Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Maxine Clair's October Suite. We hope they will provide new insights and ways of looking at this compelling, beautifully written novel.
October legally changes her name when she is seventeen. She views her name change as a way of separating herself from her father and bringing herself closer to her mother. Do you think that names have as much significance as October attributes to them? Should October have heeded Aunt Frances's wishes and not changed her name?
The spirit of Carrie Cooper Brown--October and Vergie's dead mother--hovers over the novel, occasionally speaking directly to the reader, and adding another dimension to the story. At one point she makes an observation about grace and her daughters being open to it. What does it mean to be open to grace? Is October a religious woman? A spiritual woman? In what ways does October seem open to grace? How does it does it unfold in her life?
At another point Carrie marvels at the fact that October, her youngest daughter, has honored her memory in such a permanent way. But Carrie is not alone in her appreciation for being remembered. Do you find the desire to be remembered elsewhere in the story, and what, if anything, does this motif contribute to the story?
After seeing October's apathetic behavior, Vergie fantasizes about having David as her own child. Do Vergie and Gene act in David's best interest when they tell October that they will only take him on the condition that he becomes their son? Is Vergie acting selfishly, or does she truly worry that October cannot care for her child? Do you think that Gene influences Vergie's decision, and if so, how?
After Vergie and Gene tell October the terms on which they will take David, it takes October only a few minutes to give them an answer. Why do you think October agrees to their terms so quickly?
October and Vergie have spent their entire lives trying not to think about their father. Yet, when October realizes that Leon's friend Foots might be her father, she feels compelled to meet him. Is this a sudden change of heart? If so, why? Are Vergie and October wrong to honor him with a visit? Do you think they forgive their father for their mother's death after they meet him?
James Wilson pursues October and then leaves her as soon as he finds out that she's pregnant. He works extra jobs to earn the money for her to have an abortion. Does James have the right to expect October to take his money and have an abortion? Is October wrong to allow James to think that she had the abortion? Should James be told of David's existence? If yes, should he meet his son?
Aunt Maude and Aunt Frances spend decades shielding Vergie and October from the truth about their father's whereabouts. Why do Maude and Frances do this? As the girls grew up, should they have been told that their father was probably alive? Why do you think that Maude and Frances never allow October and Vergie to discuss their mother's death?
Wyandotte County enforces a rule that prevents African American female teachers from getting married. Why would the schools enforce such a rule? What does this say about the way African American sexuality was viewed, if anything?
When October buys her house, she specifically chooses a two-bedroom so that David can have a room there. Is October overstepping her bounds as "aunt" by decorating a room just for David? Is October realistic to think that one day David might come to live with her for good? Do you think it would be more difficult for October to have an empty room waiting for David, or to not have an extra room at all?
When Vergie and Gene finally bring David to visit October, he has serious learning problems. Vergie has known this for many years, but she never consulted October, who is a teacher. Why does Vergie wait so long to ask her sister about David's academic problems? While it wasn't classified as such during the period the book takes place, David's learning problems would now be considered dyslexia. Do you think that David would have such severe problems if October had been able to intervene earlier? Will David be able to surmount his learning problems?
Vergie tells October that she needs to have children of her own, and then she will get over David. Do you think that October would be able to forget that David is her biological son? Does Vergie tell this to October because she believes it, or because she is afraid that October will always think of David as her son?
When October first meets Leon on the way to Cora and Ed's wedding, she finds him boring and self-obsessed. It takes several meetings over the course of many years for October to even consider Leon as more than a friend. Why do you think it takes so long for October and Leon to begin their relationship? Do you think that their relationship is stronger because of all of their previous encounters? Is it true that the best romantic relationships stem from friendship?
At a time when many of the jazz greats were making their mark, Leon, too, writes a composition for his love. October Suite he calls it. How does the idea of a musical suite fit October's life? How does the idea of a suite fit the novel overall?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House.
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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