ELEANOR HART had made a brilliant marriage in New York, but it ended in a scandalous divorce and thirty days in Sierra Tucson rehab. Now she finds that, despite feminist lip service, she will still need a husband to be socially complete. A woman’s sexual reputation matters, and so does her family name. Ellie must navigate the treacherous social terrain where old money meets new: charitable benefits and tequila body shots, inherited diamonds and viper-bite lip piercings, country house weekends and sexting. She finds that her beauty is a powerful tool in this world, but it has its limitations, even liabilities. Through one misstep after another, Ellie mishandles her second act. Her options narrow, her future prospects contract, until she faces a desperate choice.
With a keen eye for the perfect detail and a heart big enough to embrace those she observes, Claire McMillan has written an assured and revelatory debut novel about class, gender, and the timeless conundrum of femininity.
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Read an Excerpt
I’m a native Clevelander. I went east to school, as we do. And I married the loveliest man from Charleston, South Carolina, and convinced him to move back to Cleveland and start a family with me, as Clevelanders do. Nothing is more usual than Clevelanders of a certain ilk leaving, seeing the world, and then dragging a spouse back to settle down. My husband, Jim, calls himself in jest an import—used to vary the breeding stock.
And variety is needed here. I’ve known most of my Cleveland friends since we were infants, since crawling...see more
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Reading Group Guide
Cleveland, like many rust belt cities at the dawn of the twentieth century, was an industrial juggernaut fueled by coal, steel, and shipping on the Great Lakes. The wealth from this commerce set up a society of leading civic families. Generations later, these original family names are still Cleveland’s elite, bonded together through an unspoken code of behavior and a web of interwoven relationships. When failed iconoclast Ellie Hart returns to her hometown after divorce and scandal, she challenges this cosseted group’s priorities, morals, and expectations. In this modern retelling of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, feminism, friendship, and the unwritten laws of society are braided together and showcased in this beautifully descriptive, inquisitive novel about a woman trying to change her fate.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In parts of this novel, there is first-person narration from an unnamed woman: a wife, friend, and mother-to-be. In other parts there is a third-pers see more