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Readers Guide for My Mother's Island

“My Mother’s Island is a daughter’s death watch: loving, angry, remorseful, and profoundly revealing of our lives as adult children. Marnie Mueller’s honest and unsentimental novel helped me fathom the meaning of my own mother’s recent death and should similarly serve other readers in negotiating the strong currents and unpredictable eddies of this milestone of primary loss.” – Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone and This Much I know is True

My Mother's Island revolves around Sarah Elias who arrives at her mother’s modest bungalow in Puerto Rico consumed with worry that she won’t be able to care for this woman from whose touch she recoils. She fears she won’t even be able to cry at Reba’s funeral and thus will reveal to the world the secret she has kept all her life: that she hates her mother. Sarah, who has always taken care of her mother’s emotional needs, has steeled herself to single-handedly provide support to her mother as she dies, but gradually she allows people to help her through the ordeal. The story reaches its irrevocable conclusion in a death scene as cataclysmic as any in literature. Sarah comes to terms with her mother and her past, finding at the end of her long journey both consolation and understanding.

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Sarah says she hates her mother. Is this a shocking thing to hear a daughter say? Should we believe that she really hates her, or are her feelings toward her mother more complicated than that?

Sarah doesn’t have children, having chosen not to. Do you think her feelings for her mother would be different if she’d been a mother herself? Do you think she would have learned to be more tolerant of her mother’s failings?

Sarah seems to love her father more than her mother. Do you think that the father’s behavior got in the way of Sarah loving her mother and contributed to Reba’s anger, or do you think that Sarah loved her father more intensely because of Reba’s coldness and cruelty?

Do you think that the family’s rootlessness contributed to the dysfunction in the family? Do you think the lack of religion and the mixed background of Sarah’s parents contributed to the family problems and her loneliness as a child?

Even with all the difficulties Sarah has had with her mother, even though she feels damaged by her, she still makes the choice to care for Reba as she is dying. What do you think of such a choice? Would you be able to care for a parent you feel you don’t love?

Sarah doesn’t intervene in any way as her mother is dying. She doesn’t bring her to the hospital and doesn’t have an intravenous feeding tube put in when Reba can no longer keep food down. Do you think you could do this? Do you feel this was the right choice on Sarah’s part?

The doctors and nurses in Puerto Rico encourage Sarah not to intervene, saying that this is the most merciful way to handle the situation. Does their position surprise you? Does their saying this seem to be culturally based? Would this have happened in mainland United States? Do you think it was a merciful choice? Should Sarah have tried to prolong Reba’s life?

Do you think Reba was ready to die?

In the end, Sarah gives Lydia the house. Did you feel that Lydia earned the right to receive this gift?

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