Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Violet Hour includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
One summer afternoon, Abe, Cassandra, and their daughter Elizabeth set sail in the family’s new boat. As they’re celebrating Elizabeth’s acceptance to Harvard, a secret is revealed: Cassandra has been unfaithful. Abe leaps from the sailboat, swimming ashore and effectively out of their lives. But when Cassandra’s father dies unexpectedly, the family must come together once again to reconcile the present with the past. In The Violet Hour, Katherine Hill has crafted a transcendent tapestry of love, desire, ambition, and renewal.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The Violet Hour moves back and forth through time. How did this narrative structure enhance your understanding of the characters and story? How would a chronologically straightforward story be different?
2. The novel is told through numerous viewpoints. How would it be different if, for example, Abe had narrated the PTA fundraiser, or if Eunice had narrated Cassandra’s childhood in the funeral home? How do the author’s choices in this regard influence what we know and presume is true?
3. After her divorce, Cassandra believes she’s learned to make herself independent, while Elizabeth sees her as “cloned, fully Stepford-wived, so determined was she to smile and sublimate herself to the needs of others” (35). At the same time, Cassandra is intimidated by Elizabeth’s adult certainty (55), while Elizabeth feels like a failure. Why do you think this mother and daughter read each other so differently? How do they compare to the other mother/daughter pairs in the novel (Eunice/Cassandra, Eunice/Mary)?
4. What does it mean to Cassandra to be an artist, and how does this meaning change throughout her life, as she moves from dolls to pottery to trees? How does her vocation influence her emotions and the choices that she makes?
5. Abe is a doctor and Elizabeth is training to be one. What are some of the many ways in which the medical profession shapes their characters?
6. Abe sees the sea as “a better way of life” (66). How does his faith in sailing reflect his view of the world? How does it affect his relationships with others?
7. At the school auction, Cassandra gets drunk and flirts with her neighbor Steve (111-113). Why do you think she allows this to happen?
8. In Maryland, Elizabeth begins to feel that she and Kyle are “headed nowhere together, a pair of mismatched carousel animals spinning around and around” (152). What makes her rethink their relationship? Have you ever introduced a partner, or even a friend, to your family, only to realize that one of them—the friend or the family—throws the other into a completely new light?
9. Hurricane Katrina occurs the same week as Howard’s funeral. What significance does this national catastrophe have for the Green family’s story?
10. When Abe’s grandmother dies, it occurs to Cassandra “that Abe had never really described to her how he’d felt when his parents died” (205). What do you think kept Cassandra from asking—or Abe from sharing? What might this suggest about their marriage?
11. In her first year with Abe, Cassandra comes to the conclusion that “A marriage needed mysteries” (209). What do you think she means by this? How does this belief affect her relationship with Abe—for better and for worse?
12. Toward the end of the novel, Cassandra thinks, “Her Abe [would’ve] done anything for her…The man she set sail with that final day did most things in life for himself” (302). Does Abe have a similarly disillusioned sense of Cassandra? How do the selves we present to the world differ from the selves that others see?
13. After the first event at Vince’s gallery, what keeps Cassandra from accepting Abe’s compliments about her work? What draws her to Vince, who also compliments her work?
14. Given all that you’ve read, what really made Abe leap into the bay on that fateful sailing trip at the beginning of the novel? Are he, Cassandra, and Elizabeth better off at the end than at the beginning?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Growing up above a funeral home defined Cassandra’s childhood. Was there an unusual feature of your house—whether in terms of appearance, location, or function—that made your childhood home different from the homes of your friends? Share any details with the group.
2. When Elizabeth, as a child, asks to see the cadavers in her grandparents’ funeral home, her father responds, “But the brain holds on to things the eyes sees—sometimes forever” (28). Did you ever cajole your parents into showing you something you wish you hadn’t seen?
3. Water is everywhere in this novel, from the first sailing scene, to the wedding overlooking New York Harbor, to the river on Abe and Elizabeth’s hike. Take your book club to a waterside location.
4. Elizabeth and Abe reconnect after Howard’s funeral by getting into nature. If there’s a nearby trail, take your group on a short walk, perhaps with picnic supplies, to discuss the book in the great outdoors.