1. Throughout the story, Amanda seems to be alternately
portrayed as either sinister and mentally unbalanced or as a sad
woman who is a victim of circumstance. What are your feelings about
her? Were you mostly sympathetic to her or turned off by her
2. Did you find most of the main players in Drowning Ruth to be
complicated and not easily categorized? Who intrigued you the
3. Do you think the author skillfully built up the suspense of
the fateful night on the lake? Did you guess what would happen?
4. Ruth and Amanda's relationship is one of the most compelling
elements of the novel. At times they are presented in a
mother/daughter dynamic, but at other moments they seem poised as
siblings almost, or even as foils to each other- especially when
Amanda speaks to us about her own childhood. How do you think
Amanda regarded Ruth? What, in your mind, was the real significance
of their relationship? Did Amanda truly love Ruth?
5. The lake is a striking backdrop throughout the novel, and
most of the traumatic or profound moments occur there: Mathilde and
Clement die there, Amanda forces Ruth to swim in it, Imogene and
Ruth both fall in love upon it. Do you think the author intended
for it to be symbolic of something? If so, what?
6. The complicated and varied relationships between women-
friends, sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces-lie at
the heart of this novel. Did any of these relationships, in
particular, strike a chord with you?
7. Do you feel that Amanda's jealousy of her sister was abnormal
or just common sibling rivalry? Why do you think the author
juxtaposed their relationship with Ruth and Imogene's?
8. Men hover at the edges of the novel. The three main male
characters-Carl, Clement, Arthur-though different, are all
ultimately ineffectual in some sense. Carl leaves, Clement
womanizes, Arthur cannot determine whom he truly loves. Even
Amanda's father is barely realized. Why do you think the author
created these male characters this way?
9. The island seems to be a very important metaphor. Both
Mathilde and Amanda become pregnant there, and it is where they
retreat to during Amanda's term. She, especially, is preoccupied
throughout the novel with this locale. What does the island
10. Did you like the continuously shifting narration? What was
the overall effect of this plot device?
11. Ruth and Imogene's intense friendship commences with the
voluntary loss of Ruth's dead, black tooth. Why do you think the
author chose such an unusual, visually graphic scene to mark the
unfolding of their intertwined lives?
12. In the end, does Ruth follow her heart, or is she still
under Amanda's control? Does Ruth return home truly of her own
13. Were the book to continue, do you think the author would
have chosen for Ruth and Arthur to unite? Why or why not? What type
of man do you envision Ruth with?
14. Drowning Ruth was an Oprah Book Club selection. Have you
read any other Oprah picks? If so, how did this compare?