I Smile Back
(Two Dollar Radio, $15)
1) Laney is preoccupied with aging. She is worried about getting old and unattractive. “What's making her feel so ugly?” (p. 20) Why do you think Laney feels “ugly”?
2) “Funny, she thinks, how the appearance of normalcy is secondary to reality.” (p. 37) Authenticity is an issue Laney deals with throughout the novel. Who is the real Laney? What scene is the most truthful representation of who she is?
3) Why, when she knows it's wrong, doesn't Laney just cancel her tryst with Donny? What does Donny represent to her?
4) Laney masturbates on the floor of her daughter's room as the little girl sleeps. Is this a hostile act? If so, to whom? If not, what was Laney looking for? What did she want to feel?
5) Do you think Laney learned anything in rehab? If so, what?
6) What is the message behind the Pinky Tinkerbink story? What is Laney trying to say to her daughter?
7) When Laney finally has an opportunity to confront her father, why does she hold back? What does Laney learn about herself or her father from that meeting? Why do you think Laney steals the dollhouse piece?
8)Why do you think Laney goes off with Cabana Boy?
9) Why do Eli's nervous ticks upset Laney so much? What do they represent to her?
10) What is it about the piano recital that sets Laney off? Why does she go home and fall prey to cocaine?
11) Do you think Laney goes into the bar looking for trouble? Do you think she regrets what happens?
12)“Finally. Finally she is ugly” (p. 188) Why is Laney relieved to feel ugly?
13) Where do you think Laney goes at the end of the novel? Where do you think she is 6 months from the ending? A year? If she leaves does she come back? Does she have a relationship with her kids or does she simply disappear?
14) Do you think Laney loved her children? Do you think Laney loved Bruce? Do you think Laney is capable of love?
15) Would Laney be content in a different environment, in a different marriage to a different spouse, or is her undoing more deliberate than his?
16) What does Laney get out of her affairs? It's not like she's in love with the men she hooks up with or even gets off sexually, so what's in it for her?
17) At one point I was going to title the book, A Single Act of Kindness. The single act, at least in my mind, was Laney leaving her children. If Laney does indeed leave her children is it an act of kindness in her mind? In thinking about this I also don't understand how, after spending the whole of her adult life trying to understand her father's abandonment, she could abandon her own children?
Notes From the Author to the Bookclub
I think the central question in I Smile Back is this: Is saying you're sorry enough? Step 8 in AA is to make amends and I'm a big believer in AA. That said, after you apologize then what? An admission of guilt is critical to the healing process BUT the consequences linger. Laney Brooks, the central character in I Smile Back, is both victim and perpetrator. She isn't easy to sympathize with. I know that. Even so, I think Laney's issues (although extreme) are common. Who doesn't wonder how their familial legacy lingers, influencing the present? Who doesn't fight, in some way, against that legacy, both physically and emotionally in an effort to transcend that which has built up inside -- to find some sort of true inner freedom.