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Perfect Family

A Novel

About The Book

From the acclaimed author of Speak Softly, She Can Hear, a literary page-turner about a proper New England family and the dark secrets that undo them.

Pony Carteret -- the lovely headstrong youngest member of the Carteret family -- has always been a strong swimmer. So when she is discovered drowned at the family's summer home on Lake Aral, Vermont, her red hair tangled in an anchor chain and her baby abandoned on shore, her family is stunned by disbelief.

As the police conduct their investigation, Jasper Carteret, the patriarch, calls an urgent family meeting. Had any of her siblings known that Pony would be at the house that day? Was she having personal problems, was she depressed? Had she ever revealed the true identity of her baby's father? Neither sister -- Tinker, the family caretaker, nor Mira, the moody, thoughtful one -- has any information, and ultimately the police rule the drowning an accident.

But William Carteret, Pony's older brother, can't accept the explanation that his favorite sister's death was an accident. Determined to uncover the truth, he eventually learns the disturbing fact that a stranger had been present at the house the evening Pony died. Who was this man, what was he doing at the house, and why hasn't he stepped forward? As William digs deeper, his investigations quickly lead him to a new and more daunting series of questions, not only about the mysteries in Pony's life but also about the shadowy details of his deceased mother's past and even his own. Before long, he has opened a Pandora's box of family secrets, including one dangerous fact his mother has kept hidden for a generation.

Pam Lewis's Perfect Family is a masterful, atmospheric tale about the ways in which family secrets, no matter how long they're buried, can wield their tremendous power.

Reading Group Guide

Perfect Family
Pam Lewis 

Questions and Topics For Discussion

1.       The quote by John Steinbeck from the Grapes of Wrath at the beginning of the book reads, “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?” Much of Perfect Family centers on identity and a deeper understanding of one’s self. Which character’s identity, or perception of identity, shifts the most throughout the course of the book? 

2.       Although William is one of the more dominant characters in the book the point of view of the story changes from chapter to chapter. Why do you think that the author chose to do this? What does this voice allow her to do as a storyteller? Which voice do you find most compelling? Most trustworthy and believable? 

3.       Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, Depression, Acceptance and Hope make up what many physiatrists call the stages of grief. Discuss if and how William and the other family members go through any or all of these stages? Which lasts the longest? How do the circumstances of loss affect how the family expresses their emotions?

4.       The author writes, “Jasper ran the show. He always had and he always would.” (p. 62) Is this true? Who do you think really has the most control in the family? Who has the least? How do the different family members exert control over each other?

5.       Keith enters the story when he meets Mira for coffee. She describes, “He had that pull she liked in a guy. Something she never wanted to analyze.” (p. 82). What were your first impressions of Keith? Was he trustworthy? Who the family did you side with when he was introduced? Why does Mira take to him so quickly? 

6.       Discuss how the author uses pacing throughout the story. When does she speed up her narrative and when does she slow down? What effect does this have on the plot and character development?

7.       Each of the siblings of the Carteret family is very different. Who did you identity with the most? Who would you most like to spend time with?

8.       William says of Keith, “He’s not family.” (p. 166) Ruth later continues the discussion on family by saying, “You have to participate. You have to be present.” What does it mean to be part of a family? How do you define who is in a family? How strong is the Carteret family? Is it possible to join a family?

9.       Minerva says to William, “Your parents believed they could triumph over the past – I’m speaking of your mother and Jasper.” (p. 195) Can someone triumph over their past? What does that mean?

10.    William’s mother writes in her note, “Necessity is the mother of invention – Larry’s philosophy about everything. The best way to learn anything is when you have no choice.” (p. 216) Do you agree with Larry’s thinking? What are other ways to learn?

11.    Keith and William are true brothers. How are they similar? How are they different? Do they want the same thing? 

12.    Towards the end of the book William speaks of Andrew. “The shame isn’t his. It was Pony’s, Keith’s. It was Mother’s. He shouldn’t have to suffer for it the way I did. The way we all have.” Whose shame is it? Should the family be ashamed at all? 

Enhance Your Reading Group

1.       There are many websites where you can learn more about your own family history including:,,,,

2.       To visit or learn more about vacations in Vermont visit:

3.        Memory retrieval and the passing along of family history is central to the book. What is your earliest memory? Is it accurate? How did your family pass down family history? 

About The Author

Photograph by Doug Anderson

Pam Lewis lives in rural Connecticut with her husband, Rob Funk. Since 1991, she has worked as a freelance writer of business and marketing communications. She is the author of the novels Perfect Family and Speak Softly, She Can Hear and her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and various literary magazines.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 21, 2009)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743291460

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Raves and Reviews

" Pam Lewis's Perfect Family is a masterful, atmospheric tale about the ways in which family secrets, no matter how long they're buried, can wield their tremendous power." --

"Lewis skillfully lures the reader through her narrative maze with plenty of plot twists." -- Publishers Weekly

"Pam Lewis is the literary equivalent of a forensic scientist. In her compelling second novel, Perfect Family, Lewis pulls the body of a beautiful young woman from a lake, then, layer by suspenseful layer, unpeels and reveals a well-to-do family's secrets, lies, and hidden heartaches. I was riveted." -- Wally Lamb, New York Times bestselling author of She's Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True, and The Hour I First Believed

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