What would you do if your ex-con father suddenly came to visit…indefinitely? Family drama ensues when Nicki’s dad unexpectedly moves in with her, her son, and her boyfriend in this comedic novel from successful TV writer Tracy McMillan.
Nicki Daniels owns a home appraisal business, but real estate is her true passion: she lives for open houses and really knows her way around a floor plan. And especially at this juncture of her life, real estate has come to signify the stability she is trying to build with her teenage son, Cody, and her much younger boyfriend, Jake. She’s finally ready to find the perfect house for the three of them and work on a new business venture with Jake that she thinks will jump-start their lives together.
Meanwhile, Ronnie, a longtime inmate at a nearby correctional facility, is getting some good news for once—there was a mistake in his sentencing, and he’s eligible to get out of prison. After a sixty-day stay in a halfway house, Ronnie decides his best option to avoid homelessness is to move in with his estranged daughter: Nicki. Even though they haven’t spoken in years, her door is always open to him, right?
Inspired by the author’s life and imbued with wit and profound insight into relationships, Multiple Listings speaks poignantly—and often hilariously—about the ties that bind families of all types together.
This reading group guide for Multiple Listings 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.
Nicki Daniels hasn’t seen her dad in seventeen years. So why is he standing at her doorstep?
As a result of having absent parents growing up, Nicki matured into a strong-willed and hardworking individual. Everything she earned was of her own doing. Now, she owns a successful home appraisal business and is eager to branch out into new ventures. At this point in her life, Nicki feels ready to settle down and has decided that real estate will provide her with the stability she seeks. Poised to kick-start the next chapter of her life, Nicki partners with her much younger boyfriend on a new business opportunity while looking for the perfect house for them and her teenage son, Cody. Unbeknownst to Nicki, her long-estranged father is about to throw a wrench into her plans.
Multiple Listings is a comedic family drama filled with heart and unexpected insight into family dynamics. Fans of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? will appreciate Multiple Listings’s wit and profound redefinition of what it means to be a traditional family.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Multiple Listings opens with a prologue that finds Ronnie ringing the doorbell at the house of his daughter, Nicki, whom he hasn’t seen in seventeen years. But the story then flashes back to nine days earlier. What is the purpose of the prologue? Do you find it necessary? Is it a proper introduction to the story?
2. Why is Nicki so hesitant to accept Ronnie back into her life considering the fact that he is an asset around the house and wants to sincerely redeem himself from his criminal past? Do you think her trepidation is warranted?
3. Explore the topic of criminal rehabilitation in the novel. When Ronnie first arrives at the re-entry facility, Melissa says to him, “Let me start by saying very few guys in this place ever successfully make it back into the world. . . . And I doubt you will, either” (page 46). Is Melissa just being harsh, or is this a scare tactic? Do you think a rehabilitated criminal can make a successful transition back into society without a support system? Can a person truly change?
4. Examine Peaches’s role in Nicki’s life. Nicki compares her friendship with Peaches to a marriage, saying, “I read once that the first ten years of a marriage are a power struggle between the couple—each person vying to get the other one to do things their way—and after that people sort of just accept the other person for who they are. That’s pretty much where Peaches and I are now—I accept her. She’s an exhibitionist, she likes having—no, making—people look at her. Even though she sometimes embarrasses me, I get it: that’s Peaches” (page 63). Would you characterize their friendship the same way? Why do you think Nicki compares their friendship to a marriage? Do you want, or have, a friend like Peaches?
5. Why does Nicki’s relationship with Jake unravel? Did Jake just give up on their relationship? Were they ever truly in love?
6. When Ronnie informs Nicki about Jake stealing money from her towel closet, Nicki is immediately distraught. In an attempt to calm her down, Ronnie says, “We didn’t do our jobs as parents and I know that affects you still” (page 156). As a result, Nicki recalls her fascination with clocks, saying, “When I was small, I spent a lot of time looking at clocks. Right now I know why. Because the clock was the only safe place to look. When things are going down around you, just look at the clock. It’s like an island in the middle of chaos. The second hand sweeps around the face. You can get lost in it going around and around, and you’re not afraid of anything. You don’t feel anything” (page 156). Why did Nicki’s conversation with Ronnie spark this memory? What can you infer about her childhood?
