This reading group guide for Goldberg Variations includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
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Gloria Garrison is seventy-nine years old. She’s long ago reinvented herself, changing her name from Goldberg, ditching her husband in New York, and starting a beauty company in Santa Fe. Glory, Inc., a huge success, provides makeovers—hair, clothes, and makeup—out of the back of eighteen-wheelers across the South and West. Gloria is preparing to retire, but because of her outrageous emotional insensitivity and hurtful offhand comments, her younger partner has pulled out of the business; he never wants to speak to her again. So she sends plane tickets to her three grandchildren back in New York – Matt, Daisy, and Raquel – who haven’t seen her since they were kids. As soon as they arrive, she offers them a once in a lifetime opportunity: one (and only one!) of them will become the heir to Glory, Inc.’s multimillion dollar beauty empire; whoever can wow her in a weekend will inherit. Wiser and more principled than their grandmother, all three twenty-somethings refuse Gloria’s proposal. But the remainder of the weekend brings revelations concerning love, loss, and their own family history. Gloria is tough, brusque, and often insulting, but behind her hard veneer lies a woman who must confront her past actions in order to salvage any meaning in her life. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1) Gloria says that her tragic flaw is “losing control and saying what I truly think.” Talk about tragic flaws – Gloria’s, your own, other novels whose plots are driven by such character flaws.
2) What do you think of Glory, Inc. offering makeovers in the back of eighteen-wheelers? Is it a good idea for a business? Could it work in real life?
3) Do you see yourself in Matt, Daisy, or Raquel? In Gloria? Does Matt, Daisy, Raquel, or Gloria remind you of anyone in your own family?
4) Do any of the grandchildren’s jobs appeal to you: PR for a professional sports team; legal aide; book scout for Paramount Pictures?
5) Why is Gloria the way she is? What do you think are the major forces or events that have shaped her personality? Can you admire her or sympathize with her?
6) What do you think of Gloria’s relationship with her ex-husband, Joe? Do you understand or sympathize with her for leaving him?
7) Gloria is critical and judgmental of her family, but she can be relaxed and generous with her employees like Emily Anderson and Lizzy. Why do you think this is?
8) Have you ever had a makeover? How did it go? Is there anyone you know who you’d love to see have a makeover?
9) What did you think of the way the story was told from different points of view, alternating between chapters? Was this an effective way to tell this story?
10) Imagine yourself in Daisy, Raquel, or Matt’s position when they got the offer from Gloria. What would you have done? Do you think they made the right choices ultimately?
11) Have you ever fantasized about opening your own business? What kind would it be?
12) Gloria seems utterly heartless and manipulative at the opening of the novel. Yet, by the end, she’s gained wisdom and even earned everyone’s forgiveness. Talk about the idea that it’s never too late–even at eighty–to change.
13) Do you know anyone who has had a realization and reconciliation in the way Gloria does at the end of the novel?
14) What did you think of the ending? Did you foresee this resolution or was it surprising? Enhance Your Book Club
1) Give each other makeovers: hair, nails, accessories, makeup. Or have a day of beauty at a local salon or spa.
2) Make a list of people you’d like to pay restitution to, reconcile with, or reconnect with in the way that Gloria does.
3) Try to remember and share stories about transformations like Gloria’s in your own family.
4) Brainstorm ideas for small businesses you think there’s a need for or that might be successful today.