Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
"This is one of those wonderful novels that treats
the mother-daughter relationship for what it is - part
minefield, part love nest."
- Pat Conroy
Liza Nelson's debut novel tells the story of Godiva Blue, an artist, single
mother, and self-proclaimed visionary, who believes she has found a haven for
herself and her daughter, Dylan, in the backwaters of northwest Florida in the
mid-eighties. A refugee of the late sixties, Godiva revels in a self-reliant
existence that allows her free reign of her eccentricities.
But Godiva, who has buried pieces of her past, discovers that she cannot
handpick the parts of her life that she would prefer to box away. On a casual
trip to the post office, she glances at the FBI most wanted poster and
recognizes the face of the man with whom she conceived Dylan while attending an
antiwar rally sixteen years earlier. Meanwhile, a combination of pride and
chance keep Godiva from recognizing that fifteen-year-old Dylan is chafing under
her mother's overwhelming personality. When Dylan discovers the poster, which
Godiva has taken and hidden in a rare moment of self-doubt, she begins to build
a fantasy centered on reuniting with a father she has never met, setting her - and
Godiva's - course.
Beginning with Godiva's point of view, then alternating throughout the novel
with Dylan's perspective, Playing Botticelli offers the frank and funny
juxtaposition of a mother's vision of the world with her daughter's reality.
Through their individual voices, Nelson movingly explores motherhood and
daughterhood, the ties that bind as well as those that must bend and even break.
In many mother-daughter stories, the reader's sympathy, as well as the
author's, is weighted ultimately toward one or the other. As the reader, did
you find Godiva and Dylan equally sympathetic? Does the author seem to favor
one or another?
In discussing her first novel, Liza Nelson has said, "Whether we love
them or hate them, obey them or rebel against them, we are, like Dylan Blue,
in a permanent state of reaction to our parents." What clues does
Godiva share about her relationship with her own mother? How does Godiva's
mothering change, and remain the same, when her own daughter begins to rebel
While Dylan and Godava are both fully developed protagonists, they see
each other in limited ways. How do the roles of "mother" and
"daughter" limit these characters perception of each other and of
By the standards of the "nice ladies" of Esmeralda, Godiva's
language, particularly in the first twenty pages, might be considered
"coarse." How does her voice affect a reader? What about the
story's more lyrical passages?
Does Dylan sound her age, or do you ever notice her voice sounding older
or younger than her years? At certain points throughout the novel, she
catches herself sounding like Godiva. Is this a sign of her growing maturity
or does it reveal something else?
How do men fit into the lives of the novel's female characters? What is it
about Joe Rainey that so attracts Godiva? Would she have been as drawn to
David Balboa if they were to meet as adults? Are the men (and boys) in the
Dylan's encounter with Randall "Spider" Gervais parallels
Godiva's brief affair with Hank seventeen years earlier. What do their
experiences reveal about the way sexual adventures and romantic
relationships have changed or remained constant over time?
How does Dylan's fantasy of being adopted by Reverend and Mrs. Braselton
connect with her desire to meet the father she's never known?
David Balboa never owns up to being Dylan's father. As the reader, do you
think he was? Why does or doesn't his physical paternity actually matter?
Why does Godiva feel such a need to be in control at the beginning of the
novel? Is it connected to her being a single parent, or more basic to her
This novel explores many forms of friendship. What attracts one character
to another? What are the similarities and differences between Godiva's
friendship with Louise Culpepper and Dylan's friendship with Cass? What
different bonds does Godiva form while visiting the hospital, and Dylan
while on the road?
What will life be like for Godiva and Dylan once Dylan returns home?
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