The Gin Closet

The Gin Closet

AS A YOUNG WOMAN, Tilly flees home for the hollow underworld of Nevada, looking for pure souls and finding nothing but bad habits. One day, after Tilly has spent nearly thirty years without a family, drinking herself to the brink of death, her niece Stella—who has been leading her own life of empty promise in New York City—arrives on the doorstep of Tilly’s desert trailer. The Gin Closet unravels the strange and powerful intimacy that forms between them. With an uncanny ear for dialogue and a witty, unflinching candor about sex, love, and power, Leslie Jamison reminds us that no matter how unexpected its turns, the life we’re given is all we have: the cruelties that unhinge us, the beauties that clarify us, the addictions that deform us, those fleeting possibilities of grace that fade as quickly as they come. The Gin Closet marks the debut of a stunning new talent in fiction.
  • Free Press | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439157879 | 
  • February 2010
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Gin Closet includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Leslie Jamison. 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.


The Gin Closet recounts the story of a family stricken by grief, loss, and addictions. Told from the perspective of two narrators—Stella, a young cosmopolite searching for meaning, and Tilly, her estranged alcoholic aunt—the story follows what happens when Stella and Tilly meet after decades of separation, and tracks the unlikely friendship that forms between them. Both women struggle with addictions—Tilly abuses alcohol and Stella is a recovering anorexic. In the midst of their hardships they come to understand what it means to love the family you’re given, no matter the cost.

Questions for Discussion

1. The novel opens with the decline and eventual death of Grandma Lucy, as told from Stella’s point of view. Stella describes her Grandmother’s declining quality of life: “You couldn’t yearn like this unless you’d been lonely for years, practicing” (5). Consider how the sickness and death of Lucy illuminates the see more

About the Author

Leslie Jamison
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Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Los Angeles. She has worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. A graduate of Harvard College and the Iowa’s Workshop, she is currently finishing a doctoral dissertation at Yale. She is the bestselling author of The Empathy Exams, and her work has appeared in Harper’s, Oxford America, A Public Space, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Believer. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.