Reading guide for The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman

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The Pursuit of Alice Thrift

by Elinor Lipman

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2003, 288 pages
    Apr 2004, 304 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift opens with the announcement of a marriage and its ultimate failure. Does knowing the outcome spoil the narrative journey in any way?

  2. Alice always expresses herself in literal and clinical terms. How does the author maintain a comedic tone while her narrator is, essentially, tactless and devoid of humor?

  3. No one around Alice can understand what she sees in Ray Russo. How much of that universal disapproval is based on class differences? What facts did the author slip onto Ray's figurative résumé to prejudice his case?

  4. Reviewers have noted Elinor Lipman's "fondness for inviting peripheral characters along with their numerous subplots and intrigues to have their say." Which characters in The Pursuit of Alice Thrift best exemplify this hallmark?

  5. Could The Pursuit of Alice Thrift have been set anywhere, or is there something intrinsically Bostonian about the story and its characters?

  6. The author has said that this novel is, first and foremost, "about friendship, and being rescued by it." Leo Frawley might be described as the novel's nurturer, while Sylvie Schwartz functions as its tough guy. Do you think that the author set out to challenge the readers' gender expectations, or was she simply trying to create original characters?

  7. Except for her long hair and unfashionable clothes, Alice is never described physically. How do you picture her? Did she change in your mind's eye as she grew more comfortable inside her own skin?

  8. Dialogue is all-important in Elinor Lipman's novels. Is its most important role that of advancing the plot, developing the characters, or entertaining the reader?

  9. Should Ray Russo be described as the novel's villain, or might he be, after all, Alice's catalyst and crucible?

  10. If you could see into their futures, what will Alice, Sylvie, and Leo be doing ten years from now?

  11. Novelist Carol Shields, in her biography of Jane Austen, observed, "...(M)others are essential in her fiction. They are the engines that push the action forward, even when they fail to establish much in the way of maternal warmth." How does Mrs. Thrift fit the Austen model? And how much influence does Mrs. Frawley still exert over her full-grown, independent son?

  12. Alice confides to Dr. Shaw's companion, Jackie, "I'm confused by the fact that we had, to the best of my knowledge, in the vernacular, great sex." Why is she baffled? Is it purely her lack of experience, or is it back to the sociology of Ray and Alice--that by all other standards they would be judged incompatible?

  13. In Shakespeare's plays one can rely on comedies ending in marriage. The two weddings in The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, however, are not endings in any conventional sense. What purpose do they serve in the education and evolution of Alice?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. 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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