Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Throughout the story, Amanda seems to be alternately portrayed as either
sinister and mentally unbalanced or as a sad woman who is a victim of
circumstance. What are your feelings about her? Were you mostly sympathetic
to her or turned off by her controlling spirit?
Did you find most of the main players in Drowning Ruth to be complicated
and not easily categorized? Who intrigued you the most?
Do you think the author skillfully built up the suspense of the fateful
night on the lake? Did you guess what would happen?
Ruth and Amandas relationship is one of the most compelling elements of
the novel. At times they are presented in a mother/daughter dynamic, but at
other moments they seem poised as siblings almost, or even as foils to each
other especially when Amanda speaks to us about her own childhood. How do
you think Amanda regarded Ruth? What, in your mind, was the real
significance of their relationship? Did Amanda truly love Ruth?
The lake is a striking backdrop throughout the novel, and most of the
traumatic or profound moments occur there: Mathilde and Clement die there,
Amanda forces Ruth to swim in it, Imogene and Ruth both fall in love upon
it. Do you think the author intended for it to be symbolic of something? If
The complicated and varied relationships between women friends,
sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieceslie at the heart of this
novel. Did any of these relationships, in particular, strike a chord with
Do you feel that Amandas jealousy of her sister was abnormal or just
common sibling rivalry? Why do you think the author juxtaposed their
relationship with Ruth and Imogenes?
Men hover at the edges of the novel. The three main male
charactersCarl, Clement, Arthurthough different, are all ultimately
ineffectual in some sense. Carl leaves, Clement womanizes, Arthur cannot
determine whom he truly loves. Even Amandas father is barely realized.
Why do you think the author created these male characters this way?
The island seems to be a very important metaphor. Both Mathilde and Amanda
become pregnant there, and it is where they retreat to during Amandas
term. She, especially, is preoccupied throughout the novel with this locale.
What does the island represent?
Did you like the continuously shifting narration? What was the overall
effect of this plot device?
Ruth and Imogenes intense friendship commences with the voluntary loss
of Ruths dead, black tooth. Why do you think the author chose such an
unusual, visually graphic scene to mark the unfolding of their intertwined
In the end, does Ruth follow her heart, or is she still under Amandas
control? Does Ruth return home truly of her own volition?
Were the book to continue, do you think the author would have chosen for
Ruth and Arthur to unite? Why or why not? What type of man do you envision
Drowning Ruth was an Oprah Book Club selection. Have you read any other
Oprah picks? If so, how did this compare?
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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