1. The first two chapters introduce J. J. and Ginger in settings
where they seem fulfilled and at peace. What does J. J.'s cabin
have in common with the farmhouse Ginger rents in Italy? Is there
any similarity between Ginger's relationship with Marco and J. J.'s
experience with Julianne, the teacher from Osceola? How does
Julianne measure up to Georgia Larkin?
2. Discuss the narrator's voice in Swan. What traits do
you recognize from Frances Mayes's non fiction and poetry? How did
her accomplished writer's eye serve her in creating a novel?
3. Compare her depiction of small-town Georgia to that of
Tuscany. Are there any similarities between the Mason's family
house and Bramasole?
4. Frances told her editor that Swan is "a book of
memory, how it cuts and comes again, and of a powerful landscape,
which is always at work shaping the people who live on its
surface." What are some of the ways in which memory and landscape
define the inhabitants of Swan? Were Swan's "old days" good
5. Holt's relationship with Lucy is considered just as taboo as
Catherine's extramarital affair. As time passes, how is this legacy
of racism handled in the town of Swan? In what ways do Tessie and
Scott reflect their generations?
6. Frances Mayes is renowned for her description of Tuscany's
cuisine. What are some of the most tempting Southern dishes
presented in the novel?
7. From Big Jim to Ginger, the novel portrays a variety of
traditional and highly non-traditional men and women. Discuss how
Swan's characters compare to the men and women in your
life. Do you think that Southern gender roles are different from
those found elsewhere in America?
8. Occurring early in the novel, Ginger's passionate scene with
Marco is immediately followed by gruesome events in Magnolia
Cemetery. How are attitudes toward sex and death entwined in the
town of Swan?
9. Why do Ginger and J. J. have such opposing reactions to their
father? How did your impression of Wills change when you learned of
his connection to Dachau?
10. Do you suppose that Catherine would have rebuffed Austin's
marriage proposal if she had been born twenty years later? Is her
situation reflected in Ginger's first marriage? How does
Catherine's affair compare with her children's romances?
11. Who were your primary suspects in Catherine's murder? How
would you have reacted in Sonny's place?
12. Swan encompasses many genres. It's a murder
mystery, a love story, a family history, a coming-of-age tale, and
even somewhat of a travelogue. Which of these aspects most
13. Discuss the theme of archaeology in Swan. What is
unearthed besides Catherine's body? What are some of the ancient
references (such as J. J.'s skillful flint knapping) that enrich
14. Catherine's love of art, Matisse in particular, is preserved
in her own drawings. Discuss the scene in which Ginger reads from
Catherine's illustrated notebooks, at last giving voice to her
mother. What are some of the meaningful items you have inherited
from a relative?
15. Ginger dreads the journey back to Georgia, but J. J. was
never able to move away. Discuss your own feelings toward the town
where you grew up. How does this locale affect your sense of
16. Catherine left strong evidence of unfinished business, such
as the unbaked cookie dough and a skirt still in the sewing
machine. What are some of the broader unfinished aspects of her
17. Ginger is heir to dollhouses, cookbooks, and church-lady
recipes. Where does J. J. fit into his family's "inheritance of
women"? Do you think that Lily's attachment to her brother
negatively affected his attitudes toward women?
18. Discuss the concept of privacy in Swan, from the snoopy
postmaster to the telephone operator who reports on her customers'
comings and goings.
19. In what way is J. J. out of his element in San Francisco? In
what way is he completely at home there?
20. Explore the novel's deceptively simple title. Conveying
grace and purity, is it an ironic name for the town?