It was my first time in a room with seven people who had read my book. It was thrilling to hear them talk about it and I loved answering questions. The host, Cathy, prompted the discussion using the Book Club questions I’d added to the back of the book. See? I can be trusted at your book club.
I wanted to just listen but I couldn’t help participating. Yes, it’s highly autobiographical. No, I’m not “Kacie.” I don’t know where Mac and Rhonda came from, but Brian’s parents are modeled after a friend’s. Yes, Northern Virginia is a circus and I love the scene where Brian finally forces the reader to hate him.
Here’s what we should have talked about – being that we are all grown women, living in the suburbs, having survived the 90s:
Does excessive drinking and drugs in your 20s mean you keep abusing those things into your 30s and 40s?
How much a part of daily life is the party atmosphere Brian and his friends enjoy? How did they pay their bar tabs then? Would they keep drinking like that once they got real jobs and had families? Presumably not, right? We grow out of that phase, don’t we?
A lot of Brian’s perspective over the week is clouded by his use of alcohol and marijuana. He demonstrates a method of coping by altering his state of mind. Numbing the pain. But this is the first five days after Tony’s done this terrible thing. Will Brian continue to use drugs, alcohol, and sex to cope? Can we forgive him for going on a binge in the earliest days of his grief?
How do the suburbs support and even perpetuate the kind of excess Brian demonstrates?
There’s an insularity to suburban life. The purpose of the suburbs is to provide safe (boring) environments in which to raise children. That the Northern Virginia suburbs housed latchkey kids with nothing better to do than get high should not come as a surprise to anyone. We weren’t kept busy by afternoon gap activities. Between coming home from school and parents appearing after work, there was a three-hour frame for all kinds of shenanigans.
It’s likely the same environment exists today for middle and high school students. Only they’re filling it with social media, digital entertainment and, gasp! filming themselves doing destructive things. If you think your kids come home and do their homework until you arrive at 5:30 you’re fooling yourself.
Suburban life is safe in that there is less street traffic than an urban environment. But as long as school lets out before work, there will be the after school gap and what young people do in that gap is pivotal for their development, their maturity, and their dependence or independence. Fill the time with adult-supervised structured activity and they will not develop the skills needed to manage themselves.
It’s interesting to me to hear readers who survived the 90s talk about the book as if Brian will never grow up. Maybe giving the book just five days creates a kind of frozen-in-time Brian, raw from the recent tragedy, and unable to see beyond his own pain. And maybe we all forgot that time is really all we need to grow. Like plants: sunshine, water, and time. There’s no substitute for time.
Have you read After December? What do you think of these Book Club talking points?