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Greta lives with her friend Sabine in an eighteenth-century bee-infested farmhouse in Hudson, New York, where she works as a transcriptionist for a sex therapist called Om. Greta becomes obsessed with one of his clients, whom she nicknames Big Swiss, a repressed married woman with a history of trauma. At a chance meeting, Greta introduces herself under a fake name. The two feel an almost immediate intimacy, and an enmeshed friendship quickly leads to an intense affair. But Greta can’t bring herself to reveal the truth about her identity . . . and neither of them can seem to escape the events and people of their past.
Exploring themes of mental health and infidelity, sexual stereotypes and romantic obsession, Big Swiss
is a dark, funny love story about what happens when sparks unexpectedly fly. Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Greta signed an NDA when she started working for Om, but she sometimes tells her roommate Sabine about the sessions she transcribes. Why do you think she does this? If you were in Greta’s situation, would you be tempted to discuss information like this with a close friend or partner?
2. When Greta encounters some of Om’s clients in Hudson, she thinks, “They were as familiar as characters from a novel” (page 90), and when she meets Big Swiss, “Greta felt an immediate intimacy, in the same way her favorite podcast hosts sometimes felt like friends” (page 118). What do you think of these kinds of one-sided (also called “parasocial”) relationships in the novel and in your own life? Do you think it’s possible for them to ever develop into mutual ones?
3. “I’m not good at playing the passive female,” Big Swiss tells Om when recounting her traumatic experience with Keith (page 71). Do you think this is true of her character? What about Greta’s?
4. How does Greta handle hearing Flavia reveal personal information that she already knows? Have you ever had to listen to someone tell you something private that you already knew? How did you react?
5. Greta says Flavia is the reason she rediscovered “her own appetite” (page 174). Discuss the connections between desire, obsession, sexual satisfaction, and romantic love in the novel. How does Greta and Flavia’s relationship compare to the relationships they’ve had with men?
6. Discuss the representation of bisexuality and queer identity in the novel. What stereotypes does it explore or dispel? How do Greta and Flavia think about their own sexual identities? About each other’s?
7. Did you notice any generational differences between Flavia (a millennial) and Greta (a Gen Xer)? How do their own opinions about the other’s age impact their relationship?
8. During an infamous dinner party, Luke tells Greta and Flavia to “please stop bickering like . . . sisters,” to which Flavia remarks, “We’re more like mother and daughter” (page 220). Do you agree with either scenario? If the latter, who do you think is the “mother” figure and who is the “daughter”?
9. When Greta apologizes, Flavia tells her: “I don’t accept apologies. Sorry is just something you take off a shelf. It means nothing to me” (page 252). What did you think of this response? Is there something else Greta should do to earn Flavia’s forgiveness?
10. Discuss the presentation of trauma in the novel and the different ways Greta and Flavia deal with what they’ve experienced. Greta references her mother’s suicide as a reason for the decisions she’s made, but Flavia retorts that she would never blame her choices on her traumas. Do you agree with her, or do you think we are conditioned by past events to behave in certain ways? How did the novel’s humor affect your experience reading about these heavy topics?
11. What did you think about the character of Om, and his therapy practice? Did any of his advice or methods seem to help his patients? Revisit his final session in chapter 20; did you think his assessment of trauma and the healing journey was accurate?
12. Discuss the following quote: “Greta was just beginning to understand that human relationships were pure folly, because nothing was ever perfectly mutual. One person always liked or loved the other person a little more than they were liked or loved, and sometimes it was a lot more, and sometimes the tables turned and you found yourself on the other side, but it was never, ever equal, and that was pretty much the only thing you could count on in life” (page 286). Do you agree? How has this dynamic played out in Greta’s relationships with Stacy, Sabine, Flavia, and others?
13. Consider the nonhuman characters in the book—bees and maggots, dogs and donkeys. What do they do for the story, literally as well as metaphorically? Did you have a favorite animal?
14. “We’re both guilty,” Greta tells Flavia. “I signed a confidentiality agreement, but I’m not married
” (page 254). How are the topics of infidelity and ethics explored in the book? By the end, how does each woman feel about the choices she made? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Jen Beagin’s novels Pretend I’m Dead
and Vacuum in the Dark
, which follow a young cleaning woman named Mona on a journey of self-acceptance. How does Mona compare to Greta?
2. Spend some time on the Hudson, New York, tourism website: visithudsonny.com. Does it match how you pictured the town based on the descriptions in the novel?
3. Take an online transcription test or record and transcribe a short snippet of conversation. How did you do? Did the experience change your understanding of the transcription scenes in the novel?