Akin to Alice McDermott, Regina McBride has crafted a gem that explores exile and memory, and the ways in which passion transcends time and distance. She tries to remember her mother's voice and the pitch and treble of it passes through her; the rhythm of it so clear that for a moment they are...connected by frail strings. So begins The Land of Women, and we are swept into Fiona O'Faolain's last summer in Ireland, the season of her burgeoning sexuality. It is a time, too, when mother and daughter step toward friendship among the voluminous gowns they make for local brides. Yet that giddy summer also delivers betrayal. Fiona's journey from the shame that ended her girlhood takes her to Santa Fe and to Carlos Aragon, a restorer of antiquities, whose ancestry is mysteriously linked to hers. As he explores their pasts with the precision of an artisan, Fiona must face her excruciating memory. In The Land of Women the past lives in the present, and physical and emotional geography touch.
Reading Group Guide The Land of Women Discussion Points 1. Consider the language in the first paragraph. What do you learn about the characters and about the story? 2. Look at the opening quote, "Begin a voyage across the clear sea, / If you would reach the Land of Women." Recount the story of the Land of Women. What does it mean to you? Discuss whether it's a man's fantasy. Why do you think Regina McBride uses it here for her title? 3. What are your early impressions of Fiona? Think about her life story and discuss what kind of person she is. How does her relationship with her mother define her? 4. What are your impressions of Jane? What kind of relationship do mother and daughter have? Consider the openness of their relationship, and discuss which one is more maternal. 5. What is significant about the story of "the bog girl"? What was she holding in her hands? Why does the story fascinate Fiona? Do you think there is a connection, symbolic or otherwise, among "the bog girl," the orphanage, and Fiona. 6. Discuss McBride's use of memory. For example, consider the smell of Jane on the first page, Fiona's abandonment when Jane left to be with Ronan in Chapter 2, and Fiona's tactile feeling of sex in Chapter 15 -- "It amazes her, how love remains, hiding in her skin, flooding up from the cells..." How do these memories inform and enhance the story? Share some of your memories that bubble up from nowhere when you smell, hear, or see something unrelated. How does reading about the memories of others stir your own? 7. Were you surprised at the historic Irish/Spanish intermingling? Why is Fiona attracted to Carlos? Discuss Fiona's first impression of him as he "calmly ministers to the battered figure" of a girl from a sunken ship. Could that also describe Fiona? What is symbolic about the small statue, considering, for example, that there are Celtic knots on the bodice of the figure's dress? 8. Why is Carlos fascinated by the tale of the Land of Women? Why is he attracted to Fiona? Discuss the fact that his ancestor claimed to have visited the Land of Women and the "coincidence" that Fiona is Irish. When she and Carlos are alone in the basement of the antique shop, Fiona says of the rain, "It's like the sea air...has crossed a continent to find me." What does this mean? 9. If you know the Odyssey, how does it relate to the tale of the Land of Women? What relevance does it have to this story? 10. Consider the last paragraph of Chapter 4, "She gets up...visible on the overhanging cliff." What does the image represent? How do the various components of the picture incorporate critical elements of the story? If you recall other photographs throughout the book, how are they used to illuminate and deepen the scenes where they appear? 11. What do you make of the Giantess -- the wedding dress that Jane kept? Why couldn't Jane part with it? What does it represent? What is the history of the dress, and what is the symbolism of its end? 12. How does sewing connect Jane and Fiona? Discuss the suitability of sewing as both mother and daughter's avocation for this story. Why is dressmaking thought of as "inseparable...from womanliness" (last paragraph of Chapter 5)? What are some of the things that sewing metaphorically represents? Look at and discuss the description of the dresses in Chapter 12, "each dress...carried and laid like invalids across backseats. And the wedding gown laid out...as if in a dead faint." 13. What is Fiona looking for when she goes to Carlos's shop in Chapter 8? Discuss the paragraph "In a glass box...held in suspension." What are its different levels of meaning? Consider what is going on when Carlos brings Fiona to his house and he reads his relative's diary to Fiona. How does McBride convey the sensuality and attraction between them? When they have sex, what does it mean that Fiona is "reclaiming the skelligs and western cliffs of Ireland. The beaches and the rocky points, all feel, at this moment, inseparable from her?" 14. How does McBride describe Fiona's sexual awakening? Is Michael real or imaginary? Share your reaction to the Mayday celebration of Beltane. What does it mean? What forces Fiona to leave her mother, and Ireland? 15. The dresses inspire the men in Fiona's and Jane's lives. Upon seeing the Giantess, Michael says, "It's desire fuels such a creation. It's passion." Carlos reveres Fiona's dresses, calling them her "avatars" ...the beautiful monuments to her unlived lives. What do you make of Michael's and Carlos's reactions? What do they see in the dresses that gives them more insight into these women? 16. Why does it take Carlos's prompting for Fiona to open her shop? Do you think the shop becomes the Land of Women? 17. What would your answer be to Fiona's unasked question near the book's end, "Is it about geography, she wonders, the places where myth and reality touch. How do you search out a myth? Where does it live?" Is this the central question of The Land of Women? Discuss whether or not you think McBride has successfully answered this question with this story, and why.