Sarah Bird takes on Austin high society in this critically acclaimed, hilarious comedy of manners in which a newly divorced heroine eventually comes to realize what matters most in life.
In social satirist Sarah Bird’s seventh novel, Blythe Young is happily immersed in Austin society after she marries Trey Biggs–Dix, naively signing a strict prenuptial agreement insisted upon by her mother-in-law. But when that same mother-in-law lands a better catch for her son ten years later, Blythe, now thirty-three and childless, is unceremoniously dumped. Penniless, desperate, but determined, Blythe finds herself taking refuge at Seneca House, the housing co-op where she lived a decade ago in college. There she encounters her old college roommate, the sweet Millie Ott, one of the many friends Blythe shucked off during a frenzy of social climbing.
Before long, Blythe comes face to face with her past sins and dubious moral choices, and under the unlikely tutelage of Millie, the eternal optimist, Blythe is finally able to discover the path to real happiness. Combining the wicked humor of David Sedaris with the hip, trendy style of Lauren Weisberger, this fast-paced, and sharply observed tale is a comic triumph of a novel.
1. “Try growing up in a double-wide a block off I-20 with a Dairy Queen for your country club, and the boys’ JV football coach for your secret boyfriend when you were barely thirteen. Grit? I have more grit in my craw than a Rhode Island Red” (22). How does Blythe Young’s background help her cope, even in the world of the extremely privileged? Does her Dairy Queen background ever show through her revamped façade of Blahniks and Prada?
2. Even though in the course of the novel Blythe never remounts to the top of the Austin social ladder, she finds her way to a much happier ending. What allows her to find her own definition of success? Who helps her most along the way?
3. How does Austin as a setting animate this story? Could Blythe’s experience take place anywhere else?
4. Blythe’s former mother-in-law, Peggy Biggs-Dix, represents a widely recognized archetype of the upper-class matriarch. What is her role inside her family and in society at large? Do we ever feel sympathy for, or forgive Peggy for ruining Blythe’s marriage? Or does her story mirror Blythe’s own?
5. What do you make of Lynn Sydney at the beginning of the book when she has a short conversation with Blythe at Kippie Lee’s party? Does your opinion of her change when she comes in to save the day at the end of the book? How?
6. Do you, as a reader, relate to Blythe—with her wit, rampant perseverance and creative ways to overcome—even though she can be a scoundrel? If so, how?
7. When imagining being caught by the IRS, Blythe recounts, “I suffered under the delusion that the not really really rich have about the really really rich: I believed that since they have so much, they wouldn’t be so petty.” (40) Do you think Blythe’s “delusion” has roots in reality? Discuss how her former social circle behaves in a petty manner.
8. Blythe establishes herself immediately as different than the Pemberton Heights crowd, but she also separates herself from the Seneca hippies, by such comments as: “Cooking aromas heavy on whole grains, tamari, sesame, recomposition of soybeans, Third World staples so beloved of kids who grow up on Pop-Tarts, then go boho the instant that they move away from the automatic sprinkler systems of their youth. Having grown up on hamburger that needed to be helped and with a sprinkler system that consisted of me and a watering can, I never understood the impulse.” (65) Is Blythe really as different from both as she believes?
9. When Blythe and Millie discuss the Dix family, Blythe recounts the humiliation suffered by Trey’s father, Henry “Junior” Dix the Second, whose own dad enjoyed making him stand in the sun and then would ridicule him with: “ ‘Well, by damn! The little turd does cast a shadow!’ ” (92) Why do you think Bird includes this detail on the Dix family?
10. While rebuilding her life at Seneca House, Blythe has the impulse to romanticize Trey and demonize Peggy, blaming the dissolution of their marriage on his mother. But when Trey appears back in her life, he hurts her immensely again on his own. What differences do you see in the way Blythe recovers the second time around? Do you think she will ever, or should ever, forgive Trey?
11. At first it seems like the friendship between Blythe and Millie is lopsided: that Blythe benefits from the friendship but does not reciprocate. Does your opinion of their relationship change as the book progresses?
12. How does Blythe ingeniously use the idiosyncrasies of the rich against them to survive another day in their company? Think of when she tried to throw a party for Kippie Lee or find a place to live in the Pyramid House. How does the pervasive humor of this book come out during Blythe’s capers?
13. Do you think that Blythe was right in exposing Millie and Sanjeev’s love, even though it created a temporary rift in the girls’ relationship? Was the action driven by Blythe’s usual selfishness, or did she have another motivation?
14. At the “Seneca Falls Spa,” a place where everyone reaches a point of self-discovery, Blythe finally admits to Millie that she had fallen in love with Trey partly because of his money. Why is this admission so important at the end of the book? Were you surprised by this fact?
15. Blythe comes to see her own flaws and moral shortcomings that stem from greed and over-indulgence, and as a result, tries to change course. Do you think that similar trends in American culture are capable of a self-correction?
Sarah Bird lives with her family in Austin, Texas, where she performs her own material regularly at the Hyde Park Theatre. She is the author of eleven books, including The Flamenco Academy and The Yokota Officers Club.