Conversation guide for ALL THE BEST PEOPLE by Sonja Yoerg
1. The story is filled with water symbolism. Indeed, each of the main characters is associated with a body of water: Solange and the lake, Alison and the river, Carole and the ocean. What meaning do these places have for each of them throughout the story?
2. Carole is able to hide her schizophrenic symptoms for some time by withdrawing from her family and making excuses for her behavior. But the members of her family, with the possible exception of Alison, are also not very perceptive. Everything is “right as rain,” as Walt says. Do you think this is common? Are we least able (or willing) to see problems in those we are closest to?
3. Carole’s relationship with her mother changes several times in the course of the story. Significantly, on her eighteenth birthday, she learns about her mother’s affair and her sister’s parentage, and begins to despise her mother, rather than pity her. After Carole meets Walt, she softens toward Solange, then comes to resent her when she believes she has inherited her illness from her mother. By the end of the story, do you believe Carole accepts her mother? Does she forgive her? Should she? Are there relationships you’ve had that have taken a similarly torturous path?
4. Class conflict is central to Solange’s story, but it is also present in Alison’s life, especially in her relationship with Delaney. How does it affect Alison? How did Carole side-step this conflict in her life?
5. Given the disparity between the backgrounds of Solange and Osborn, was their marriage destined to fail? Who do you think was more at fault, and why?
6. How does Solange come to have an affair? Was it a decision, an act of desperation, or the inevitable unwinding of her fate as shown to her by the fortune teller? How do you think she saw it? How did you?
7. When Solange becomes pregnant with Janine, she faces some hard choices. She eventually runs away to the harbor with Carole’s help, but is intercepted by Osborn and the police. Given her position, what were her alternatives? Should she have given up the baby?
8. What is the significance of the title? Carole’s tormented childhood leaves her with a deep-seated self-hatred that emerges during her illness: her bad blood from her parents. How does this relate to “all the best people”? For Carole, what are “the best people” like? Are those your criteria, too?
9. Warren and Lester are fraternal twins, as are Walt and Janine’s late husband, Mitch. By contrast, Carole and Janine are separated by eleven years and have different fathers. Thinking about the sibling pairs, what do the relationships add to the theme of inheritance and upbringing, i.e., nature vs. nurture? How do the characters respond differently to misfortune?
10. Janine is a callous and self-absorbed, to say the least. Most of her vitriol, however, is internal and her behavior is mostly acceptable, even charming. Is her anger and vengefulness a legacy from Solange and/or her “pirate” father, or the result of being spurned by Osborn’s family? More simply, is she a sociopath, incapable of change, or could she become a good person?
11. Alison and her grandmother, Solange, both have red hair. They also share a belief in magic, as exemplified by the blue box. How is that significant in the story? Near the end, Alison thinks, “Magic spells were concentrated wishes—she understood that much—but maybe the wishing part was more important than the magic. Maybe you had to wish that hard to find out what you really wanted.” Does this mean her belief in magic had changed?
12. Alison and Solange both receive tarot readings. The cards are the same (The High Priestess, Wheel of Fortune and The Fool), but the orderings were different. What meaning did Alison and Solange attach to the readings? Did that alter the course of their actions? If you have had a tarot reading, did it have any effect on you?
13. Alison is on the cusp of adolescence. What aspects of her feelings—about her mother, about her friends and about her teacher—are “normal” for her stage of development? If Carole had not become ill, what do you suppose Alison’s relationship with her mother and the others would’ve been like?