7. How is Nicki’s relationship with Alex different from her relationship with Jake?
8. While discussing childhood photos, Cody makes a pointed observation. He says to Nicki, “I’m thinking about how you only have one picture of yourself. And I have no pictures of me with my dad. We’re a family of pictureless people” (page 217). How devastating do you think it was for Nicki, as a mother, to hear Cody’s revelation? How does Nicki’s upbringing mirror her son’s?
9. Consider Ronnie’s perspective on gender roles throughout the novel. After first meeting Melissa, he thinks, “What a woman wants is a guy who has the potential to abandon her exactly like Daddy did, but then doesn’t” (page 51). Later, Ronnie says, “Men evolved to be attracted to violence. It’s how we survived” (page 122). Then, when offering advice to Cody, he says, “No one knows better than me that men who live and die by a woman’s approval are still little boys inside. Being okay with your decisions no matter who approves is the first thing a guy has to learn if he wants to be a man” (page 230). Why do you think Ronnie has such strong opinions about relationships between men and women? Do you think Ronnie’s time in prison influenced his opinions? Could he hold these beliefs due to the lack of a strong female presence throughout his childhood? Do you agree with him?
10. Were you surprised that Ronnie and Peaches had sex? What drew the two of them together? For Nicki, their romantic tryst was the ultimate betrayal. If you were Nicki, would you be able to forgive them? Could you trust either of them again?
11. How would you describe Melissa’s role in the novel? Although she was introduced as a serious and straightforward professional, she quickly allowed herself to be swept away by Ronnie’s charm. Was she naïve to think Ronnie was interested in a relationship? Why? Were you surprised that she ultimately seeks revenge on him?
12. In an effort to help his daughter, Ronnie decides to enlist a favor with his former associate, Mal. Ronnie asks Mal to discontinue Nicki’s real estate deal on her new house, which she’s been hoping will fall through. In return, though, Ronnie will be indebted to Mal until he assists him with a favor of his own. Ronnie trusts he is doing the right thing, saying, “A man does what he has to do to take care of his own” (page 287). Is Ronnie’s request an honorable act or an irresponsible one? Could Ronnie’s deal with Mal be a gateway to his old life of crime?
13. Discuss the structure of the novel. What’s the effect of alternating between Nicki’s and Ronnie’s perspectives? Did learning about their past help you better understand each of them as individuals? How has their relationship evolved throughout the course of the novel? Did your feelings about Ronnie change as you learned more about him? How about Nicki?
14. When Ronnie visits Beth, he is ashamed of her inability to feel love for their daughter. He says, “She is missing something so key, so crucial to being human. She’s missing the ability to put another person before herself. She’s missing the ability to open her heart—at all. I want to cry for the twenty-two-year-old man in me who went to this woman to get love. I want to cry for my daughter. My heart aches for her” (page 313). Why is Beth so damaged? Does she somehow redeem herself in the end? Do you think Beth’s relationship with Nicki can ever be repaired?
15. In his election speech for Junior Class Board, Cody refers to his relationship with Ronnie, saying, “I didn’t know who I could be until I got inspired by someone who taught me that there’s more to life than getting money and playing Magic: The Gathering. Someone who showed me that no matter what you’ve done in your life—or haven’t—it’s never too late to turn it around” (page 321). How has Cody progressed throughout the novel? Can his boost in confidence be attributed to Ronnie’s influence?
16. Explain the significance of the novel’s title. What does Multiple Listings mean? How does real estate represent Nicki’s sense of identity? Does she finally feel settled by the end of the story?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Piper Kerman’s poignant memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison to learn more about the life of a prisoner in a federal correctional facility. Then watch the popular Netflix show of the same name. Do you feel like you have a better sense of what prison life is like? How do you think a women’s prison compares to a men’s?
2. Nicki loves to read The New York Times wedding announcements every Sunday. She is fascinated by all of the different couples. For your next book club meeting, have each member bring their favorite wedding announcement to share with the group. Which couple caught your eye? What did you particularly like about their story?
3. Cody’s favorite hobby is to play the card game Magic: The Gathering. Consider hosting a game night with a group of your friends and choose some of your favorite board games to play for a fun night in.
4. Online dating is so prevalent today—that’s even how Nicki met Alex. At your next book club gathering, throw a dating-themed evening with good food and lots of wine. Have everyone share some of their funniest or most memorable online dating experiences.