Six years ago, Polly Birdswelldrinking and deeply unhappymade a decision that changed her life forever. Believing she could spare her young daughter a legacy of self-destruction, she left her husband and child and moved north to a coastal town in Maine. There, close to Bride Island, the beloved family retreat she considers her true home, she set about getting sober and remaking her life. Now Polly desperately wants seven-year-old Monroe back and is determined to proveto herself especiallyshe’s a stable and loving mother. At the same time, a sudden decision to sell Bride Island unleashes a wave of family greed that endangers the island’s future. As Polly and her siblings try to claim ownership of what they love, they discover some things can never truly be owned, and Polly must again ask herself what she’s willing to relinquish. Beautifully written and emotionally complex, Bride Island is a poignant debut novel about love, motherhood, and the haunting and sometimes conflicting pulls of family and the places that shape us.
Plume, 9780452288348, 288pp.
Publication Date: June 26, 2007
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
The novel begins during one of Monroe’s summer visits to Bride Island. Why is this visit different for Polly? Why do you think she decides at this time that she wants to have custody of her daughter? What in her life has changed? What in her life hasn’t changed? What do you think motivated her decision to finally seek custody?
Polly thought “marriage would be an end, a container. But it wasn’t a house I stepped into, it was only a gate I passed through” (p. 20). What does Polly mean by this? What were her expectations of marriage and motherhood? In what ways did her expectations fail her? In what ways did she, herself, fail?
Discuss the marriages in the book: Elena and Roger; Caitlin and Herbert; Dan and Chloe; and Russ and Melanie. Are all these relationships dysfunctional? Does Polly ever see a happy marriage? How do these relationships impact her own life and her own views on love?
When Polly is first tempted to kiss Steven, she thinks, “I remind myself that I have to be careful, that I need to protect Steven as much as myself” (p.47). Why does Polly need to be careful? In the end, is she careful? In what ways does she lead a careless life? In what ways does she try to protect herself and those she loves? Is she successful?
How does Polly view Chloe and Elena as mothers? How does she see her own mother? Do the other mothers whom she comes in contact with make her want to be a mother, or do they make her question her own abilities to be a good mother? Discuss the role of motherhood in this novel. How do the mothers in this novel help or hinder their children?
Polly ran away from her husband and small child. In what ways has she grown since then? In what ways is her life still out of control? Do you think her family creates more problems in her life, or do you think they want the best for her? In what ways do the Birdswells sabotage each other’s happiness? Why do you think this is?
Why does Polly go to see Wally? Do you think she really intends to sue for custody of Monroe? Why or why not? What leads her to sleep with Wally? What other dangerous behaviors does Polly engage in throughout the novel?
Why does Polly begin drinking again? What is she trying to escape from? Do you think Polly is responsible enough to be a full-time parent to Monroe when her sobriety is so tenuous?
When Polly needs to get sober, she goes to Bride Island. Why? What does the island represent to her? In what ways does she find solace and comfort there? In what ways is returning to the island a masochistic act?
How does death affect the Birdswell family? How does Herbert’s death affect them? Roger’s death? The deaths of their childhood? Why do they continue to be haunted by the ghosts of their past? In what ways does each of these deaths change them?
Discuss each of the Birdswell siblings. How do they grow throughout the novel? Do you think their relationships with one another improve? What factors contribute to this? How does life pull them apart and bring them together?
What do you think of Polly’s relationship with Colin? What was their relationship like when he was alive? Has it changed since he died? Do you think it’s possible that Colin let himself drown? Why or why not? In what ways does Colin’s death—and life—influence Polly’s life? Do you think she will ever let Colin go?
In what ways is Russ a destructive force in the Birdswell family? What do you think motivates him? How do his decisions affect them all? Caitlin tells Polly that she gave Russ the island because he needed it more than Polly. Do you think that’s true? How are Polly’s needs different from Russ’s in respect to the island? Who do you think stands to gain more from its ownership?
How does Roger’s death serve as a reality-check for the entire Birdswell family? Do you think he committed suicide? Why?
Why do you think Dan agrees to go on the river trip with Polly? Discuss the river trip. What changes for both Polly and Dan during the trip? What do they learn about each other?
The portions of the novel that take place on Bride Island are written in present tense, while the rest of the novel is written in past tense. Why do you think that is? What is the effect of this device? In what way is Polly’s present life on the island?
How is Polly ultimately redeemed at the end of the novel? Were you satisfied with the arrangement she and Dan made in regards to Monroe’s visits? Do you think Polly is satisfied? Why or why not?