This reading group guide for Objects of My Affection includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author JIll Smolinski. 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
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Lucy Bloom is broke, been dumped by her boyfriend, and had to sell her house to send her son to drug rehab. Although she’s lost it all, she’s determined to start over. So when she’s offered a high-paying gig helping clear the clutter from the home of reclusive and eccentric painter Marva Meier Rios, Lucy grabs it. Armed with the organizing expertise she gained while writing her book, Things Are Not People
, and fueled by a burning desire to get her life back on track, Lucy rolls up her sleeves to take on the mess that fills every room of Marva’s home. Lucy soon learns that the real challenge may be taking on Marva, who seems to love the objects in her home too much to let go of them. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Lucy and Marva’s relationship gets off to a rocky start, and Lucy initially finds her new employer both intimidating and crass. In what ways did Lucy’s view of Marva change throughout the course of the novel? What were some of the turning points in their relationship? What was the most important one?
2. How do you think Marva’s hoarding tendencies developed? Do you believe she truly intended to clear out her house? Why now?
3. Lucy admits she initially refused to grasp the severity of her son’s drug problems. Why do you think that is?
4. Compare Marva and Lucy as mothers. Are they as different as they appear on the surface? What scares Lucy about Will’s relationship to Marva, and how does that affect Lucy’s approach to dealing with Ash?
5. When discussing how her house burned down years ago with Fillippe still in it, Marva states: “He always did have a flair for the dramatic.” Do you think Fillippe purposely set the fire? How did this event influence Marva’s future? Was it still realistic that she keep her promise to him?
6. Daniel and Lucy’s quest to rescue Grimm’s Fairy Tales
from the storage warehouse is a rare screwball comedy moment for the otherwise serious Lucy. Is there anything you’d go to such lengths to rescue?
7. At the beginning of the novel, Lucy has sacrificed her home and virtually all of her belongings to send Ash to rehab. How did you feel when Lucy finds out Ash has checked himself out of the facility? Did you agree with her actions that followed? Would you have done anything differently if you were in Lucy’s position?
8. Lucy comes close to selling her cherished car, but at the last minute changes her mind, saying that it’s the idea
of the car and how it makes her feel that is difficult to let go. Do you think Lucy’s refusal to sell her car is justified? Do you think that an object’s importance is related to the feeling that a person associates with the object, rather than the object itself? What is such an object in your life?
9. At the end of the book Marva is painting over her most famous painting, “Woman Freshly Tossed.” She says she is “giving it a second life.” Were you surprised by her actions? Do you think she did the right thing?
10. Lucy may be the organizing expert, but it soon becomes clear both of these women have something to teach the other. Other than how to de-clutter her home, what did Marva ultimately learn from Lucy? And were you surprised by what Lucy learned from Marva? Enhance Your Book Club
1. As a book group, agree to go through your closet, garage, or other cluttered space and get rid of something you no longer use, wear, or need, or bring an object that you’ve decided to get rid of. Discuss how letting go of these objects makes you feel.
2. Marva is an acclaimed artist. Paint or draw a self-portrait, or bring a picture of a work of art that depicts something going on in your life at the moment. Share it with your book group.
3. Marva had a list of things she wanted to accomplish before she wanted to commit suicide. Create your own “bucket list” and share it with your book group. A Conversation with Jill SmolinskiIn Objects of My Affection, Marva is credited for starting the neo-expressionism movement. Was there a specific artist or person in history whom she was modeled after?
Marva wasn’t modeled after a particular person but, rather, her character was inspired by the spirit of the neo-expression movement, which came into vogue right around the time Marva would have been breaking onto the art scene. Because neo-expressionism shattered so many of the “rules” about composition and style in paintings that had been popular in the 1970s, it seemed to perfectly represent how strong-willed and unconventional I imagined Marva to be. Do you share any personality traits or similarities with the main character, Lucy? Does anything in her life parallel your own?
She’s far more of a neat freak than I am, but she and I definitely share an aversion to clutter. I’m the person that friends call when they’re cleaning out their closets or spare rooms—I can be merciless about letting go of things (and making other people do it…just ask my mom). A couple years ago, like Lucy, I actually gave away or sold pretty much everything I owned that didn’t fit into my car or a closet-sized storage unit. I was moving cross-country and didn’t want to deal with a moving van, so I decided to use it as an opportunity to downsize. Also like Lucy, I thought it would be easy—that I had no attachment to things—but that wasn’t the case, and my choices didn’t always make sense. I could let go of entire rooms of furniture without batting an eye, only to agonize over whether to keep or toss something as small as a plastic souvenir pen.Lucy loves the freeing feeling of driving her convertible Mustang. Do you have any possessions that make you feel similarly liberated, or that you especially love?
