This reading group guide for HOW STRANGE A SEASON 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. Introduction How Strange a Season
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is a collection of stories and a novella that feature women facing the pressures of problematic inheritances. A competitive swimmer negotiates with her husband over which days she will perform her wifely duties and which she will keep for herself. A woman moves into her late grandmother’s glass house on a California cliff, only to uncover a different legacy of the family matriarch than she expected. A young environmentalist takes a job with a conservation organization and tries to distract herself from the worry that her partner will fall for someone else while she’s away. And generations of a South Carolina family reckon with the sins of their past while struggling toward a better future.
These haunting, evocative stories ask: What are we leaving behind for our descendants? What price will they pay for our mistakes? And how do we break free from the generational patterns we’ve inherited to live life on our own terms?Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss how the women in these stories interact with the natural world—flowers and fruit, heavy rains and drought, lionfish and cattle, and more. How do they deal with nature’s challenges, and how do they respond to its beauty? Where do the themes of inheritance and environmental concerns intersect?
2. In “Workhorse,” the narrator says of her father: “His love language was war” (p. 3). Consider the conflicts between various characters in the story—the narrator and her father, or her father and mother, her father and his brother, herself and her ex-husband. Amidst all this conflict, where does the narrator find peace? Why does she go to Caligari?
3. “There are unsaid rules,” Farrah tells her husband in “Wife Days” (p. 31). Discuss what those rules are—marital roles, social expectations, etc. What do you think of Farrah’s method of coping with them? Do you find yourself subject to unsaid rules, and how do you handle them?
3. Discuss the theme of power in “The Heirloom,” which features heavy machinery and privileged men looking for a new kind of fulfillment. Who wields power, and what do they do with it? What, in the end, is the most powerful force in the story?
4. In “The Inheritance,” Hayes moves into a glass house in California left to her by her late grandmother, whom she idolized from afar. What she learns there leads her to think, “You never really know
anyone” (p. 86). Do you agree? What do you think of Hayes’s mother’s warning that “you can only idolize someone you don’t know very well” (p. 70)?
5. Discuss Ward’s atonement ritual in “A Taste for Lionfish.” What are other ways to seek forgiveness for the wrongs our ancestors committed against people and the environment?
6. In “Peaches, 1979,” Darcy’s mother calls her out for having a bit of a savior complex (p. 134). Do Darcy’s actions actually help anyone? Do the people she wants to save want to be
saved? Discuss the final line, where Darcy wonders: “Just how wrong would it be to save myself? . . . and only myself?” (p. 135).
7. In “Indigo Run,” Skip refuses to sell, rent, or renovate the abandoned family plantation she inherited, despite protest from the local Preservation Society. What is she afraid will happen to the place if she does? How would you describe the relationships the other characters have with the land, such as Mary-Grace, Helena, Win, and Marie?
8. Consider the quote: “The only real risk we have in this life is our reputation”
(p. 161). How does reputation shape the lives of the characters in “Indigo Run,” for better or worse?
9. Compare the choices that Helena and Marie make out of desperation, and their resulting situations. Who is the wronged woman? What is your opinion of Win? How does desperation affect the lives of other women in How Strange a Season
10. After Skip is born, Helena asks her mother why she didn’t warn her about what childbirth and motherhood would be like. “No one told me, either,” Mary-Grace says (p. 182). What does this scene tell you about their relationship? On page 186, Helena tells baby Skip, “I will raise you to be stronger than I ever was.” How does their relationship compare to Helena and Mary-Grace’s? What patterns from these relationships apply to all mothers and daughters?
11. Consider this passage from the end of “Indigo Run”: “[Skip] knew that she carried the sins of her parents and grandparents around in her blood, something parasitic living there against her will” (p. 273). How do characters in the novella—and throughout the collection—reckon with this type of legacy? How does this passage resonate with conversations around race and privilege in society today?
12. Discuss “The Night Hag” in relation to the rest of the collection. Where does women’s anger rise to the surface? What effect does it have? How has rage affected your life, the life of someone you know, or the world at large?
13. Several stories in this collection follow a woman who has inherited something from a relative—a ranch, a glass house, an abandoned plantation. How does each woman manage her inheritance? In “The Heirloom,” the author writes that Regan has also “inherited her mother’s suspicion that at some point relationships with men moved from pleasure to pain” (p. 61). What nonmaterial things do we inherit from our mothers, our aunts, our grandmothers?
15. How do you interpret the collection’s title? Discuss the idea of a “season” as it applies to the climate and to a stage of life.Enhance Your Book Club
1. Pick an activity inspired by one of the stories to do as a group: create mini terrariums (“Workhorse”), visit a “rage room” where you can smash things (“The Heirloom”), volunteer with a conservation organization (“A Taste for Lionfish”), or pick fruit at a local orchard (“Peaches, 1979”).
2. Map out a family tree for the characters in “Indigo Run” and see if you can find any possible connections to characters from other stories in the collection. Consider doing some genealogical research on your own family.
3. Read Clint Smith’s nonfiction book How the Word Is Passed
, which explores how the legacy of slavery is communicated (or miscommunicated) at historic sites and monuments. How do the themes of preservation and heritage in this book reflect themes from “Indigo Run” and “A Taste for Lionfish”?
4. Read Megan Mayhew Bergman’s previous two collections of stories, Birds of a Lesser Paradise
and Almost Famous Women
, and discuss the evolution of themes throughout.