His Lovely Wife
About the book:
Elizabeth Dewberry’s complex, surprising novel uses string theory to weave together two women’s lives and explore a culture that celebrates women for their beauty—then exacts a terrible toll.
About the author:
ELIZABETH DEWBERRY has written three previous novels, including Sacrament of Lies. Her plays have been produced in a variety of venues. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband, Robert Olen Butler.
Click here to download a pdf of the reading guide for His Lovely Wife.
1. Discuss the word “lovely” in the novel’s title. What traits does society consider to be lovely in a wife, in terms of physical appearance as well as behavior? What common denominator existed between Diana’s role in Charles’s life and Ellen’s role as Lawrence’s wife?
2. How would you characterize the dynamic between Ellen and her husband? Where do their perceptions of each other differ? How does their dynamic compare to the one between Mart and Eric, and between Charles and Diana?
3. What are your recollections of hearing about Diana’s death? What accounts for the way the general public often feels a personal connection with celebrities?
4. How do you perceive the internal voice Ellen hears? In what ways does Diana’s dialogue both liberate and confine Ellen?
5. What is the male equivalent of the trophy wife? What cultural standards exist for men in such situations? Does society emphasize physical perfection in men as much as in women? How is that perfection defined?
6. Ellen’s autobiographical novel describes life as the child of a beauty queen. In what way did her mother equate traditional beauty with the financial security of an “ideal” husband? Is Lawrence an ideal husband?
7. Why did Ellen’s mother want her daughter to compete in (and win) beauty pageants as a child? What is the purpose of such pageants, both those that feature child contestants and those designed for young women? What is the novel’s answer to Ellen’s mother’s statement that all of life is a beauty pageant?
8. The novel supplies many details about the events surrounding both Ellen’s car wreck and Diana’s. Were these incidents “accidents”? Do you believe that fate or human choices are primarily responsible for such tragedies? Why does Ellen focus on the concept of blame when she and her mother finally discuss Ellen’s father’s death?
9. What does Ellen want from Max at various points in the novel? Does she get what she wants from him? Does he get what he wants from her?
10. Discuss the setting of the novel. For both Diana and Ellen, it’s a world apart from home. What does it represent for lovers? How does its reality measure up to its reputation?
11. How would you resolve the metaphysical questions about the nature of matter and particles, life and afterlife, to which Ellen seeks answers? How and why does the fact that Lawrence is a renowned physicist affect Ellen’s search for answers to these questions, and how does her search affect her marriage?
12. How did the structure of the novel, blending present-tense descriptions with past-tense flashbacks, affect your reading of it? How would you characterize Ellen’s storytelling voice?
13. Besides Katie, who else is subject to a kind of ventriloquism in the novel? What message was Ellen’s mother left with after she lost her faith in religion?
14. Why does Ellen so dislike the picture Max takes? What image of herself does Ellen hope Max can provide? Are pictures the best way to represent reality?
If you are interested in having Elizabeth Dewberry join your book group’s discussion of His Lovely Wife by phone, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.