AfterEllen.com Book Club: “Bodies of Water”

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T. Greenwood’s Bodies of Water kicked off the 2014 AfterEllen.com Book Club with a bang: a romantic, engrossing heartbreaker of a novel, participation on our Goodreads page was robust and often fascinating. Even when we disagreed with each other, it was done respectfully and in a way that only enhanced the overall discussion, proving once again how awesome you book clubbers are. Inspired by some of the topics that were brought up on Goodreads, here are some questions for all of us to jump in on. Only read on if you’ve finished the whole book!

1. There was some lively conversation regarding Eva, including our feelings about her and her own feelings towards Billie.
Many said that it was hard to truly discern the depth of Eva’s feelings until the very end. Did she feel as strongly as Billie did? Or was she just trying to escape an awful, abusive relationship with Ted? Book clubber Toni put it very well:

“I felt like she was disconnected, or mirage-like, made up of bits and pieces that seemed slightly less than a whole earthy picture. However, as I thought about it, it seemed fitting as Eva was not only told through through the eyes of Billie, but told through those eyes decades after the events transpired. In that sense, it seemed right that Eva had a certain dream-like quality to her.”

Some, however, went beyond just doubting Eva’s feelings to being frustrated with her actions, viewing her as “weak” for not leaving Ted earlier, and also feeling it was strange that she never contacted Billie in all those many, many years between the accident and lying on her death bed. At the same time, escaping an abusive, hyper-controlling relationship is much, much easier said than done. And the reasons why she never contacted Billie could boil down to a complex, heavy mixture of grief and guilt. But I think Greenwood purposely builds it up so we could never really know her reasons. What are your feelings about Eva?

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2. Speaking of Ted: what horrible act of his was the most horrible? We already hated him when he beat his wife and was generally an atrocious human being. But then when he became a DOG KILLER? Oh, hell no, Ted. Hell. No.

3. Thinking about the novel as a whole, was it a beautifully wrought love story, or a tale full of over-the-top melodrama? There are shades of gray here, of course, and I think a lot of readers thought both were true at points, to different degrees. There certainly was a constant foreboding and a lot of terrible, awful, no-good things that occurred one after another, sometimes to an overwhelming degree. For me, this was true near the end: a lifetime estrangement and THREE CHILDREN dead? For crying out loud, woman! Some also questioned whether it was necessary (or, too easy) for BOTH husbands to be raging alcoholics.

However, sometimes history and real life IS dramatic, especially when thinking about the fact that Greenwood has said the novel was inspired by a true family story. While the drama and heartache irritated some, it simply enhanced the devastating impact of the novel on others. Where did you fall on the spectrum?

4. Not so much a question here, but a necessary comment: Let’s take a moment to all say, once again, how grateful we are to live in 2014. While the repressive, stifling, heartbreaking world of 1960s suburbs that was so wonderfully and painfully depicted in Bodies of Water didn’t surprise anyone, it’s always good—and necessary—to be reminded of how far we’ve come, even as we fight for the lengths we still have to go, a point that was brought home in the book so perfectly when present day Billie observes the lesbian couple in the security line at the airport. As book clubber Ali eloquently said:

“[The book] was such a painful reminder that if I had been born just two generations ago, that’s probably the life I would have led. It’s terrifying to think about. Today, many of us (but sadly not all) are able to live our lives the way we want to. Together. Openly. As ourselves. It destroys me to think about how all those closeted men and women suffered.”

Reader L.A. said that this is what sticks with her: “How grateful I am for the shoulders I stand on, and how much I owe the next generation.” For reals, y’all.

5. What else stood out to you? What did you love? What did you hate? What filled you with rage? What made you cry? If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this book provoked feels, a lot of them, one way or the other. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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