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Innocents and Others
Table of Contents
About The Book
From Dana Spiotta, the author of Wayward, Eat the Document, and Stone Arabia, “A brilliant novel…about female friendship, the limits of love and work, and costs of claiming your right to celebrate your triumphs and own your mistakes” (Elle).
Innocents and Others is about two women who grow up in LA in the 80s and become filmmakers. Meadow and Carrie have everything in common—except their views on sex, power, movie-making, and morality. Their friendship is complicated, but their devotion to each other trumps their wildly different approaches to film and to life. Meadow was always the more idealistic and brainy of the two; Carrie was more pragmatic. Into their lives comes Jelly, a master of seduction who calls powerful men and seduces them not with sex, but by being a superior listener. All of these women grapple with the question of how to be good: a good lover, a good friend, a good mother, a good artist.
A startlingly acute observer of the way we live now, Dana Spiotta “has created a new kind of great American novel” (The New York Times Magazine). “Impossible to put down” (Marie Claire), Innocents and Others is “a sexy, painfully insightful, and strangely redemptive novel about the ways we misread one another—with an ending that comes at you like a truck around a blind curve and stays with you for much, much longer” (Esquire).
Reading Group Guide
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Carrie and Meadow are best friends, two women from Los Angeles who grew up together, forging a friendship through shared experiences and a love of film. Both Carrie and Meadow pursue careers as filmmakers, though their lives, and their art forms, differ. Their paths cross with Jelly, a mysterious woman who develops intimate relationships with some of the most powerful men in Hollywood by allowing them to unburden themselves of their fears and insecurities on the telephone. She never meets the men. When Meadow decides to make a documentary about Jelly, the consequences force both Meadow and Carrie to reflect on who they are, how their successes have defined them, and the power of honesty in the search for love and connection.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. The opening line of the book is “This is a love story.” Do you believe that line could be used to describe the whole novel? How does it set the stage, and how did your expectations shift with the twist in the opening scene?
2. We know that Meadow has been raised in privilege by indulgent parents: “[My father] encouraged me to believe that my particular possibilities had no limits, and one strategy he apparently had for conveying that idea was not giving me any limits, financial or otherwise” (page 15). How did these statements, made so early in our introduction to Meadow, influence your perception of her, and how did this perception change and develop as you read?
3. In her essay on how she came to be a filmmaker, Meadow says the following about the old theater in Gloversville, New York: “I knew that cinema had touched every small town in America. Cinema is everywhere. And to discover it in the most obscure places made me believe that it mattered. Its decay only meant there was room for me somehow” (page 15). How much do you think film has shaped American culture, and in what ways? How does this abandoned, decrepit theater reflect Meadow’s aesthetic or personality?
4. Confession is a major theme in this story. Discuss the ways it impacts the characters. What are your thoughts on confession? Is there a difference between a public act of confession and a private one? What happens when you hear and watch a person’s confession in a documentary film or in person?
5. Jelly does not reveal her true appearance to the men that she calls, nor does she share her real name or background. As the novel puts it, “Once imagining preceded the actual, there was no escaping disappointment, was there?” (page 152). But to what extent does she remain honest with her listeners, Jack especially? What does the novel say about identity if Jelly is most herself when she is just a voice on the line?
6. Jelly’s story and Meadow’s story don’t overlap until deep in the book, but both women are good at seducing other people. What connections and differences do you see between these two women and how they interact with the world?
7. At one point, Carrie says, “Unlike a marriage, which must be fulfilling and a goddamn mutual miracle, a friendship could be twisted and one-sided and make no sense at all, but if it had years and years behind it, the friendship could not be discarded” (page 229). Considering the huge differences between Meadow and Carrie as artists and people, what do you think allows them to stay friends with each other? How are the life-long friendships that you form when you are very young different from other kinds of friendships?
8. When Meadow first starts making films, she begins to regard her camera as a “magic machine that made people reveal themselves whether they liked it or not” (page 123). Consider the power of a camera: what happens to the people being filmed, the audience watching, and the people behind the camera?
9. The ending of the novel touches on all of the main characters and a minor one. Why do you think the author ended it this way?
10. Discuss the title Innocents and Others. How does it relate to the themes of the story? What ethical or moral issues come up in Meadow’s story? Jelly’s? Sarah’s?