My ex-husband used to joke that if there was a house fire, I’d crawl to freedom only once I’d strapped my armoire to my back. I loved that thing—in part because it looked like the one Julie Andrews had in The Sound of Music.
Plus it was my first piece of “real” furniture (that is, it didn’t need to be assembled). When I was in the midst of my downsizing, I finally realized that it was horribly out of style and included it with what I donated to charity. Love must have made me blind, because it was in such shabby condition that I had to beg
the Goodwill truck drivers to take it once they came to pick it up.Did you invent the N-Three checklist, and is it a formula you employ in your own life? How do you stay organized?
Although I made up the N-Three Checklist, it is a variation on what’s often advised by organizational experts—to evaluate whether to keep or toss an item based on whether you truly need and use it. Personally, I live more by the “a place for everything and everything in its place” dictum, and that’s mostly because if I don’t, I’m a total slob. If there’s not an easily accessible hanger waiting in the closet for me to hang my sweater on, that sweater is going to wind up on the floor (and half the time does anyway). Hoarding has recently become a frequently profiled subject on reality TV. What additional research did you do to find out more about hoarding?
All I did was informally put out word to friends that I wanted to talk to a hoarder, and I was astounded how many people knew of someone that struggled with too much clutter. Talking to these people (who shared their stories on promise of anonymity) helped me to better understand their attachment to things, but I still wanted to walk through a hoarded home. I had my chance—quite by accident—when I agreed to dog-sit for an acquaintance at the home of her grandmother, who had recently passed away. While the house wasn’t as bad as Marva’s, I still had to shimmy sideways to get down the hallway, and there were entire rooms off-limits due to clutter. I spent the entirety of my three days there mentally throwing things away. It’s hard for me to comprehend actually living that way day in and day out, but it was a good exercise in understanding Lucy’s struggles to live amongst Marva’s stuff.What books were on your bedside table while you were writing Objects of My Affection?
As much as I’m a bookworm, I can’t read when I’m writing—it distracts me too much from the story I’m trying to create. The moment I sent my finished manuscript to my editor, I couldn’t wait to dive into my “to read” pile of books, which by that point was stacked about a mile high.You have written magazine articles, nonfiction, short stories, and novels. What are some of the challenges unique to novel writing? Can you explain your novel writing process?
My biggest challenge in writing novels is coming up with what I want to write about. I can spend months tossing ideas around in my head, waiting for one to “stick.” You’d think I’d know by now that it doesn’t work that way for me—I actually have to sit down and start writing to see if an idea works or not. Once I finally do give in and park myself at the computer, I eventually wind my way to my story. At that point, you can hardly tear me away from my writing it’s so fun to be in this other world I’ve created—far more so than the cooking or cleaning I need to be doing in my real life.In writing this book, what did you learn about the hardships of drug abuse and addiction? What kinds of research did you do in preparation?
I had a chance to talk with some local drug counselors, and I sat in with a group of parents who had teenage and adult children with drug problems. As a parent, I wasn’t surprised to see how they’d be willing to do anything to help their kids—and they were—but before meeting them, I hadn’t thought about how frustrating it must be to not know what
to do. The world doesn’t stop because your son or daughter is into drugs. You still have to report to work and pay the bills and take care of the other family members. Their struggles to save their addicted children while still going ahead with their lives was a huge influence on how I depicted Lucy’s relationship with Ash.You blogged about writing your own Life List around the time you wrote your last novel, The Next Thing on My List. Did this experiment inspire Marva’s bucket list?
When I did my life list, I didn’t know anyone else who had one. Since my book has come out, I’ve had a chance to talk to so many people doing lists. The term “bucket list” has become well known enough that I could imagine Marva having one—or at least having a few things she wanted to do before she died.On your website, www.jillsmolinski.com, you have a special section for reading groups. Are you in a book club? Can you share an experience of when you visited a book club to discuss one of your novels?
Yes, I’m in a book club that’s been together 22 years, and we are possibly the worst one ever—there’s always far more wine drinking than book discussing happening at our meetings. That’s why I so enjoy calling in to other book clubs that actually talk about books! I’ve called literally hundreds of them. Recently a reader gave me a life list challenge to try Skyping, so I do that now, too—which is great because I can see everyone I’m talking with, (and not so great because there goes my trick of making these calls in my pajamas). I was also able to join in on a book club that was meeting at a coffee shop near where I live. When I got there, the members all surprised me by wearing sexy shoes, in honor of one of the items on my character’s “to do” list.What message do you hope readers will take from Objects of My Affection?
That life is not so much about the stuff you have (or don’t have) but about knowing what it is you truly value.