BKMT READING GUIDES

Split-Level: A Novel
by Sande Boritz Berger

Published: 2019-05-07
Paperback : 320 pages
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In Split-Level, set as the nation recoils from Nixon, Alex Pearl is about to commit the first major transgression of her life. But why shouldn’t she remain an officially contented, soon-to-turn-thirty wife? She’s got a lovely home in an upscale Jersey suburb, two precocious daughters, ...
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Introduction

In Split-Level, set as the nation recoils from Nixon, Alex Pearl is about to commit the first major transgression of her life. But why shouldn’t she remain an officially contented, soon-to-turn-thirty wife? She’s got a lovely home in an upscale Jersey suburb, two precocious daughters, and a charming husband, Donny. But Alex can no longer deny she craves more?some infusion of passion into the cul-de-sac world she inhabits.

After she receives a phone call from her babysitter’s mother reporting that Donny took the teen for a midnight ride, promising he’d teach her how to drive, Alex insists they attend Marriage Mountain, the quintessential 1970s “healing couples sanctuary.” Donny accedes?but soon becomes obsessed with the manifesto A Different Proposition and its vision of how multiple couples can live together in spouse-swapping bliss. At first Alex scoffs, but soon she gives Donny much more than he bargained for. After he targets the perfect couple to collude in his fantasy, Alex discovers her desire for love escalating to new heights?along with a willingness to risk everything. Split-Level evokes a pivotal moment in the story of American matrimony, a time when it seemed as if an open marriage might open hearts as well.

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Excerpt

August 1975

I am breathless from a morning of tedious phone chatter. Long conversations about how the wallpaper is starting to lift in my powder room—a bathroom with a small pedestal sink shaped like a clam-shell and a very low commode. No one will ever powder there; it’s hard enough to maneuver your body, let alone relieve yourself in the miniscule space. Still, I like the way “powder room” sounds, and Rona Karl has taught me a great deal about home décor since I moved to Wheatley Heights, a small suburban community that boasts nothing taller than an intrusive water tower standing guard as you enter town. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. When we first meet Alex Pearl, she is having a phone conversation with her new best friend, Rona, who seems to have adjusted to suburbia successfully. What are the clues that Alex might be having a more difficult time?

2. Early on, Alex receives a phone call, which sends shockwaves into her essentially happy and organized domestic life. Do you think she handles the incident in the best possible way? How might you react in the same situation?

3. During the 1970’s, many couples attended retreats hoping to improve communication in their marriages. Describe Alex and Donny’s experience at Marriage Mountain. What aspects did you find revealing? Sad or touching? Humorous? Have you ever attended a similar retreat?

4. Alex’s trip to Florida alone with her girls brings a few new surprises. What are some of the triggers that cause both malaise and mistrust in her marriage? How is she affected by her own parent’s relationship?

5. Meeting Charlie Bell and his wife initially serves Alex as a way of comparing her own marital relationship. How are they different as couples? What are some of the early danger signs in each marriage?

6. What is the pivotal point in the relationship between the two couples? How does that change Alex? Does her focus shift or remain the same? What does she hope for in the end? What might you see in her future?

7. It’s been said that many who marry in their twenties often go through transitions that may cause them to desire more in their thirties. Discuss.
8. Please share the parts of Split-Level you thought the most insightful.

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