This reading group guide for The Other Side of Everything includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lauren Doyle Owens. 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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In this suspenseful literary debut, three generations of neighbors in a Florida neighborhood find their lives intersecting in the aftermath of a murder.
Bernard White is a reclusive, curmudgeonly widower. When his neighbor is murdered, he emerges from his solitude to reconnect with his fellow octogenarians.
Amy Unger is an artist and cancer survivor who begins to paint imagined scenes from the murder. But when her paintings prove to be too realistic, her neighbors grow suspicious, and she soon finds herself catching the attention of the police.
And then there’s Maddie Lowe, a teenage waitress whose mother recently abandoned the family. As Maddie struggles to maintain the appearance of normal teenage life, she finds herself drawn to the man the police say is the killer.
As they navigate their increasingly dangerous and tumultuous worlds, Bernard, Amy, and Maddie begin to uncover the connections between them—and the past and present—in a novel that ultimately proves the power of tragedy to spark renewal.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The author opens the novel with a gruesome scene. What details stood out to you and why?
2. What do you think about Amy’s reaction to news about Adel’s death? What does this tell you about her character?
3. Describe Bernard’s general outlook. How does he view his past?
4. What kind of losses are Bernard, Amy, and Maddie dealing with? How does each character cope?
5. How did Amy’s cancer affect her relationship with her husband? Who’s to blame? How would you describe their final conversation before he left for San Juan?
6. During her cancer treatments, Amy avoided a certain activity. What did she do and what sparked her inspiration to begin again? Do you consider the source of her inspiration normal?
7. Bernard attends Adel’s funeral, sees the women gathered there, and thinks, “It always seemed . . . that they had a heavier burden to carry
.” What does this line mean? Given what you know about Bernard, what does this thought say about him?
8. How would you describe Bernard’s feelings for and actions toward Vera? Can you understand his reasoning? Do you think Vera feels the same about him as he does for her? Why or why not?
9. A police detective casually questions Maddie at The Smiling Pig. How would you describe what happens to Maddie’s memory during that scene?
10. After watching Adel’s house for so long, Amy decides to break in. What is she trying to find, and what does she actually see when she’s there? What was your reaction to Amy’s actions in that chapter?
11. Who are the “originals”? What do they devise at their neighborhood meeting, and do you believe this system will be effective?
12. Bernard stays with Maryanne. How does this arrangement begin to change Bernard? What does it make him think about?
13. What do you think about the party scene with Maddie and Nate? Why was it shown to us? How did that scene affect your impression of Nate?
14. Review the scene where Amy begins to paint her captor. How does her impression of this person change? How would you describe the captor?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Think back to when you were Maddie’s age. What were you like? Do you understand her actions with Nate? With Charlie?
2. The characters in The Other Side of Everything
are haunted by their pasts and memories. What continues to haunt you and how do you cope with these feelings?
3. There are many types of transgressions in this novel. Are any forgivable? Which ones would you say are forgivable and which ones are unforgiveable?
4. In reaction to the murders in the neighborhood, Bernard begins to interact with his neighbors, who all seem to lead separate lives now. Try reconnecting with your neighbors and introduce yourself to new ones.Conversation with Lauren Doyle OwensYou did a remarkable job setting up the neighborhood and letting us see all of its mundane activities. But you’re also adept at infusing the setting with a sinister atmosphere. What led you to choose this type of setting?
I had always wanted to tell a story set in a neighborhood, where people who have seemingly nothing in common have to come together in some way. The year 2008 was a devastating one for me personally and for our country at large. The housing crisis hit my neighborhood west of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, particularly hard. As I struggled to cope with my own losses, I started to look around and see loss everywhere. People were being foreclosed on and houses were being abandoned. The sinister details in the novel were lifted right from that time. I don’t think there’s a single detail from the novel that I didn’t observe somewhere. I had the idea to set up a tripod and take pictures of the abandoned houses around here, but I didn’t have the guts to go through with it. Instead, I sat at home and wrote about what I saw.We’d love to know about your writing process behind this book. How long did it take for you to get the story on the page? When you began writing, did you know how the story would end?
The novel took six years from start to finish. I was writing from points of view of the characters in 2009, and later that year, I flew to Austin to produce some artist interviews at Austin City Limits. I plotted the entire novel between the time it took to fly from Fort Lauderdale to Austin. The remaining five years were spent just trying to get the story right.Do you find that there are themes that recur in your writing?
Oh yes. I’ve struggled with depression and loneliness throughout my life, and I think that a lot of my work has been about what it’s like to move through life as a depressed person. At the same time, more recent issues I’ve been grappling with in my personal life—including whether or not to have a child and what it means to be a mother—have colored my work. The challenge, I think, is writing about these things in a way that doesn’t weigh down the story.Your characters are of all different ages. Why did you choose these perspectives? Did you have a hard time writing from the perspective of a teenager? An octogenarian?
There’s a universality between people of different ages, and even different genders, that we forget. We, or maybe the media, put ourselves in different buckets—I’m a woman, I’m a millennial, I’m a Sagittarius—therefore I must think about things a certain way. Underneath all of that, though, I’m a human being, and human beings are remarkably similar. I really think that with a certain amount of empathy and imagination, anyone can put themselves in the lives of others. As a writer, I just have more practice.Memory comes up many times throughout the novel. What’s your fascination with memory?
I think it’s more of a fascination with the past than a fascination with memory. And not even the past so much as the factors that contributed to the worlds and the lives around us. I’m always wondering how did we get here?
or why are we this way?
To answer that, you have to go back to the beginning, or some
beginning. I have a very good memory, so I’m able to go back to see my own defining moments, and I guess being able to see them is helpful as a writer, because I can more easily imagine someone else’s.What were your favorite moments in the novel?
To get home, I drive over the bridge where Maddie lost her virginity. That entire scene—the lights of the airplanes coming in for landing, the slow-moving canal, the force of the cars as they drove past—is something I relive, at least emotionally, each time I’m in the car driving home. It’s almost as if, for me, the ghosts of Maddie and Nate are still under that bridge. What are your reading tastes? What are you reading right now? Do you have a writer you admire?
I read widely, but particularly love literary fiction and memoir. I just read The Fact of a Body
by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich and it really blew me away.What do you think happens to the characters after the end of the book?
I like to think that the characters who come together at the end of the book stay together, that they form a kind of family, that they’re able to be for each other what each one was missing at the beginning of the novel.What’s next? Are you working on anything new?
I’m working on a novel about a trio of women who don’t yet know that they are sisters. Their lives are very different from one another’s, so it explores the choices that women make, and how they live with those choices.