Georgia "Peachy" Archer always thought she was happy with her choices in life: quitting college, marrying young, raising two boys in the same small town where she grew up. But just as Peachy's life is beginning to settle into a careful routine, her sister's life begins to dangerously unravel.
Beth Archer chose a different life: fancy apartment in Manhattan, fancy friends, making lots of money. She's been on her own since she was a teenager, and she's still on her own, outgrowing dress styles and boyfriends faster than Peachy can inherit them. But on a visit home one weekend, Beth upends everything Peachy thought she knew about being happy.
In the tradition of Jennifer Weiner and Melissa Bank, The Almost Archer Sisters is a refreshingly honest portrait of sisterhood, motherhood, and female mayhem in its many states of grievance, grace, and forgiveness.
Reading Group Guide
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Group Discussion Questions 1. The Almost Archer Sisters is written entirely in Peachy's first-person perspective. Do you trust Peachy's narration of the events in the novel? Are there specific events that you question? For example, how might Beth have told the story of the abortion differently? Of the discovery of Nell's suicide? 2. On the first page of the novel, Peachy describes herself as "unremarkable," "kind," and, perhaps most significantly, as a "stayer." What do you think are the benefits of being a "stayer" like Peachy, or a "leaver" like Beth? What did you think about Peachy's perception of herself in the novel overall? Does she like herself? Do you like her? Why or why not? 3. When Peachy is telling the story of Beth's teenage years, she observes, "I had experienced adolescence largely through Beth, much the way I like to think she'd later experience adulthood through me." (34) In fact, Peachy repeatedly emphasizes her own "adulthood" and Beth's "adolescence" in the novel. Do you agree that Peachy is the most "adult" character in the novel? What aspects of Peachy's character are more "adolescent" than Beth's? 4. In a particularly dramatic moment in the novel, Peachy has an argument at the U.S.-Canadian border with her father, Lou, about Beth's adultery. Peachy, furious with her father for defending Beth, tells him, "I didn't take my sadness out on the whole fucking planet." Lou responds, "That's right, Peachy. You don't. You're lucky. But because Beth does, we have to try to love her more." (128) Do you agree with Lou? Do you think Lou is a good father? Does the novel offer a definitive judgment on good and bad parenting? If so, what is it? 5. On page 67, Peachy says, "I've never envied my prettier,smarter, funnier, skinnier, richer sister. Her uncertainty drained even me." Despite this observation, several of Peachy's thoughts and actions seem dominated by her sense of competition with her sister; perhaps the most vivid example is on page 102, when Peachy considers making love with her husband: "Once he had it in his mind, he was like a snowplow in his single-minded pursuit of sex....I had wanted Beth to overhear a variation of this later that night....I wanted her to know that, despite my complaints, I had made all the right decisions about my life..." Do you think Peachy's portrayal of Beth's judgment of her choice is fair, or is it merely a projection of her own doubts? Were you sympathetic to Peachy's insecurity about what Beth thinks, or frustrated by it? Why? 6. On page 66, Peachy says about her marriage to Beau: "I know now we had just begun the mysterious process of growing apart, something that used to baffle me about other couples. I used to wonder how, after seven, eight years together do you possibly 'grow apart'? And please can you show me how to do it?" What do you think of Beau and Peachy's marriage? Do you think Peachy bears any responsibility for Beau's cheating with Beth? What do you think happens to the marriage after the novel ends? 7. Sam's epilepsy is a major controlling force in Peachy's life. On page 19, she declares, "Life was all Sam....It was hard to think of anything but his ceaseless metabolism." In what ways did dealing with Sam's epilepsy affect Peachy's understanding of Beth? Of herself? 8. When Peachy decides not to pursue a career in social work, ostensibly to take care of Sam, she says, "Because I believed I was needed at home, Beau and Lou believed it, too. But no matter how I couched my excuse, Beth wasn't buying any of it." (26) Two-thirds of the way through the novel, Peachy describes Beth as "a woman who never, ever dropped her guard for anyone, except for maybe me." (163) Are Peachy and Beth the closest characters in the novel? Do they know each other best? 9. The novel often focuses on the theme of outsider and insider status -- who belongs and who doesn't belong in a certain place or time. For example, when Peachy returns home with her boys the morning after finding Beth and Beau having sex, she has a sudden vision of Beth as Beau's wife, and reflects: "Maybe this was all a big misunderstanding, I thought. Maybe they were the ones who had gotten married all those years ago and I was the one just stopping by." (116) What are some other examples in the novel of Peachy feeling like an outsider in her own life? Do you think she creates that feeling for herself, or is it a result of her circumstances? Does she overcome that feeling by the end of the novel? 10. When Peachy decides to go to New York without Beth, she calls her and goes into an astonishing, climactic litany of her duties as a wife and mother: "Before you leave for Detroit, make a lunch for Beau. No meat. The fridge is broken at the shop. His thermos is in the dishwasher. Washer's still broken. There's four loads of laundry already separated in the basement. Throw them in the trunk." (The entire speech can be found on pages 122-123.) In many ways, this is Peachy's first true moment of self-assertion in the novel. Do you find it pathetic, as Peachy herself does ("Jesus, it sounds like my life sucks") or triumphant? What did you think of the novel's portrayal of the life of a stay-at-home mother? 11. Upon her arrival in New York City, Peachy says, "I felt young and dumb, and suddenly I wanted a mother, any mother, to wrap me in a shock blanket and take me home." Where else does the theme of the absent mother appear in the novel? (A particularly beautiful passage where Peachy describes the effect of her mother's suicide can be found on page 120: "And they can't shake it off.") How does Nell's death affect Peachy's own motherhood? How do you think it affects Beth's interaction with her nephews? 12. While spending time with Jake and Sam at the park, Peachy observes Jake's behavior and says, "I suddenly caught a glimpse of what a little asshole he might become at twenty or thirty, when he was grown up and hopefully some nice woman's problem." (113) Did you find Peachy's periodic matter-of-fact assessment of her children jarring or realistic? Did it make you more or less sympathetic to her as a character? Why? 13. Although Peachy is tempted, she ultimately decides not to invite Marcus up to the apartment after their date. Were you disappointed or relieved by her decision? Do you think Marcus's attraction to Peachy was feigned or genuine? 14. Did you like the way the novel ended, with brief snapshots of the future, or would you have preferred to be left in the dark? Why? Reading Group Activities 1. Using inspiration from PeachyÕs date with Marcus, make the meeting an indulgent and slightly fancier affair than usual. Ask all of your guests to wear their favorite dresses (like PeachyÕs Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress) to the meeting; serve posh hors dÕoeuvres and white wine for refreshments. You can even dim the lights of your living room to create the Òmoody and intelligentÓ lighting that Peachy notices in the club with Marcus. 2. Before she became pregnant with Sam, Peachy dreamt of becoming a social worker. Your group can live a day in the missed life of Peachy by organizing a day of volunteering at a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or, like Peachy, with special-needs children. You can find volunteering opportunities in your area at the Web site http://redcross.volunteermatch.org/.
Besides being executive producer of Canada's Lifesize TV, Lisa Gabriele has worked at the CBC as a producer, writer, radio researcher, and reporter. Gabriele's work has appeared in Vice Magazine and The Washington Post, among others, and she's a frequent contributor to Nerve.com. She lives in Toronto's Little Italy.