Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Lake House includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Marci Nault. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In The Lake House, Heather Bregman, a young travel writer who is reeling from ending her engagement to her fiancé and agent, purchases a quaint lakefront house in rural Nagog, Massachusetts, with hopes of creating a home for herself. Unbeknownst to Heather, her dream house is part of a tight-knit community of people all over the age of seventy who are none too happy about an outsider moving into their neighborhood. She finds comfort in Molly, a Nagog native who has spent her entire life living within the community, and in Victoria, a former movie star who is returning to Nagog to repair relationships damaged by a lifetime of leaving town whenever tragedy strikes. Bridging an almost fifty-year age difference, Heather and Victoria form an inseparable bond as they both attempt to overcome demons from their pasts and earn the community’s trust and respect. And despite the reluctance of Heather’s new neighbors and Victoria’s childhood friends, the two women eventually find acceptance, love, and a true home.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Both Victoria and Heather are trying to earn the Nagog community’s acceptance in order to make a home in the town. If you were Heather, would you need to make friends with your new neighbors before you truly felt at home? Do you think this is unique to a small town like Nagog?
2. When Victoria returns to Nagog, she is met with hostility from her childhood friends. Do you think their anger is justified? Does Victoria deserve a second chance from them? Explain why or why not.
3. As the story unfolds, we learn that Victoria’s old friends are not only bitter about her infamous sudden departures from Nagog but also with her arrogant and aloof behavior when she actually was in town. What do you think upset each character more? If you were them, what would upset you the most?
4. Victoria describes Molly as “brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla [. . .] homemade bread cooling on the kitchen windowsill” (p. 2). Is this description accurate? How would you describe Molly? Have you met a Molly figure in your own life?
5. While Victoria and Heather had successful careers, both women are struggling to find fulfillment in their relationships and friendships. Do you think it’s possible, as Molly tells Victoria, to have both a prolific career and a happy home life? How would you achieve that balance?
6. Molly takes it upon herself to reunite Victoria with her estranged group of friends, but her efforts only caused fighting and more tension. Do you think it was right of Molly to try to force reconciliation? What would it take for Agatha and Sarah to accept Victoria again?
7. During one of their arguments, Victoria tells Sarah that “life is a hassle only if you make it one” (p. 104). Given all Victoria has lived through and lost, do you think she believes her own statement? Do you agree with it?
8. Heather’s new neighbors reject her arrival partly because it is indicative of a greater generational change. While their situation is unique to the novel, do you think that fear is universal for older generations? Why or why not?
9. After trying to ignore her new neighbors’ sabotage efforts, Heather finally erupts at them—a response she later regrets. How would you have handled the situation? Was Heather’s anger justified?
10. In an effort to earn the community’s acceptance and make amends for her outburst, Heather starts planting love letters in her mailbox for Evelyn to find. This act earns her more respect than her previous attempts to ignore the negativity. Why? Do you think, as Heather wonders, that “she had found a way into the community by caring about their lives” (p. 356)?
11. Heather separates herself from her condescending and manipulative fiancé twice, first by ending the engagement and then by firing him as her agent. Which decision seemed more difficult for her? Did you think Charlie would remain her agent after she ended their relationship?
12. It took almost the entire novel for romantic relationships to blossom for Victoria and Heather, and both the women and their men had to overcome personal obstacles in order to be happy. Despite those obstacles, did you suspect that Victoria and Joseph, and Heather and Tommy, would ultimately get together in the end?
13. When Victoria becomes irate at Heather’s return to Boston, Molly responds by saying, “You’re angry because Heather forces you to face the mistakes you feel you’ve made” (p. 344). Do you agree with Molly’s assessment? Explain why or why not.
14. Molly’s health crisis and subsequent recovery ultimately brings the community closer together, including Heather and Victoria. How different would the ending have been if Molly hadn’t survived? Would it have drastically changed the other characters’ relationships?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Channel your inner Molly! Prepare your favorite comfort food or baked good to enjoy during your book club discussion.
2. Much of The Lake House is about revisiting past memories, good and bad. Take your own trip down memory lane by bringing a childhood relic to or sharing a favorite memory with your book club.
3. Finishing The Lake House was part of author Marci Nault’s life project, 101 Dreams Come True. Learn more about Marci and her inspirational project by visiting the website at: www.101dreamscometrue.com.
4. While the Nagog in The Lake House is fictional, there is a Village of Nagog Woods in Acton, Massachusetts. Do a little research on Acton and the real Nagog, and have your book club discuss whether they share any similarities with the story’s town.
