It All Comes Back to You

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Yet another novel that must bounce back and forth between the present in an Alabama assisted living center and the past. Early in the novel there is a great sentiment: "A love story can be described but it's truly known to only two people. They share the first accidental brush of fingertips, every sigh and private joke. They dance to the same music in their hearts for a lifetime." (Pg. 6) Oddly our next book club selection, "Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe", also takes place in Alabama.

Within the last seven years I've seen both my mother and my mother-in-law reach the end of their journey in a nursing home. I loved Ronni's outlook on nursing elderly - "the kindness, the wisdom, the sheer friendliness and gratitude of those old people" made her "feel needed" by those who are "thirsty for the smallest kindness". (Pg. 36) If only there were more nurses who held on to that outlook.

Despite these beautiful sentiments this book has some major flaws. With less than 80 pages to go everything seemed to have fallen apart and i cared very little about two out of three situations even being fixed. I'm generally not so disconnected from the story.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 3

Religion: 2

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 4

Traditional: 4

Sex - the first page includes a woman yelling about vines growing in her "vaginny" - yes, it's the body part you think it is. A reference to Kait's hookup with Kyle the night before. (Pg. 12) "Bored penises" and a potato in a hoo-hah. (Pg. 13) A girl's first time in the backseat. (Pg. 24-25) A boy puts his hand up a girl's skirt while they kiss in public. (Pg. 97) A young couple - one month before their wedding - significantly suggestive. (Pg. 104) No details / implied like the closing of the door on The Bachelor. (Pg. 117, Pg. 225, and Pg. 264)

Religion - Sam is Jewish. There are jokes about Jews (Pg. 46) and an earlier reference to two kids wanting to convert after seeing a bar/t mitzvah. Parents of a young couple of different faiths do not want their children in a relationship.

Gruesome - nothing unusual or remarkable

Suspense - very little

Morality - The author admits many scenes were based on true-life anecdotes. I'm annoyed to think that females still get jealous of the pretty ones even in old age with the reference to the Cool Kids Table (pg. 14). Violet is from a time when people were genuinely nice. However, she did do several things against her parent's wishes. Ronni is a very nice modern character.

Traditional - An unmarried couple has sex several times, including one time when their relationship was quite on the rocks. (Pg. 225) In both current and past there were several instances of committed but unmarried couples having sex. There are no references to homosexual characters.

By page 41 I thought I had figured out te obvious that Ronni was Violet's long-lost daughter. But then I realized the age wouldn't be right. I thought maybe Ronni was her granddaughter. Turns out the novel wasn't quite so cliche. There are a couple of author-written spoilers though. Like on page 5 we read that old Violet sits with Johnny and Sam at the "Cool Kids Table" at Fairfield. So then when we read about young Johnny's accident we know he'll survive.

One thing that was not predictable, not even understandable, was Rick. I'm all for romance but Rick just has so MANY red flags - age, fast driver, speaks ill of his ex, he admits he was not a model husband, he investigated Ronni, he assumed she'd spend the night at his lake house on their first date. I spent most of the book wondering if the author intended for him to be a bright red flag or if she actually thought he was an okay guy. Also troubling was that we were kept out of the loop on the beginning of their courtship. In Ch. 13 Ronni reveals Rick didn't leave her - she left him, it just took her a long time to realize. I assumed talking about not returning his calls after the abrupt 2 a.m. ending to their first date meant there was no second date. But then we hear they'd been out several more times. How did she get over her anger, etc? When Rick told Ronni he had to tell her something and got serious and then said Victoria left Professor Gasbag - I got confused with another book I was reading and thought it was a reference to a show they watched. They'd been off the pages for so long I'd almost forgotten about the character. I also don't equate "gasbag" to someone who talks a lot - I think of it more as someone with flatulence. Rick was definitely supportive of Ronni writing the novel, but at one point he starts talking about it like their project and their novel and it just didn't seem right for him to assume that much ownership. I mean, I laugh when I think that people were upset because they thought Bella and Edward had an unhealthy relationship. If this book were as popular as Twilight I hope there would be much more outrage.

Discussion Questions

Violet was at Fairfield because, "The man she'd adored for more than fifty years - her biggest secret - was in extended care" there. (Pg. 5) Who did you think the man was? Johnny? Sam? Chet? Who was your choice? There were comments that the man's family was upset - what did you think had happened when he died? Discuss how your ideas changed throughout the story.

Which story did you like better - Ronni's or Violet's?

What do the songs that frame Violet's first time signify? (Nat King Cole - I Love You for Sentimental Reasons and Tex Williams - Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette))

Ronni felt bad that she would inherit the money and not Violet's unknown daughter. (Pg. 40)

Would you have felt bad?

Did you believe Violet when she told her mom she was pregnant with Johnny's baby at the end of Ch. 4?

