Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
ISBN: 978-0-7710-2327-9 (0-7710-2327-8)
Pub Date: September 21, 2010
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1. Jean’s family seems to value practicality to the exclusion of all else. How does Jean’s love of the beautiful and the exquisite conflict with her family’s values? Are beauty and practicality at odds with each other, or is there room for both? Do you think beauty can exist despite, or in the midst of, life’s bleak or tragic circumstances?
2. Discuss the irony of Jean’s family members being part of the justice system. In what ways do Andrew Sr. and Jr.’s way of policing differ from Welland’s? Do you think Welland would be an effective chief were he given the chance?
3. Why is Marjorie’s occupation as a veterinarian significant? What role do Marjorie’s values play in Jean’s upbringing and her reaction to tragic events? Why do you think Marjorie was so oblivious to her daughter’s sensibilities?
4. “It is impossible for anything beautiful to last” . Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Is beauty fleeting?
5. Discuss the symbolism of Jean’s ceramic leaves and the significance of the fact that she’s an artist.
6. The point of Jean’s “last poem” to her friends is to eliminate the suffering that comes with age and illness. Is suffering part of being human? Are her acts really ones of altruism and mercy? Do you think Jean is a good daughter and good friend?
7. How is Cheryl a foil to all of Jean’s other friends? Do you think Jean successfully makes amends? Why do you think the need for forgiveness is a motivating factor for Jean?
8. Why does Jean not feel a sense of betrayal or outrage at Milt’s infidelity? Do you think it was inevitable?
9. “People had no tolerance for difference. Even in one’s own family. Maybe especially there” . Do you agree or disagree with this statement? How is difference treated in Jean’s family?
10. What does Jeff Birdy represent to Dorothy? To Jean? What does each of their reactions to the outing at the lake suggest about each person’s character?
11. “Men just didn’t make strong, lasting friendships the way women did. They had no awareness of themselves as part of a community, of being woven into something greater than themselves. Compared to women, men just floated unconnected through life like helium balloons lost on the wind” . What are your thoughts on this statement? Had this story been one about male friendships, how might the outcome have been different?
12. “There was no middle ground for a woman; in the eyes of men she was like a dial with three positions: nurturing, pliant…or hard” . Do you think women are still viewed in one of those three ways in today’s society?
13. “You couldn’t have delicacy and truth, or delightfulness and truth. Because truth did not come bundled with anything but brutality” . What are your thoughts on this statement? Is it possible to have both delicacy or delightfulness and truth?
14. How does Fran challenge Jean’s idea of friendship?
15. In the end, does Jean in fact embrace practicality? Or does beauty win out? Or neither?
16. How are Jean’s concerns a manifestation of today’s obsession with youthfulness? In what ways are Jean’s concerns valid or invalid? What do you sense is the author’s position on the realities of aging?
17. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines satire as “a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.” In what ways is Practical Jean a work of satire?
18. The author leaves us with a twist at the end. Did that twist bring a different perspective to how you read the story?
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