This reading group guide for Straying 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
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Intimate and quietly stunning, Straying
is the story of Alice, a young American raised by a single mother who finds herself in the west of Ireland in the late 1980s, where she meets and marries an Irishman. One summer, a chance encounter with a charismatic playwright leads to an affair that upends her life. Years later, having worked in war zones around the world, and following her mother’s death, Alice returns to Ireland and confronts her past. Straying
is a searing account of passion and ambivalence and a rich exploration of how we define love and desire, family and home.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In the very beginning of the book, Alice immediately admits to having an affair. Why does she share this information right away? What kind of relationship is she trying to establish with the reader?
2. On page 26 Alice says, “For as long as I could remember, there’d been a vague disquiet in me, as if I lived in the shadow of some humiliation whose particulars I could not recall.” What does she mean? How does this revelation explain some of Alice’s actions?
3. What do you think about the structure of the novel? Why does the author switch between past and present?
4. On page 37, Alice says that she remembers impressions, images, and people “who were more interesting as symbols than as individuals.” What does she mean? What does this reveal about her?
5. Alice very much admires and respects her mother, particularly her decision to be a single mother when she got pregnant by a man she didn’t love. How does Alice’s relationship with her mother influence her decisions? What impact does Alice’s father have?
6. On page 74, Eddie tells Alice a story about a man who was having an affair. Why do you think Eddie told Alice this story? Do you think he suspected Alice of having an affair, even though she was still faithful at that time? How do you think he expected Alice to react?
7. What do you make of Alice’s job working in war zones around the world? How does it change your opinion of her? What purpose does Alice’s relationship with her colleague Harry serve?
8. Why do you think Alice decided to cheat, and how does she rationalize her decision? Read and discuss from “I’d wanted to gather him in” on page 116 to “I must’ve thought about little else that summer” on page 117 in which Alice reflects on what she wanted from the affair.
9. Why do you think Molly McCloskey wrote the novel in first person? How would it have been different if written in third person?
10. Why do you think Alice must constantly push boundaries, first with her marriage and then with her relationship with Cauley?
11. How would the novel be different if the narrator were a man cheating on his wife, rather than a woman cheating on her husband? How does the novel engage gender roles? How does it challenge our different expectations and judgments of men and women?
12. Why do you think Eddie showed up at Kevin’s to retrieve Alice? If he already knew she was having an affair, why didn’t he broach the subject sooner?
13. Why do you think Alice wanted to return home and revisit this moment in her life?
14. How does your impression of Alice change throughout the novel? Were you able to understand her motives?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Compare other beloved novels involving extramarital affairs—Desperate Characters
by Paula Fox, Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill, The Forgotten Waltz
by Anne Enright, or Brick Lane
by Monica Ali, for example. What was different or similar about this novel? Why do you think people are interested in reading about affairs?
2. Imagine Staying
is being made into a movie: whom would you cast for the lead roles?