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A Small Indiscretion: A Novel
by Jan Ellison
Paperback : 352 pages
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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE • With the emotional complexity of Everything I Never Told You and the psychological suspense of The Girl on the Train, O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison delivers a brilliantly paced, beautifully written debut novel ...
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE • With the emotional complexity of Everything I Never Told You and the psychological suspense of The Girl on the Train, O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison delivers a brilliantly paced, beautifully written debut novel about one woman’s reckoning with a youthful mistake.
“Part psychological thriller, part character study . . . I peeled back the pages of this book as fast as I could.”—The Huffington Post
At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her. Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
Past and present collide, Annie’s marriage falters, and her son takes a car ride that ends with his life hanging in the balance. Now Annie must confront her own transgressions and fight for her family by untangling the mysteries of the turbulent winter that drew an invisible map of her future. Gripping, insightful, and lyrical, A Small Indiscretion announces the arrival of a major new voice in literary suspense as it unfolds a story of denial, passion, forgiveness—and the redemptive power of love.
Praise for A Small Indiscretion
“Ellison is a tantalizing storyteller . . . moving her story forward with cinematic verve.”—USA Today
“Rich with suspense . . . Lovely writing guides us through, driven by a quiet generosity.”—San Francisco Chronicle (Book Club pick)
“Delicious, lazy-day reading. Just don’t underestimate the writing.”—O: The Oprah Magazine (Editor’s Pick)
“Rich and detailed . . . The plot explodes delightfully, with suspense and a few twists. Using second-person narration and hypnotic prose, Ellison’s debut novel is both juicy and beautifully written. How do I know it’s juicy? A stranger started reading it over my shoulder on the New York City subway, and told me he was sorry that I was turning the pages too quickly.”—Flavorwire
“Are those wild college days ever really behind you? Happily married Annie finds out.”—Cosmopolitan
“An impressive fiction debut . . . both a psychological mystery and a study of the divide between desire and duty.”—San Jose Mercury News
“A novel to tear through on a plane ride or on the beach . . . I was drawn into a web of secrets, a world of unrequited love and youthful mistakes that feel heightened and more romantic on the cold winter streets of London, Paris, and Ireland.”—Bustle
“Ellison renders the California landscape with stunning clarity. . . . She writes gracefully, with moments of startling insight. . . . Her first novel is an emotional thriller, skillfully plotted in taut, visual scenes.”—The Rumpus
“To read A Small Indiscretion is to eat fudge before dinner: slightly decadent behavior, highly caloric, and extremely satisfying. . . . An emotional detective story that . . . mirrors real life in ways that surprise and inspire.”—New York Journal of Books
“If you liked Gone Girl for its suspenseful look inside the psychology of a bad marriage, try A Small Indiscretion. . . . It touches many of the same nerves.”—StyleCaster
From the Hardcover edition.
Editorial ReviewNo editorial review at this time.
ExcerptNo Excerpt Currently Available
Discussion Questions1) In the beginning of the novel, Annie writes: “Between those bookends was a family whose happiness might still be intact if only I’d been able to see the threats to it more clearly.” Is Annie reponsible for Robbie’s accident, and for her family’s unraveling? Is it in her power to protect them?
2) There is more than one indiscretion in the novel. Which do you think the title refers to, or might it refer to more than one?
3) On page 302, Annie writes that it is “easier to blame the impulsiveness of youth than the wanton self-indulgence of a grown woman.” How can this statement be assessed in the context of Annie’s story? Why does Annie confess to Jonathan upon her return from London?
4) After Jonathan moves out, Clara and Polly are passed between their parents “like a restaurant desert.” Is Jonathan’s decision to move out defensible? How are the girls’ childhoods altered by the events of the summer? How might they look back on this period in their lives?
5) The novel takes the form of a confessional letter from Annie to Robbie. It also moves back and forth across two decades and spans three continents. How did this structure affect your reading experience? Does the structure remind you of any other novels?
6) Annie’s youthful relationship with Patrick is tortured and unfulfilling, yet she continues to yearn for him for more than twenty years. What causes this obsession? And why does it fade once Annie finally meets Patrick in London as an adult?
7) On page 250, Patrick defines art as “whatever stands in the world with no other purpose than to move us.” Annie in turn suggests that art should at least be beautiful. Do you agree with either of these definitions? What other scenes and situations in the novel speak to the themes of art and beauty?
8) Early in the novel, Annie writes: “The heart is large, and there is more than one material in the bucket we call love.” How does the novel address the theme of the nature of love? How do notions or definitions of love evolve as the novel progresses, and Annie matures?
9) Alcoholism runs in Annie’s family, yet when she finds herself abroad at nineteen, she begins to drink heavily. How might Annie’s upbringing have influenced this behavior? What leads to Annie’s “bargain” with herself in the clinic in San Francisco, as described on page 209?
10) The letter Annie receives from Emme’s uncle contains a major revelation. Did this revelation come as a surprise? What previous scenes hint at this revelation? Is Emme justified in holding Annie responsible for the shaping of her own history?
11) Annie posits that a memory is “by its nature a revision…. shaped by the waves of time, and by the history that has rushed against it since…” How does the novel interrogate the nature of memory? Is Annie a reliable narrator? How would the story be different if it were told from Jonathan’s point of view? Or Robbie’s? Or Emme’s?
12) On page 273, Annie realizes that if she expects to be forgiven, she must “forgive indiscriminately” from now on. Which characters, besides Annie, seek forgiveness? Which characters are ultimately redeemed, and which, if any, are not?
13) The novel concludes without describing what happens when Annie flies to Paris to reveal to Robbie the truth about his paternity and about Emme’s motivations. How do you imagine events unfolding between Annie and Robbie, and ultimately, between Robbie and Emme?
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