Reading guide for The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

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The Golden State

by Lydia Kiesling

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling X
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michael Kaler
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. What aspects of the novel did you like the most? What did you like the least?
  2. Why did you think the book was given the title The Golden State?
  3. Were there any quotes in the novel that resonated with you?
  4. If you were making this book into a movie, who would you cast in the various roles?
  5. The book's epigram, Home is so sad, is the first line from a Philip Larkin poem. Why do you think the author started her novel with this statement? What do you think is meant here, in the context of the book?  Do you agree?
  6. The author relates the difficulties Daphne has getting her 16-month-old daughter ready in the morning: "…when I took the oatmeal away she started wailing and when I carried her into our room she screamed and stiffened and threw her body back against my arms, a great dramatic backward swan dive with no regard for whatever might lie behind." Do you have children? Does this call to mind any challenges you've faced, especially with your morning routine?
  7. Daphne states, "Engin's primary criticism of me is that whenever he tries to initiate a serious conversation I start crying." Why do you think this is? Do you have a default defense mechanism when dealing with difficult situations?
  8. Daphne has "evil eyes and icons and various other apotropaics" around her bedroom.  Do you have superstitions?  Do you hang or display items of protection in your house?
  9. Daphne's mother tells her to always have a job and "don't ever live on anyone else." What do you think of this advice?  Does she listen?  Do you recall any advice your parents gave you that helped you later in life?
  10. Daphne leaves her job and apartment without seeming to think about it. What do you think drove her to this extreme? Later in the book she blames her breakdown on the deaths of the work-study students whose trip she'd arranged.  Do you think that was truly the reason?  Do you think she'll go back?  What would you do in her shoes? 
  11. "I have the slightest bit of that road-trip feeling, that opening up, the road rising up to meet us, the marginal loosening of cares," Daphne thinks on starting out with Honey. What road trips have you taken?  How did they make you feel at the time, and how do you feel about them now?
  12. Daphne's family is from an area considered high desert. Have you ever spent time in a high desert, and if so, did you enjoy it? 
  13. Daphne expresses her frustration at being unable to spend more time with her daughter after the child's birth, due to restrictive federal policies as well as misinformation provided by the university's HR department. If you're a parent, have you experienced similar challenges? How do you balance motherhood and a career?
  14. What do you think about the immigration policies that have kept Daphne and Elgin apart? Do you think such strict policies are necessary? What would you have done in their position?
  15. When Daphne ponders moving to Turkey to be with her husband she thinks, "It's true that in Turkey there is Erdogan the tyrant sultan and also that there are safety concerns of various kinds but the last incident was the woman from Dagestan who bombed the police station and that was months ago and America is no picnic on that score what with roomfuls of murdered kindergarteners laying in their own blood." Do you believe her comparison is apt? If you live in America, do you think that we see foreign countries as more violent than they are, while not acknowledging the high levels of violence in the USA?
  16. Daphne's neighbor Cindy is a proponent of the State of Jefferson. Had you heard of this movement before reading the book?  If so, in what context?  Do you think those desiring a separate state have a point?
  17. Daphne's life changed after she fell in love with Engin.  She thinks, "I passed the most beautiful summer of my life and at the end it was all clear to me that I had to marry Engin and not get a Ph.D."  Do you think she made the right decision? 
  18. The garage at the house in Altavista is filled with collections and memorabilia.  Do you collect anything?  Do you have physical objects that remind you of those who've died?
  19. Several times over the course of the novel Daphne mentions being able to intuit what Honey is about to do, or when she's truly in pain vs. faking it.  "I pause to feel sad that this store of Honey-based knowledge I have been building up which is so insanely specific to this time and place and person will live and die with the versions of me and her that exist at this moment.  And that Engin is missing his chance to amass this same knowledge, if indeed this knowledge has the same weight for father as for mothers."  Do you think this type of child-specific knowledge is as important to fathers as to mothers?  Is their bond the same?
  20. The lengths Daphne goes to access the Internet is referenced throughout the novel. She thinks, "Maybe the thing really is that now we have these tools there's the expectation that you will always be in touch."  Do you think it's true that we're expected to be always available?  Have you been in a situation where you needed technology but couldn't access it, and if so, how did it make you feel?
  21. One of the things keeping Daphne at her job is the availability of healthcare. How does your ability to access healthcare impact the decision you make, if at all?
  22. Daphne opines, "The worst thing about modern society is that people don't understand that conversations need to be stoked by both parties to keep it going." Do you think this is true?
  23. Daphne runs into old friends and friends of her mother and grandparents when she stays at Altavista.  Do you still live near your hometown? Have you ever returned to your hometown for a visit after moving away, and if so, how did it feel?
  24. Alice tells Daphne, "You're never safe from bad things happening." Daphne finds this depressing. What are your thoughts about this statement?
  25. What do you think the future holds for Daphne and Honey? Where do they go from here?

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