|What does the title mean? Who really
Were there always Daniel Weils? Or only in today’s liberated times?
Daniel lies to everyone about his life, largely to make himself a success. But who is he really lying to?’
Could you pull
a ‘Daniel Weil’? Even if you’re a woman?
Do only unhappy people reinvent themselves, as Daniel does?
Do you think Daniel and Melissa’s marriage
will improve after the book ends?
Is My Wife’s Last Lover just one long, frustrated, uncompleted hug?
Book Group Guide
Warning: This guide may be hazardous to your reading pleasure — if you have not already read My Wife’s Last Lover. Although they do not directly give away the plot, the questions hint at how the story evolves. Some readers do not mind this; others do. It’s your choice.
- As My Wife’s Last Lover opens, Daniel sees himself as a victim, blaming others for everything wrong with his life. How does he progress in his understanding of the world around him as his story unfolds? Does he finally see the pain of others, and not just his own?
- Daniel is a paradoxical character: he adores yet despises women, he enjoys domesticity yet flees it, he is a success to others but not to himself. Most readers see him as very much a product of his times. But were there always Daniel Weils? or is it today’s liberated times that create them?
- Could you (or your spouse or partner) pull a “Daniel Weil,” go out for a container of milk and never come back? Do all men have a bit of Daniel Weil in them? Do all women? Is that because it is harder to be man or a woman today than it was in earlier generations?
- What does the title My Wife’s Last Lover signify? Who, in fact, was Melissa’s last lover? Can you give other meanings for the title, one of them bitterly ironic?
- How would you characterize Daniel and Melissa’s marriage? Do they deserve each other? Do you think it will be improve after the book ends as they both appear to hope? Will Daniel now be honest? Will he tell the whole truth and nothing but, about his affair with Ellen Smuckler, for example?
- Daniel often does one thing that contradicts another. What are some of his contradictions? Is that a strength of the book or a weakness? And what about Melissa in terms of contradictory behavior?
- When Melissa gently comforts Daniel after he is fired (page 97), the first words of the next chapter (chapter 8, page 99) are a jarringly crude joke about women’s body parts. Are Daniel’s old world and his new one colliding head-on? Did it make you cringe when you read it? Was it supposed to?8. On the second page, as he argues with Melissa in the kitchen, Daniel thinks, “If I hugged her, all hostility would dissolve, but I just couldn’t.” And, more than 200 pages later in the last scene, they hug. IsMy Wife’s Last Lover one long, uncompleted, frustrated hug – a tale of two people deeply in love but afraid (a running theme of the book) to “surrender”? How is this shown to the reader? Did you feel their love, and its frustration, in the course of the book?
- Most readers find it easy to see why Daniel loves and needs Melissa: she’s bright, beautiful, vulnerable, and has been terribly hurt by things outside her control. But why do you think she puts up with him?
- Many characters change their name in the book and reinvent themselves. Daniel does it most dramatically, changing his name in one of the many fantasies he lives out. Why do characters reinvent themselves so much inMy Wife’s Last Lover?Do many people wish they could reinvent themselves? Or only those who are unhappy with their lives?
- Could someone just show up in a new town and create a new life as Daniel does? Do you really know, say, the person sitting next to you right now, and who that person is other than what they’ve told you? Or do we just take much of it on faith?
- We are told the story only from Daniel’s point of view. Can we rely on him? Is he an “unreliable narrator”? When he lies to us (like about working forThe New York Times or writing best-selling books) is there a reason? Does it add to the pleasure of the narrative? Who is he really lying to?
Daniel tells his story in a voice that swings from tenderness to rage, from sexist clown to slavish lover to lonely outcast. Why is this, and does it make him more human? Does his voice rise and fall with the ups and downs of his journey?
- Were you disturbed by the last chapter (page 200), and how the story ended? Can you imagine another way forMy Wife’s Last Loverto end? How do you think Daniel imagined his running away would end?
- What does “the other Melissa” (in chapter 10, page 122, the 40th birthday party) represent? When Daniel goes up the attic, lured by the music, he is afraid to knock and runs away. Why does it feel right for him to flee, even though readers are curious to see him talk to Lissie Meadows? Does the entire party scene sum up his marriage and his life? If he had talked to Lissie Meadows, what would she be like and what would they have said and done?
- What is the meaning of Daniel’s constant talk about “owning” Melissa, such as when he sees her from the backyard (page 162), when they make love in the bathroom (page 70), or when he watches her at the 40th birthday party ( page 142)? He also seeks to “own” Elaine (page 175). Why is “ownership” of a woman so important to him? And how do you think Melissa and Elaine feel about it?
- What is the meaning of the tree and the flute, and the role they play in Daniel and Melissa’s marriage? Does Daniel overreact to the haunted tree being cut down while he is gone? Why? And why does Melissa worry so much about the tree falling down and hurting her or her family?
- Why does Daniel remark at the end of chapter 7 (page 97) how unusual it was to see Melissa in a plain white T-shirt, without any corporate logos? How does this make him feel? What else about the scene adds to his emotions about how she looks and how he feels about it?
- In chapter 3 (Halloween, page 24) characters change form right before Daniel’s eyes: a girl becomes a boy, a rug becomes a dog, all amid constant talk of disguises. Is this deliberate? Does it enrich the chapter or detract from it? At its end, when he watches Melissa sit naked on the bed and floss her teeth, is another transformation taking place?
- Can you trace throughout the book themes of identity, of surrender, of monsters, of loss, of time lost and time found? Are there other themes that recur throughout the book?