Any Bitter Thing : A Novel
by Monica Wood

Published: 2006-04-25
Paperback : 368 pages
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After surviving a near-fatal accident, thirty-year-old Lizzy Mitchell faces a long road to recovery. She remembers little about the days she spent in and out of consciousness, save for one thing: She saw her beloved deceased uncle, Father Mike, the man who raised her in the rectory of his Maine ...
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After surviving a near-fatal accident, thirty-year-old Lizzy Mitchell faces a long road to recovery. She remembers little about the days she spent in and out of consciousness, save for one thing: She saw her beloved deceased uncle, Father Mike, the man who raised her in the rectory of his Maine church until she was nine, at which time she was abruptly sent away to boarding school. Was Father Mike an angel, a messenger from the beyond, or something more corporeal? Though her troubled marriage and her broken body need tending, Lizzy knows she must uncover the details of her accident–and delve deep into events of twenty years before, when whispers and accusations forced a good man to give up the only family he had. With deft insight into the snares of the human heart, Monica Wood has written an intimate and emotionally expansive novel full of understanding and hope.

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Discussion Questions

From the publisher's reading guide:

1. As the novel opens, Lizzy says, “I tell this with the authority of memory.” A page later, she says of the girl who hit her,“She tells the cop she thought she hit a deer. She tells her parents she thought she hit a deer. She tells the judge she thought she hit a deer. Eventually, I guess, she thought she hit a deer.”Shortly after that,she observes,“The human craving is for story, not truth. Memory, I believe, embraces its errors, until what is, and what is remembered, become one.” What is the author implying about the nature of memory, and the nature of this novel?

2. This novel is, in part, the story of a marriage.What do you see as the turning points in Drew and Lizzy’s marriage? Do you think Lizzy and Drew are well matched?

3. Father Mike was both a father, small “f,” and a Father, capital “F.” How well do you believe he fulfilled both these roles? How did one role enhance the other, or diminish the other?

4. 1Vivienne tells Father Mike, “Faith has nothing to do with the Church.” Is this true? Does Father Mike’s faith fail him, or save him? What about the Catholic Church–does it fail or save Father Mike?

5. Would you describe Lizzy as an emotionally guarded woman or emotionally generous?

6. What do you think is the essence of Lizzy’s bond with Harry Griggs? Why does she turn to him instead of to her husband or friend? Is he more than just a stranger who will listen? Why did Lizzy defend Harry to his daughter, Elaine?

7. Is Vivienne a good woman or a bad woman? Do you blame her for her crime? Was her behavior in the aftermath merely an instinct for self-preservation, or more than that? Has she paid enough of a penance?

8. Is Mrs. Hanson a villain? What would you have done if you had seen what she saw?

9. One of the most moving passages in the book is Father Mike’s lament about being an accused person: “You wonder what made your love so desperate and gushing.What impelled you to admire her child’s body in the bath, the seal-slick purity of it, the strength it seemed to be acquiring, its miraculous shape-shifting? You wonder why you loved her sweaty socks, her smell as you tucked her in, her breath after she ate a plum. How can you help but wonder? You could not pass her in a room without touching your hand to her head, your thumb to her chin. What did all that mean? Tainted, all of it, your dearest memories stained for good.” Are Father Mike’s parental feelings every parent’s feelings, or do his unusual circumstances make for unusual feelings?

10. When Father Mike refers to Lizzie’s calloused hands as “the working girl’s stigmata,” how does this colorful phrase suggest several layers of pride? A similarly layered observation comes at the end, when Lizzy begins to see Father Mike’s “latter-day self bleeding through the veneer of his present-day self,like a painting beneath a painting.” Do you think Lizzy is beginning to heal in this moment, or is she merely connecting to a time when she felt the most safe, the most loved?

11. Lizzy and Father Mike are, in one sense, innocent victims of circumstance. But how does Father Mike bring about his own downfall? After Vivienne’s confession, he has no choices. But could he have made choices long beforehand that could have prevented his undoing–a choice to listen to Vivienne when she “wishes to talk about Ray,” for example, or a choice to confront Ray rather than turn a blind eye?

12. What does Lizzy see in Andrea that makes her a favorite student? Do you think they are much alike?

13. What will become of Lizzy and Mariette’s friendship now that they understand the full truth of the people they loved? Is a shared childhood enough to sustain a friendship for life? Is there really such a thing as unconditional love?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "It's a must read!!!!!"by Cindy B. (see profile) 12/22/07

This book grabs you from the first chapter! The characters have depth and get you drawn in to each one of them. It is book you want to invest in.

  "This is a really good read!"by Mary S. (see profile) 11/29/07

  "A deeply layered portrait of love, loss and redemption"by Glenda S. (see profile) 11/29/07

This book is one of our top three all time favorities. The reader is immediately hooked and the plot unfolds into a rich tapestry of love, struggle, and survival. Beautifully written. The author was able... (read more)

  "This story is about facing the truth about one's past."by Hemal T. (see profile) 10/15/07

  "descriptive character drama about family that will touched your life"by Jenna K. (see profile) 10/12/07

Our book club enjoyed this story. Two members did not connect with the characters in the book, but most felt the book was so compellingly written that they could not put the book down until finished.... (read more)

  "Great story.."by Hailey H. (see profile) 10/13/06

I thought this was a great book club selection because the book tackles so many different issues. It's a beautiful story and really keeps you engaged. Great book.

  "this is a hard book to follow at first but afteryou get going it turns into a really neat story."by stacy m. (see profile) 10/13/06

  "Good discussion"by Sandra G. (see profile) 10/13/06

This book addressed many complex issues and did it well.

  "a generally well written book that deals with heavy issues"by Stacy L. (see profile) 08/25/06

OUr book club overall rted this a 4 for discussion. A women in an accident who confronts every personal tragedy known to man

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