In Ch. 9 Ronni was a little suspicious that Rick was so attracted to her. Were you suspicious? What did you think was his motive for pursuing her? What was the significance of Rick driving so fast on their first date? Ronni had wanted to prepare for the date by losing five pounds, highlighting her hair, getting new jeans and de-pimpling her chin. What would you do before a first date?

Sam questioned his parents trip to New York. (Pg. 103) What did that make you suspect?

Rick told Ronni it was creepy that Sam took extra pictures of Violet and kept them. She told him to stop thinking like a cop. Yet he was creepy about investigating Ronni. Who was creepier?

Why did we not hear about the abusive parts of Violet's story until after Ronni had finished writing the book?

Would you have stayed with Tolly to protect a daughter you never knew? (Ch. 18)

Suddenly page 146 includes two idioms and an allusion although they are not very common. Discuss what these mean: a) more effective than a horse head b) "The Song of the Old Man" c) certainly number one with a bullet Did you understand the joke on Pg. 186 "you mean my remit done collapsed"? On Pg. 255 Duke writes, "...drinking in flirtatious flattery and teasing each man like she was Scarlett with Tarleton twins at the barbecue." It seems like it would've been simpler to just end the allusion with Scarlett (O'Hara) but adding the Tarleton twins at the barbecue makes it extra specific. Does the specificity hurt or help your enjoyment of the story? On Pg. 277 Rick says, "Roll, Le Tide". What does that reference?

After Ronni met Deanna (Violet's daughter) there were two dedication-type lines of text on one single page. Why where they there? Who were they for? (Pg. 163)

What did Chet mean when he told Violet she should know what happened by the last name (Harris) of his wife? (Pg. 168)

What did you think about Rick's ex calling Ronni (end Ch. 27)? What was most concerning? Was it strange that Victoria kept getting Ronni's name wrong?

At the end of Ch. 33 a grown CeeCee makes it seem like young Chet chose to stay behind when his mom left with Ceecee. We'd been told differently earlier in the book. Which version did you believe?

The irony of Rick's combined first and last name was not pointed out until late in the book. When did you catch on that Rick O'Shea sounds like ricochet? Did the name provide any additional insight into his character? Have you encountered any ironic names in your life?

Did you think that Chet had pushed Tolly down the stairs?

Violet didn't ever tell Sam about their daughter. She thought about it when they were at Fairfield but decided he was too fragile. (Pg. 255) What do you think? Should she have told him?

Ronni said she learns something, even a small something, from everyone she meets. (Pg. 257) Do you?

Discuss your reactions to the revelations in the letter in Ch. 37. Discuss Ronni and Rick's reactions.

Violet's past story starts on Pg. 17 with the sentence "Johnny pulled his daddy's shiny black DeSoto to the curb in front of Violet's house." At the end of the book, Ronni gains new information and sits down to revise the story. "The first thing [she] did was change the opening sentence of Violet's first chapter to: 'Johnny pulled his daddy's shiny new black DeSoto to the curb in front of Violet's house.' " Other than the word "new", the sentences are identical. Are we to understand that the story we'd been reading interspersed throughout the novel was the finalized copy that Ronni submitted. Or was the word "new" meant to indicate a significant change?

Deanna doesn't want to know what is in the book before she reads it and experiences it for herself.

How is this book similar to "The Help"?

Was Mel's gift to Ronni appropriate? How did you feel about the connection he revealed between Ronni's adoptive parents and Violet? (Pg. 281-282)

Was Rick's gift, at the end, (Pg. 283), what you expected it to be? What happens next for Ronni?

Theme Ideas

Serve Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches, Barbecue chips and Diet Coke like Ronni ate poolside after reading through Violet's notes for two hours. (Pg. 10)

Get pedicures like Violet and Ronni at the end of Ch. 3.

Serve ribs and Coors Light like Rick ate on their first date. (Pg. 85)

Serve "chicken and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans and cheese grits" with "Fresh peach cobbler for dessert" and sweet tea like Sam and Violet had for lunch at Mary Mac's in Atlanta. Serve Southern comfort food like in Ch. 25 at Mary Mac's: fried chicken, turkey and dressing, baked chicken and gravy, country fried steak, chicken and dumplings, roast pork, honey glazed ham, cheese grits, mac & cheese. serve small cups of collard greens and mini corn muffins like first-time diners received.

Serve "biscuits and bagels" in honor of Sam and Violet. (Pg. 101)

Serve brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts with Diet Coke like Ronni brought Rick in bed. (Pg. 117)

Serve the list Violet had ready for the Junior League. (Ch. 16, Pg. 129) "crackers, cheese ball, crab dip, mixed nuts, fruit salad, chicken salad, potato salad, deviled eggs, yeast rolls, centerpiece, napkins, plates, forks, crystal, sweet tea, wine, Cokes and Tabs ...dessert....lemon icebox pies"

Serve what Violet's mom did when Violet went home to recover. (Ch. 20, Pg. 154) "fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, gravy, corn, sliced tomatoes and green beans"