A Conversation with Marci Nault
The Lake House primarily follows Victoria and Heather, two women in different stages of life who have successful careers but are ultimately searching for more. What was your inspiration for these characters? Did you always plan to have such a large generational gap between them?
The idea for this novel came from a nighttime dream where I found the house I’d always wanted but when I moved in I realized everyone was over the age of seventy. When I woke, I knew I needed to write the story. So, yes, I always intended for the women to have a large generational gap.
I never really thought about what inspired me to write these characters. I think that some of the ideas came from my emotions and life, but for the most part the characters grabbed hold and took me on a journey. It’s almost as if I met them in person (though they were only my imagination) and they told me their stories. Victoria had a way of waking me in the middle of the night to talk. I spent months writing her character at four in the morning. I loved hearing her story, but I hated those months of insomnia. I remember waking up at eleven in the morning with my head on my desk and I had typed pages of jjjjkkkkk. Heather started off being a character I would never want to spend time with. This story was originally a comedy, but it turns out I’m not that funny. Heather was ultramodern and a party girl, and the elderly people, determined to get rid of her in order to keep their way of life, wreaked havoc on her home. As I matured as a writer, and as my characters spoke to me, a whole new plot came to life. The story became more about the demons Victoria faced. Then Heather showed herself to be a young woman who thinks she needs success more than anything but in reality she needs to find a way home. Their friendship became the pivotal healer in both their lives. I wanted to make these women strong and independent, but with a need for softness in their lives—a safe place to land where they found the love they’ve always needed. The loneliness that you see Heather and Victoria experience was very similar to how I felt the first years I lived in California. I felt out of place and without a home, and in some ways, creating Nagog gave me comfort.
There is an array of characters in The Lake House, from gentle Molly to womanizing Thomas. Which character was the most fun to create? Do you identify with one character in particular? T
homas was absolutely the most fun to write. Creating his scenes always made me laugh. I love Molly and she reminds me of my greatgrandmother who always enveloped me in a soft hug of bosom and belly. But I created a special bond with Victoria.
I can’t relate to Victoria’s loss except through what she shared with me (and I know I’m talking about her as if she were real, but sometimes characters feel that way) though in some ways I relate to her need for a bigger life and her fear that if she went home she’d stay safe. Living in California, I’ve been torn between the life I’ve chosen and missing my family in Massachusetts. I get to travel the world and I choose to go after my biggest dreams instead of settling into family life. I have a distinct desire to explore everything this world has to offer and yet a need to be wrapped in the comfort of home. There are times when I wonder if I’ll regret my choices later in life because I’ve spent so much time away from my family. Thank goodness for Skype, which allows me to feel like I’m at a family dinner every Wednesday night.
While Nagog is a fictional town, did you base it on a real-life counterpart, such as the Village of Nagog Woods in Acton, Massachusetts?
There’s a wildlife sanctuary in Acton with a path that leads to Nagog Pond. When I lived in that area, I would walk through the woods until I reached the dock. It’s a wonderful place to get lost in thought. In a place devoid of houses and roads, I found serenity sitting on the dock watching bright dragonflies flit around me while the fish jumped out of the lake to catch bugs. I was so excited when I saw the cover of the book because it replicated this place beautifully.
Littleton town center is exactly as I described in the book. When you drive through town you’re transported back to a simpler time— well, except for the large Mobil station sign on the corner. When I was a child we’d drive out to Littleton and go to Kimball’s Ice Cream. The lines were so long that sometimes it took an hour to get a sundae, but on a hot summer night it was worth the drive and the wait for the homemade treats. I think fond memories of eating ice cream under the stars in Littleton, Massachusetts, is why I chose this setting.
It took Molly’s health issues for Victoria to finally face the loss of Annabelle. Did you always intend for Molly to have a cataclysmic collapse? Were there any other plot twists you considered to help Victoria to come to terms with her granddaughter’s loss?
I was actually shocked when Molly collapsed. Writers are sometimes just along for the ride and we don’t know what’s going to happen until it actually does. I was walking on a quiet country road in a snow- storm in Lenox, Massachusetts, when I saw Molly’s collapse and I knew that it had to be part of the story. Molly was Victoria’s only real touchstone to Nagog. As Victoria tried to move forward after Annabelle’s death she was distraught with guilt. I think many times in life when we haven’t dealt with an issue our lives seem to replay the same emotions no matter what the circumstances. Molly collapsing was a way to bring out Victoria’s pain and the blame she felt for her granddaughter’s death. This scene came to me in one of the first drafts, so I never considered another plot twist.
What is your favorite scene in the book, and why?
