Book club questions: If You Have to Ask

Last week I was delighted to discuss (actually, listen to others discuss) If You Have to Ask, as the featured author at a local book club. While it was invigorating to hear smart, thoughtful women discuss the characters and their (often not-so-smart) choices, it was also nerve-wracking. It takes a solid stomach to put your work out there, as most authors and artists agree. Luckily someone brought some pinot.

Here are the questions we discussed, below. I was also asked if the book is autobiographical. The short answer is no (which is ultimately the long answer, too). But of course, all writers borrow from life. Trying to parse that is a losing battle though.

Warning! There are a couple spoilers here…

  • Jill and Delia met in a women’s studies course and share similar values. Would you describe them as feminists? If so, do either of their actions in the novel conflict with their values, in your opinion?
  • Jill seems to know that her relationship with Jacob isn’t working. Yet she continues their relationship, on his terms, for much of the novel. Why?
  • Do you think this would be a very different story if the characters were in midlife, rather than their early twenties?
  • What kind of futures do you imagine for the characters? In addition to Jill and Jacob, you may want to think about Delia, Marcus and Elena.
  • What do you think the title, If You Have to Ask, means?
  • Do you think that Jacob loves Jill? Can you imagine them succeeding in a relationship? What would have to happen to make it work?
  • It can be difficult to talk about certain topics, like abortion. Why? Can you think of books and movies that explore abortion or another difficult hot topic in a way you’ve appreciated?
  • Jill is a competent, engaged teacher and friend with strong opinions. How do you explain her continuing confusion and passivity in her love life?
  • Once Jill decides to propose to Jacob, how does she change? Or is it his rejection that changes her?
  • If you had to select 10 key words for this book, so that it could be discovered by readers who would connect with it most, what would they be?
  • Often, the happy ending in a so-called women’s books is love and marriage. What is the happy ending here? In other words, what is Jill’s biggest accomplishment as a person?
  • What role does the “sisterhood” among women play in this novel? Are these women friends or rivals, or both?
  • If you could change one thing about the novel — one of Jill’s decisions, say, or something that happens — what would it be?
  • How would the story be different if Jacob were the one clinging to the relationship and Jill just wanted a non-exclusive friendship with benefits? Do you think this would be a believable story line? Why or why not?
  • Who do you think Jill identifies with more, Marcus or Elena? Why?

With big thanks to book club for a thoughtful discussion! It was very a memorable evening.