11. Carrie says that comedies are important to her because “they are both in the culture and pointing at the culture. Mainstream and subversive” (page 208). Do you agree with Carrie? How does Carrie’s essay change how you viewed her and her relationship to Meadow?
12. The form and style of the writing vary throughout the book: Meadow’s first person essay, comments in an online forum, a script, and notebook entries, for example. How do you think these various formats changed how you read the book? Why do you think Spiotta chose to write her novel this way?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Real films are referenced throughout Innocents and Others as inspirations for Carrie and Meadow. Choose one or two of the films mentioned in the story, and watch it with the group, then discuss what you liked and disliked, and any interesting technical elements used by the director to convey a particular emotion or idea. Was your understanding and appreciation of the film at all influenced by reading about it in the novel?
2. Share with the group stories of your own creative passions, either growing up or now. What were they? Do you think that in pursuing them you were more like Carrie or Meadow?
- Publisher: Scribner (March 8, 2016)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781501122750
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Raves and Reviews
"A daring and beautiful meditation about selfishness and selflessness, and how to be in the world. A powerful book that will stay with me."
– George Saunders, author of Tenth of December
“Wondrous and mysterious... Brilliant, and erotic, and pop.”
– Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers and Telex from Cuba
“Spiotta is emerging as perhaps the major contender for fiction's next generation.”
– Mary Karr, author of The Liar’s Club and Lit
“Flawless and epic.”
– Joshua Ferris, author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
“A lithely intelligent, moving inquiry into the mysterious compositions of art and friendships.”
– Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins
“A thrillingly complex and emotionally astute novel about fame, power, and alienation steeped in a dark eroticism.”
– Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
“The visionary liberty and daring with which Dana Spiotta has crafted her brilliant new novel INNOCENTS AND OTHERS is both inspirational and infectious. At its heart is a cinematic tale of friendship, obsession, morality, and creativity between best-friend filmmakers Carrie Wexler and Meadow Mori…original and seductive…with INNOCENTS AND OTHERS, [Spiotta] delivers a tale about female friendship, and the limits of love and work, and costs of claiming your right to celebrate your triumphs and own your mistakes.”
– Lisa Shea, Elle
“Impossible to put down.”
– Steph Optiz, Marie Claire
“Dana Spiotta’s whip-smart INNOCENTS AND OTHERS maps the unexpected confluence of two rising feminist filmmakers and a movie buff who, posing as a film student, seduces Hollywood men over the phone, simply by listening to them.”
– Marnie Hanel, W
“Brilliant…masterful…Spiotta reminds us that the cinema is where America fears and desires have long been projected, the small-town theater an abandoned temple of shared dreams. At the same time, she nails a devastating irony: The more reachable we are, the more screens infiltrate our lives, the less there is that genuinely connects us.”
– Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“A brilliant split-screen view of women working within and without the world of Hollywood… illuminating… Its moral dimensions feel vast. Once Spiotta has her disparate storylines in motion, they resonate with each other in ways you can’t stop thinking about…The story’s real heart, though, is the tenacious relationship between Meadow and Carrie, the serious documentarian and the Hollywood hitmaker. Working in the tight space of this relatively slim novel, Spiotta explores the remarkable species of sisterhood that survives jealousy and disappointment and even years of neglect. The tension between artistic purity and commercial popularity may tax their affection, but nothing can blot out their shared history, their abiding devotion, the great wonder that is a true friend. Toward the end, Meadow considers how to create a ‘glimpse of the sublime.’ Considering the limits of her medium, she asks herself, ‘Can an image convey something unnameable, impossible, invisible?’ The quiet miracle of this novel is that it does just that.”
– Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Fascinating… the need to connect, the desire for intimacy and friendship, and the quest for meaning in our lives are at the heart of this complex and compelling book… It's difficult not to descend into hyperbole talking about Spiotta's work. She writes with a breezy precision and genuine wit that put her on a short list of brilliant North American novelists who deserve a much wider audience…And it's rare to find a novel that is so much fun and, at the same time, seeks emotional truth with such intellectual rigor; it adds up to an original and strangely moving book.”
