Strange Fits of Passion
About the book:
A turbulent, tragic story of domestic abuse from the bestselling author of The Pilot’s Wife.
Everyone believes that Maureen and Harrold English, two successful New York City journalists, have a happy, stable marriage. It’s the early ’70s and no one discusses or even suspects domestic abuse. But after Maureen suffers another brutal beating, she flees with her infant daughter to a coastal town in Maine. The weeks pass slowly, and just as Maureen settles into her new life and new identity, Harrold reappears, bringing the story to a violent, unforgettable climax. A labyrinth of a tale with an ingenious structure, Strange Fits of Passion is also a powerful portrait of truth and deception.
About the author:
Anita Shreve is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of Fortune’s Rocks, The Pilot’s Wife, The Weight of Water, Resistance, Eden Close, and Where or When. She teaches at Amherst College and lives in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
Q. Why is Maureen attracted to Harrold? How much is he a mentor to her? Can you understand why she marries him? Why do you think she stays with her abusive husband for so long? How much is Maureen’s judgment impaired by the excessive drinking? Does she have a problem with alcohol or is she using it as a shield against the truth? Can you believe that she wouldn’t have told anyone about the abuse? (Keep in mind that this takes place more than twenty-five years ago.)
Q. When she leaves Harrold the first time why didn’t she stay in Chicago with her mother? Is she worried about disappointing her mother or is she too afraid of Harrold? What finally makes her flee?
Q.This novel makes a statement about how well you can really know another person. How well does Mary know herself? Does she change her name to Mary Amesbury to conceal her identity or is she also creating a new one?
Q. Would the people of St. Hilaire have helped her if she didn’t have Caroline? Would she have received help in a big city? Why do the townspeople challenge Mary on her story of the car accident? Does Julia approve or disapprove of Mary’s affair with Jack?
Q. Jack tells Mary that he doesn’t mind giving up his dream of coaching and teaching. Do you believe him? Jack is a man bound by duty, first to his father’s lobster boat, then to his depressed wife. How much is he a product of his time? Of place?
Q. Mary sees her and Jack’s reflection in the window and thinks, "We didn’t look anything like a love affair – rather something homelier, more familiar." Is she in love with him, or does she need him?
Q. Do you think Willis turns on Mary because she rejects him? Willis seems to walk a thin line between right and wrong, did you worry that he might try to hurt her? Why does she allow Willis to stay in her house when she’s clearly uncomfortable with him?
Q. When Caroline has the serious ear infection why doesn’t Mary tell the doctor the truth and ask him to conceal her whereabouts from Harrold? Does she think the doctor won’t understand? Why is she resigned to the fact that her husband will find her?
Q. Mary and Harrold’s colleagues are stunned to find out about the abuse. Do they believe Mary’s story? We find out later that Mary’s former colleagues had thought she was very talented and could have had a bright career. Does Mary recognize her own talents? Was she too honest to "make it" as a journalist? Does she see Helen as the person she was never able to become?
Q. Helen Scofield remembers her father saying, "The reporter’s job is simply to find its shape." Why isn’t it this simple for Helen? Do you think that if a reporter changes a quote to make it sound better that he or she is doing something wrong? Helen admits to being the "storyteller." Can a journalist be a storyteller and still tell the truth? Why does Helen want Caroline to have her notes?
Q. How does Helen’s article compare to Mary’s story? Helen writes about the sex games, which damages Mary’s credibility. Does she really believe that Mary was a willing partner?
Q.Willis tells Helen he wants her to have "all the facts." She relies on Willis as a source even though she knows that Mary rejected his advances. Was this irresponsible reporting or was she trying to cover all the angles of the story? Do "the facts" necessarily represent the whole truth?
Q. Everett tells Helen about the woman with three breasts and emphatically asks her not mention it in her article, yet she does. What does this say about Helen and the media in general?
Q. According to Helen’s article, Mary contradicts herself in the courtroom. Is this because she feels guilty or responsible for her abusive marriage? After her first trial ends in a hung jury, why does she waive her right to a trial by jury? Wouldn’t the women jurors have sympathized with her again? Was this a legal tactic or another act of self-destruction? Do you think Mary was justified in killing Harrold? Do you think Mary would be sentenced to prison today for this crime? How much did the suicide of Jack’s wife hurt her case? Should Mary and Jack feel guilty for her death?
Q. Helen tries to justify her article by explaining to Caroline how it was a different time. Do you agree? How much have times changed? Helen tells Caroline that she believes her mother was not responsible for any part of her victimization. Did she believe this at the time she wrote her article or did she become more aware about domestic violence issues over the years?
Q. Can you forgive Helen for her ambition? Do you think Caroline feels like she deserves her money or does she simply need it? Caroline points out that her mother may have used Helen. Does Caroline know something or is she merely making a point?
Q. This novel raises important issues about the complexity of truth and the difficulty of finding it in the media. Can the truth ever be told from one person’s point of view?