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About The Book

A pitch-perfect, emotionally riveting novel about the fracturing of a marriage and a family: “A gripping debut” (People) from an award-winning young writer with superb storytelling instincts.

Life hasn’t always been perfect for Abe and Cassandra Green, but an afternoon on the San Francisco Bay might be as good as it gets. Abe is a rheumatologist, piloting his coveted new boat. Cassandra is a sculptor, finally gaining modest attention for her art. Their beautiful daughter Elizabeth is heading to Harvard in the fall. Somehow, they’ve made things work. But then, tensions overflow, and they plunge into a terrible fight. In a fit of fury, Abe throws himself off the boat.

“A bittersweet tale of breakup and forgiveness” (O, The Oprah Magazine), The Violet Hour follows a modern family through past and present. As Cassandra, Abe, and Elizabeth navigate the passage of time—the expectations of youth, the concessions of middle age, the headiness of desire, the bitterness of loss—they must come to terms with the fragility of their intimacy, the strange legacies they inherit from their parents, and the kind of people they want to be.

Exquisitely written, The Violet Hour is “a rewarding family saga reminiscent of Anne Tyler’s novels...Hill’s story unfurls from the kind of sensational marital spat that makes you feel better about your own imperfect union…wonderfully witty and assured” (The Washington Post Book World).

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Violet Hour 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.


One summer afternoon, Abe, Cassandra, and their daughter Elizabeth set sail in the family’s new boat. As they’re celebrating Elizabeth’s acceptance to Harvard, a secret is revealed: Cassandra has been unfaithful. Abe leaps from the sailboat, swimming ashore and effectively out of their lives. But when Cassandra’s father dies unexpectedly, the family must come together once again to reconcile the present with the past. In The Violet Hour, Katherine Hill has crafted a transcendent tapestry of love, desire, ambition, and renewal.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. The Violet Hour moves back and forth through time. How did this narrative structure enhance your understanding of the characters and story? How would a chronologically straightforward story be different?
2. The novel is told through numerous viewpoints. How would it be different if, for example, Abe had narrated the PTA fundraiser, or if Eunice had narrated Cassandra’s childhood in the funeral home? How do the author’s choices in this regard influence what we know and presume is true?
3. After her divorce, Cassandra believes she’s learned to make herself independent, while Elizabeth sees her as “cloned, fully Stepford-wived, so determined was she to smile and sublimate herself to the needs of others” (35). At the same time, Cassandra is intimidated by Elizabeth’s adult certainty (55), while Elizabeth feels like a failure. Why do you think this mother and daughter read each other so differently? How do they compare to the other mother/daughter pairs in the novel (Eunice/Cassandra, Eunice/Mary)?
4. What does it mean to Cassandra to be an artist, and how does this meaning change throughout her life, as she moves from dolls to pottery to trees? How does her vocation influence her emotions and the choices that she makes?
5. Abe is a doctor and Elizabeth is training to be one. What are some of the many ways in which the medical profession shapes their characters?
6. Abe sees the sea as “a better way of life” (66). How does his faith in sailing reflect his view of the world? How does it affect his relationships with others?
7. At the school auction, Cassandra gets drunk and flirts with her neighbor Steve (111-113). Why do you think she allows this to happen?
8. In Maryland, Elizabeth begins to feel that she and Kyle are “headed nowhere together, a pair of mismatched carousel animals spinning around and around” (152). What makes her rethink their relationship? Have you ever introduced a partner, or even a friend, to your family, only to realize that one of them—the friend or the family—throws the other into a completely new light?
9. Hurricane Katrina occurs the same week as Howard’s funeral. What significance does this national catastrophe have for the Green family’s story?
10. When Abe’s grandmother dies, it occurs to Cassandra “that Abe had never really described to her how he’d felt when his parents died” (205). What do you think kept Cassandra from asking—or Abe from sharing? What might this suggest about their marriage?
11. In her first year with Abe, Cassandra comes to the conclusion that “A marriage needed mysteries” (209). What do you think she means by this? How does this belief affect her relationship with Abe—for better and for worse?
12. Toward the end of the novel, Cassandra thinks, “Her Abe [would’ve] done anything for her…The man she set sail with that final day did most things in life for himself” (302). Does Abe have a similarly disillusioned sense of Cassandra? How do the selves we present to the world differ from the selves that others see?
13. After the first event at Vince’s gallery, what keeps Cassandra from accepting Abe’s compliments about her work? What draws her to Vince, who also compliments her work?
14. Given all that you’ve read, what really made Abe leap into the bay on that fateful sailing trip at the beginning of the novel? Are he, Cassandra, and Elizabeth better off at the end than at the beginning?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Growing up above a funeral home defined Cassandra’s childhood. Was there an unusual feature of your house—whether in terms of appearance, location, or function—that made your childhood home different from the homes of your friends? Share any details with the group.
2. When Elizabeth, as a child, asks to see the cadavers in her grandparents’ funeral home, her father responds, “But the brain holds on to things the eyes sees—sometimes forever” (28). Did you ever cajole your parents into showing you something you wish you hadn’t seen?
3. Water is everywhere in this novel, from the first sailing scene, to the wedding overlooking New York Harbor, to the river on Abe and Elizabeth’s hike. Take your book club to a waterside location.
4. Elizabeth and Abe reconnect after Howard’s funeral by getting into nature. If there’s a nearby trail, take your group on a short walk, perhaps with picnic supplies, to discuss the book in the great outdoors.