I cry every time I read the scene where Joseph and Victoria are on the beach having dinner. The tears always start when she gets up and sits in his lap, asking him to make love, knowing he’s nervous, and says to him, “Relax, I’ll wait.” They’re the same words he said to her as a teenager and I think it shows the tenderness, love, and desire they’ve had for each other their whole lives.
Another favorite is the one where Tommy and Heather are sitting on her front deck drinking root beer floats. I mean what woman hasn’t fantasized about a nice summer evening, stargazing and flirting with an incredibly hot guy. But I also love this scene because it brings out these characters’ personalities beyond their personal problems.
Victoria and Heather head to Nagog to find a sense of belonging, and all the characters in The Lake House have spent their lives either searching for or nurturing their homes and families. Do you have a place like Nagog that you consider your true home?
My grandfather built my grandparents’ home when my mother was a young girl. When I was a kid, my family would go to their house every Sunday afternoon and on holidays. I would play with my brother and my eight cousins, racing up and down the hallway, playing wiffle ball in the backyard, and before we left getting hugs and kisses from everyone. Before I moved to California, I lived around the corner from my grandparents’ house and many afternoons I would stop in unannounced. We’d sit at the kitchen table eating homemade cookies while my grandparents shared stories of their youth. My grandfather passed away before the publication of this book, but my grandmother still lives in the house with my mother as her caretaker. When I go home to Massachusetts I visit my grandfather’s sugar shack in the backyard where he would make maple syrup, boiling the tree sap down to a dark amber color. I can still taste his blueberry pancakes drenched in maple syrup.
There are multiple motifs in The Lake House, including loss, friendship, and acceptance. What do you consider to be the main theme(s) of the novel?
I feel the main theme is the human need for a place to belong— for home. Our world is so fast-paced these days that it seems like time is slipping away as everything speeds up. I think with our technology and the ability to travel and communicate with the world through the web, we’ve lost a little of what Nagog represents. I wanted to create a story that brought people back to that need for human connection and a slower pace of life that has a deeper quality to it. I wanted to show that there’s an intrinsic need to be part of a family, to feel accepted for exactly who you are, and that no matter the age, this need doesn’t change.
If you could choose one message or lesson for your readers to take away from The Lake House, what would it be?
I want people to realize that our elders are important in our lives. We can learn from their stories and their life experience. We tend to care so much about youth and fear age that we don’t want to see our elderly. When I was researching this book I spoke to women from the World War II generation, and I have to say that they told the best stories. I was surprised by their spunk and liveliness in spite of illnesses or injuries. I think we’ve lost something in our lives by dismissing older people because they might not keep up with modern technology or are possibly set in their ways. We have this idea that life is over after a certain age, but in truth many people fall in love, travel the world, or take up new sports in their final years.
Also, sometimes what we think we want in life is the exact opposite of what we really need. If Heather had moved into a community with all young people she probably would’ve continued to be uncertain of herself, always trying to keep up with what she believed she should be. By moving into a place where everyone was older, she was able to gain confidence and find what her heart desired.
The Lake House is your first published novel, and according to your 101 Dreams Come True website, it took years to complete. What was the most difficult part of the writing process for you? What was the most enjoyable?
I’ve never been a patient person. The saying, “God grant me patience now!” has always been my motto. Writing takes incredible patience. This book took many revisions, in part because there were so many characters and it spanned many years with numerous flashbacks, and also in part because I was a new writer learning the craft. Each time I did a revision I wanted to finish it as quickly as possible, but writing doesn’t work that way. The characters speak when they’re ready. Sometimes I have no choice but to work around the clock and at other times I stare at the television hoping my emotional and mental state will fire up.
Then there’s the waiting while your agent or editor read what you’ve written. I signed with Foundry Literary and Media with Yfat Reiss Gendel and I thought that I would be published within months. But Yfat was only going to shop my book when she felt it was perfect and when she felt she could match me with the best house and editor. This took years and I woke most mornings wondering if my dream would ever come true.
But there’s something magical about finding a storyline or figuring out a plot. I feel fulfilled when a story is buzzing in my brain. I love getting to know my characters and seeing the world through their eyes: I laugh, fall in love, cry, and get ticked off with them. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to write and share my stories with people.
Now that The Lake House is finished, what is next on your 101 dreams list? Do you have any plans for future novels?
I’ve already begun my second novel. It’s going to be a busy year as The Lake House makes its way to publication and I try to pursue as many of the dreams on my list that I can. I’m already taking tango lessons, launching a new bridal company, and planning to play on a trapeze and bungee jump. I’m going to travel through the canyons of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, and overseas. All the while I intend to keep writing, salsa dancing, and figure skating.