– Mark Haskell Smith, Los Angeles Times
“Haunting…[Meadow’s] story serves as the intellectual fulcrum of this intimate, unsettling novel, but Jelly provides its emotional heart.”
– Claudia Rowe, The Seattle Times
– Brock Clarke, The Boston Globe
“How the three women’s lives intersect is one of the book’s little miracles. But there is also so much more to this book that defies quick summary: technology and how it creates, bolsters, and distorts identity; making and consuming art; the responsibility and trespassing of representation; friendship; imagination; the fear of being unoriginal.”
– Edan Lepucki, The Millions
“A brilliant, riddling clip-montage of the friendship between two very different filmmakers… Spiotta’s dramatization of the Meadow-Carrie dyad is masterly, with lines that seem delivered—improvised—by women who’ve known each other and even the reader forever... Highbrow and lowbrow have cohabitated before, of course, but rarely with this ease or this empathy.”
– Joshua Cohen, The New York Times Book Review
“Spiotta’s idea-driven fiction feels extraordinarily alive because she’s just as interested in the tensions between two artist friends as she is in the friction between morality and creativity or truth and art or identity and time… the dividing line between artist and con artist is a thin and wavering one indeed. But there is no line at all between mind and heart…they can’t, in fact, be separated; every thought ever thought has risen out of a human being capable of loneliness, desire, suffering and laughter. Why settle for a novel of ideas that offers anything less?”
– Laura Miller, Slate
“It’s certain that Spiotta’s audience will keep growing with this stunning novel.”
– S. Kirk Walsh, The San Francisco Chronicle
“I was dazzled by how this seemingly low-key tale about movie lovers hanging out, falling in and out of love, and playing around with their hobbies and their art, turned out to be so moving and brilliant. Innocents and Others is a work of art about making art that matters.”
– Jenny Shank, The Dallas Morning News
“Spiotta really wants to explore ideas about art…how do works of art act on us, shaping and sometimes warping our identities? Innocents and Others is one of those uncanny novels whose characters and ideas linger long after the story is over. In the end, Spiotta’s portrayal of artistic idealism and ambition is unexpectedly moving. As Meadow would say, what a mystery, the way things act on us.”
– Maureen Corrigan, "Fresh Air"
“When it comes to ideas, Spiotta has always operated on an astounding number of levels at once…she can juggle metaphors and inquiries large and small without ever neglecting her characters or losing narrative momentum.”
– Judy Berman, Flavorwire
“A sexy, painfully insightful, and strangely redemptive novel about the ways we misread one another—and with an ending that comes at you like a truck around a blind curve and stays with you for much, much longer.”
“Dazzling... Smart and fascinating.”
– Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
"Spiotta has created a new kind of American novel... She writes radiant, concentrated books that, as she has put it, consider 'the way things external to us shape us: money, technology, art, place, history'... Her books are simultaneously vast and local, exploring great American themes (self-invention, historical amnesia) within idiosyncratic worlds (phone phreaks, '80s Los Angeles adolescence). She has been compared with Don DeLillo and Joan Didion, but her tone and mood are distinctly her own: she's fascinated, not alienated."
– Sarah Burton, The New York Times Magazine
"Slippery, original, and uncanny... a work of acute cultural intelligence and moral imagination."
– Justin Taylor, Bookforum
"Dana Spiotta's interested in the feverish intensity of female friendships, the single-minded focus of obsession, the sudden communions that spring up between strangers."
– Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
"Spiotta is among America's most intriguing novelists."
– Dotun Akintoye, O, the Oprah Magazine
"National Book Award finalist Spiotta brings to new levels of feverish intensity her signature dissection of obsession, the trends and ironies of the zeitgeist, how we document our lives, and the consequences of resistance to social imperatives in this ensnaring, sly, and fiercely intelligent novel, from which readers can extract a cineast's dream watch list... Spiotta's deeply inquiring tale is about looking and listening, freedom and obligation, our dire hunger for illusion, and our profound need for friendship."
– Donna Seaman, Booklist, Starred Review
"A superb, spiky exploration of artistic motivation."
– Kirkus, Starred Review
"Spiotta does a masterly job of getting under the skin of disparate characters, revealing the kinds of insecurities that plague us all, successful or not."
– Library Journal
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