About The Author

Photograph by Matt Karp

Katherine Hill is a graduate of Yale University and holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her writing has been published by AGNIThe BelieverBookforumColorado ReviewThe Common, n+1, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is an assistant editor at Barrelhouse,and lives with her husband in Princeton, New Jersey.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (July 16, 2013)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476710341

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews with the family members in Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You...Elizabeth's relatives are not always well-behaved...[but] their petty grievances are as fun as real grief is devastating. Thanks to Hill’s assured voice, the Fabricants’ occasional flashes of harmony and humor will leave you with the charmed feeling of having seen a rainbow over the Beltway.”

– Elisabeth Egan, The Washington Post Book World

“A gripping debut…”

– Sue Corbett, People

“A bittersweet tale of breakup and forgiveness, this debut novel begins at the end of a marriage and journeys back through time to explore why the relationship slowly frayed.”

– Abbe Wright, O, the Oprah magazine

The Violet Hour succeeds.…The story of this family—at once alien and familiar, pitiable and impressive—is rendered with candor and economy.”

– Derek Askey, Colorado Review

“Hill is particularly capable as a manufacturer of taut, precise imagery, which she most effectively unleashes here as the book’s first plot point takes its turn….Hill is most persuasive as a writer when she defines and explores relentless internal conflicts and divisions.…The Violet Hour is filled with controlled and yet expansive prose.”

– Nathaniel Popkin, Philadelphia Inquirer

“In Hill’s debut, members of a troubled family converge to celebrate a milestone, with unexpected results.…Hill has produced an unusual retrospective of a family torn apart by divorce and infidelity and so keenly affected by the immediate events in their lives that they are only barely aware of what’s transpiring around them.…[A] disturbing story but one that offers a glimmer of hope.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“Hill handles the intimacy of family ties with care and tenderness. Readers who enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom will relate as Hill’s characters similarly and systematically unravel from each other.”

– Booklist

“Katherine Hill’s The Violet Hour reminds us that in every family mistakes are made—and redemption is possible. A wise, engrossing novel of familial love, betrayal, and forgiveness.”

– Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women

"Like Sue Miller and Alice Hoffman, Katherine Hill limns the commonplace dreams and sorrows of the restless middle class. Ranging from post-grad San Francisco in the '70s to post-9/11 Manhattan, The Violet Hour is an old-fashioned family romance."

– Stewart O’Nan, author of Last Night at the Lobster and Emily, Alone

The Violet Hour is an altogether entrancing novel. Katherine Hill’s fresh, intelligent voice and extraordinary skill take an age-old theme—three generations of an unhappy family—and make it original, poignant and luminous. I was sorry when their story ended!”

– Lynne Sharon Schwartz, author of Disturbances in the Field and Two-Part Inventions

“Katherine Hill’s The Violet Hour is a brilliant meditation on the supreme mystery of marriage, haunted family legacies, and the fragility of happiness, all rendered in prose as kinetic and lyric as the sea. A debut that reads more like a master work, The Violet Hour is a revelatory and unforgettable novel.”

– Laura van den Berg, author of What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us

“Katherine Hill’s intensely real characters—members of a family who live in a funeral home—have texture and thickness, and are as aware of their past as of the present moment. Lovable even when they are foolish, they make risky choices while looking straight at hard truths.”

– Alice Mattison, author of When We Argued All Night

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