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Interesting Women

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About The Book

From the acclaimed author of Red Island House, Andrea Lee’s brilliant, outrageous collection of short stories confronts identity, desire, colliding cultures, and self-discovery.

In vivid prose infused with wicked irony, award-winning author Andrea Lee takes us on a dazzling international journey into the hearts and minds of a number of extraordinary women—intelligent, cosmopolitan, and fiercely independent—who, with wit and style, grapple with questions of identity in an increasingly connected world where everyone has become, in some way, a foreigner.

In “The Birthday Present,” a seemingly conventional American wife explores the wilder shores of marital devotion by giving her Italian husband an outrageous gift. “Winter Barley” is the account, alternately lyrical and perverse, of the brief love affair in Scotland between an elderly European prince and a thoroughly modern New England beauty half his age. And in the collection’s title story, “Interesting Women,” a woman on vacation in Thailand reflects with wry detachment on the confessional relationships that spring up between women (“another day, another soul laid bare”), before falling into one herself, which culminates in a hilarious and absurd odyssey through the jungle.

Lee’s beautifully crafted stories offer a rare combination: a sensual evocation of the moment, and profound insight into the underlying struggles—of gender, race, and class—that continue to shape our world. Critically acclaimed when it was first published, this collection is ready to be embraced by a new generation of readers.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Interesting Women includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Award-winning author of Red Island House Andrea Lee takes us on a dazzling international journey in this winning collection. From Milan to Madagascar, we meet intelligent, cosmopolitan, and fiercely independent women—who, with wit and style, grapple with questions of identity in an increasingly connected world where everyone has become, in some way, a foreigner.

Discussion Questions

1. In “The Birthday Present,” Ariel’s specific type of beauty and mannerisms (“crisp serviceability”) are seen as a “major flaw.” How does her knowledge of the way she’s perceived contribute to her power?

2. On page 8, Ariel’s mother encourages her to be “a little bit slutty” in order to hold her husband’s interest. How do the women in this story perceive the men around them?

3. From Italy to Madagascar, many of the women in these stories are American born, but because of work or marriage, end up moving to new countries. What do you think the author is trying to show with this pattern?

4. On page 31, Merope says of Robin that “after five years in Italy she hasn’t yet understood the mixture of playfulness and deep conservatism in Italian men.” What do you think this means about the author’s impression of Italian men?

5. Many of the men in these stories are unfaithful to their wives and girlfriends. What do you think of the contrast between the philandering men and the relatively committed women?

6. In “Anthropology,” a woman accidentally offends some of her mixed-race family members by referring to them as “black” in an article she writes. Discuss the dynamics at play here—what is her cousin’s point of view and her own perspective?

7. Longing is a central theme in Interesting Women. For example, in “Un Petit d’un Petit,” one woman desires for something more with another woman—an attraction that persists for decades. What are other instances of longing in these stories? Who is doing the longing and what do they wish for?

8. At multiple points in these stories, Andrea Lee takes care to point out racism (e.g., in “Interesting Women”: “The hotel grounds are kept secure at night by dogs trained to bark only at Thai faces”). How does this add to the viewpoint of each woman’s experience?

9. On page 126, the mother asks herself: “Am I becoming an embittered woman of a certain age, maddened at the sight of romantic couples, and driven into serial episodes of pathetic self-revelation as my daughter flowers into maidenhood?” What do you think brings her to this line of questioning, and does any of this align with your perception of her character?

10. The story “The Pulpit,” is a bit of an outlier from the rest of the collection. What is the significance of this story of young love?

11. Marriage and its discontents are a theme of many of these stories. How do women use marriage to their advantage, and what do they gain (or lose) from it?

Enhance Your Book Club

Supplemental reading and research:

1. Explore Andrea Lee’s other books: the memoir Russian Journal and the novels Sarah Phillips, Red Island House, and Lost Hearts in Italy.

2. Read Andrea Lee’s interview with the New Yorker on cross-cultural encounters: https://www.newyorker.com/books/this-week-in-fiction/andrea-lee-06-10-19. How does her perspective here inform what you read in Interesting Women?

3. Many of these stories are set in Milan. As you read through the stories, keep track of the different places mentioned (the bars, the streets, the plazas) and look them up online to see if these places still exist. Would you like to visit them someday?

About The Author

Photograph by Daniela Foresto

Andrea Lee is the author of five books, including the National Book Award–nominated memoir Russian Journal, the novels Red Island House, Lost Hearts in Italy and Sarah Phillips, and the story collection Interesting Women. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, she has written for The New York Times MagazineVogue, W, and The New York Times Book Review. Born in Philadelphia, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University and now lives in Italy.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (March 23, 2021)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982179502

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