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The Position

A Novel

About The Book

From the bestselling author of The Wife—Meg Wolitzer’s “hilariously moving, sharply written novel” (USA TODAY), hailed by critics and loved by readers worldwide, with its “dead-on observations about sex, marriage, and the family ties that strangle and bind” (Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Crackling with intelligence and humor, The Position is the masterful story of one extraordinary family at the hilarious height of the sexual revolution—and through the thirty-year hangover that followed.

In 1975, Paul and Roz Mellow write a bestselling Joy of Sex-type book that mortifies their four school-aged children and ultimately changes the shape of the family forever. Thirty years later, as the now dispersed family members argue over whether to reissue the book, we follow the complicated lives of each of the grown children and their conflicts in love, work, marriage, parenting, and, of course, sex—all shadowed by the indelible specter of their highly sexualized parents. Insightful, panoramic, and compulsively readable, The Position is an American original.

Reading Group Guide

Meg Wolitzer
Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Why did Paul and Roz Mellow keep a copy of Pleasuring where they knew the children could, and most likely would, find it? Did they fully understand the consequences of how the book might affect their children, especially 6-year-old Claudia and 8-year-old Dashiell?
2. Roz "had once read a line in a book that she'd never forgotten: Women have sex so they can talk, and men talk so they can have sex" (240). Using examples from the story, discuss the different ways in which men and women view sex, relationships, and the ways in which the two intersect.
3. How does looking at the book -- and seeing their parents in this way -- impact each of the Mellow children? What do their reactions reveal about their individual personalities? When they're re-introduced 28 years later in Chapter 2, is it apparent how the book has affected them even in adulthood?
4. How did growing up on the grounds of a psychiatric institution affect Roz, both physically and emotionally, including the incident with Warren Keyes when she was nine years old?
5. How did Paul and Roz's relationship develop from analyst and patient to lovers? What did they see in one another? What did each one get from the relationship?
6. Why do you suppose the author chose to have Thea starring in a play about Sigmund Freud, the most famous of psychoanalysts, and his patient Dora?
7. Claudia and Michael each take a trip -- Michael to Florida to visit his father and Claudia to their hometown of Wontauket. How do these trips turn out different than Claudia and Michael expected? What motivates Claudia to visit her childhood home on Swarthmore Circle?
8. Claudia says to David, "I wanted to do this film because elementary school was a time when I was happy. I didn't mean for it to have all this pathos. But here it is" (183). Making the film gives Claudia a window into the past. What did she expect to find, and what does she actually discover?
9. Holly's road from adolescence to her early forties has brought her to a place where she never envisioned herself -- the wife of a wealthy doctor living in an affluent Los Angeles suburb. Why did she marry Marcus? Has having a family of her own brought her closer to her parents and siblings or driven her further away?
11. Until John Sunstein confessed his love to Roz, she had always thought of him as "the artist" or "the man behind the easel." What makes her see him in a different light? How does she decide in those few moments in the bathroom that she returns his feelings? If they had met under more traditional circumstances, would they have fallen in love?
12. What is Paul's reaction when he discovers that Roz is having an affair with John Sunstein? Paul "could never figure out what that quiet, inarticulate artist possessed that he lacked, and he could never accept it" (254). What does Roz find in her relationship with Jack that was lacking in her marriage to Paul?
13. At the dinner party to celebrate the anniversary edition of Pleasuring, the Mellow family, with the exception of Holly, is brought together for the first time in many years. What does this scene reveal about the characters? Does it bring closure to a family that was irrevocably changed because of the very book they're celebrating? Why did Paul change his mind about reissuing Pleasuring?
14. The title of the book refers to a sexual position, called Electric Forgiveness, that Paul and Roz Mellow created. Discuss the instances in the story where the position is mentioned, and its significance, including the concluding scene with Claudia and David. Why do you suppose the author chose The Position as the title?
15. In what ways do early experiences with sex affect people's entire lives, and can you think of some other novels in which children are exposed to the world of adult sexuality?

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Meg Wolitzer’s novels include The Female Persuasion; Sleepwalking; This Is Your Life; Surrender, Dorothy; and The Position. She lives in New York City.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (June 13, 2006)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743261807

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Raves and Reviews

"Sly and delicious . . . Her richest and most substantial [novel yet]." -- The Washington Post

"[In this] novel of sexual politics and family farce . . . Wolitzer's comic timing never wavers, and she has an astute grasp of the way one generation's liberation inspires the next generation's pity." -- The New Yorker

"You know families are this funny, you know they are this weird. But never has this realization been such a welcome and entertaining relief." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Painfully funny and brilliantly executed . . . utterly original." -- Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors

"Hilariously moving, sharply written . . . The Position will resonate with anyone who has ever walked in on their parents doing the deed -- and for all of us who have had to accept that our mothers and fathers are normal people with healthy sex drives." -- USA Today

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