particular novel that we read almost every character’s point of view?
If you’ve read both Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter:
A Family Daughter presents a different version of the Santerre family’s history. How do these two versions differ? What are the differences between the Liars and Saints version of the truth and the A Family Daughter version of the truth (i.e., the identity of Jamie’s mother; the details of Margot’s family life; the deaths of Abby, Henry, Yvette, Teddy)? What reasons do you think the author had for presenting two different versions of this core story?
Are some of the characters’ personalities different from book to book? If so, why do you think that is? Are their personalities different because the events in their lives are different, or are the events in their lives different because their personalities are different?
What truths and relationships are constant between the two books? How is their constancy significant to your reading of the two books?
Reading the two books together raises interesting questions about the nature of “truth” and its relationship with fiction. Do you think of one of these stories as the “real” story and one as made up? If so, why do you think that is, considering that, as novels, both stories are clearly fiction? Is your answer influenced by the order in which you read the two books?
Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love and the novel Liars and Saints, which was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize. Meloy's stories have been published in The New Yorker, and she has received The Paris Review's Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in California.