Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Maggie Darling

A Modern Romance

by James Howard Kunstler

“A gourmet writing performance…Maggie Darling reads like a delicious feast on a beautifully laid table, with great sex after. Wonderfully entertaining.” –Candace Bushnell, author of Sex And The City

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date May 20, 2005
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4178-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

A modern woman has it all, loses it all, and learns how to live and love in a mad world of wealth and worship

She’s the goddess of hearth and home, America’s millionaire media maven of domesticity, Connecticut’s most dazzling hostess, and everything in her world is perfect–except that Maggie Darling’s picture-book life has suddenly gone off the rails. Amid the extravagant trappings of a Christmas Eve bash for two hundred, she spies swinish stockbroker husband Kenneth slipping out of a powder room moments after his creamy young office colleague Laura Wilkie. He is, shall we say, not forgiven.

Matrimonial meltdown launches Maggie on a year of romance and misadventure, including a fling with British rock star turned movie actor Frederick Swann, who is filming a vampire movie in Venice for the Hungarian megalomaniac director Franz Tesla. When Swann dismayingly takes to calling her ‘mum” in the boudoir, Maggie senses trouble. Back home, a sniper is loose on the Merritt Parkway and a gang known as the Businessman’s Lunch Posse is terrorizing patrons of Manhattan’s four-star restaurants. Meanwhile, Maggie’s attempt to rescue her old college roommate from Hollywood heartbreak and drug addiction veers toward disaster; Maggie’s son, Hooper, drops out of college and falls into the company of the sinister gangsta rap group Chill Az Def; a retreat to her dashing editor Harold Hamish’s Vermont cabin turns into a seduction fiasco. And famous friends literally lose their heads on Central Park West. As calamity piles on catastrophe can Maggie Darling brilliantly resolve the collapse of civilization as we wish we knew it?

With a satirical wit sharp enough to cut through a wheel of Parmagiano Reggiano, Maggie Darling is a brilliant comedy of manners about a modern woman who has it all, loses it all, and learns to carry on intrepidly in the face of it all.

Tags Literary


“A gourmet writing performance…Maggie Darling reads like a delicious feast on a beautifully laid table, with great sex after. Wonderfully entertaining.” –Candace Bushnell, author of Sex And The City

“Kunstler could be fiction’s newest ‘darling” with this bull’s-eye perceptive, witty new novel. . . .Kunstler’s characters shock us with their egotism, elitism, and kundalini-level sexual stamina, and woo us with their fashionable decors, fine accessorizing, and culinary brilliance. Kunstler is a skilled storyteller and social commentator, and this tale is one timely and incredibly entertaining ride.” –Janet St. John, Booklist

“Kunstler’s first novel in over 10 years reflects, in deliciously funny and sarcastic fashion, some of his spirited nonfiction critiques of contemporary culture. . . . Kunstler’s details are perfect: the mouth-watering menus, the designer clothes, the name-dropping of celebrities both fictional and real. . . . Kunstler’s greatest achievement is the creation of a surprisingly well-rounded and sympathetic heroine. . . .[Maggie Darling] radiantly succeeds as a contemporary comedy of manners.

” –Publishers Weekly

“A delightful blend of romance and mystery, part cozy and part commentary–like an offspring of a union between Agatha Christie and Alexander Woollcott. . . . Besides being a novelist, Kuntsler is a social critic. . . . Add food, fashion, and style, and the results are a delicious, spicy take on modernity through the experience of an interesting woman. . . . From its intriguing opening to its hilarious epilogue, the book is a comedy of manners.” –Bill Knight, Magill Book Reviews

“Can a blond, beautiful multimillionaires find real love in mean old Manhattan? . . . Maggie [is] a mega-rich, mega-chic authority on all things domestic. . . . A zany cast of thousands make Maggie’s life a (sometimes happy) hell.” –Kirkus Reviews

“If you can’t, in spite of yourself, press on with your zapper past E or CNN or whoever is serving up a bite of media coverage and you can’t, as a result, quite calm your alarm, then James Howard Kunstler’s Maggie Darling is for you. With the keenest of novelist’s eyes he makes all that exhilarating and hilarious and, surprisingly, affecting. Kunstler is master of both the cultural zeitgeist and the comic novel.” –Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

Praise for James Howard Kunstler:

“Glistening entertainment–an antidote to almost anyone’s depression.” –Publishers Weekly on An Embarrassment of Riches

“A deliciously wicked over-the-top romp across the tortured terrain of suburban America. This book is a wonderful whack-on-the-head to an increasingly complacent country bent on turning everywhere into Nowhere.”” –The Philadelphia Inquirer on The Geography of Nowhere



The House of Yule

“Never has there been such a Christmas!” Kenneth Darling proclaimed for at least the third time since his wife, Maggie, the goddess of hearth and home, descended from the rooms above, scrubbed, perfumed, and engarbed in a confection of antique red velvet (by Marc Fatuli) that was cut so as to display a bosom as lush and pink as two blushing pears made of marzipan. To Kenneth, Maggie’s breasts seemed to precede her into a room like a pair of mysterious envoys from a faraway royal domain where sweetness reigned. He now swept across the room on a surge of desire and nostalgia this eve of the great holiday and took his place beside this wife of twenty-five Christmases.

They made a handsome portrait in the oval mirror that hung above the Federal inlaid mahogany serpentine-front sideboard. As Maggie lit the tapers in a favorite pair of spruce-green, petal-and-loop glass candlesticks deployed amid the gilt pinecones, holly boughs, silver bells, and other trappings of the season, Kenneth’s manicured hand crept down her d”colletage.

He buried his nose in the wisps of sweet-smelling silver-blond hair behind her ear and whispered, “Never has there been such a Christmas.”

“Are you stoned?” Maggie inquired.

“I’ve had a dram or two.”

“Nothing more?”

“A teeny-weeny toke, perhaps,” Kenneth whispered.

‘smoking pot again, are we?”

“Is that the royal or the editorial “we”?”

“The matrimonial,” Maggie said without irony.

“Ooo. You really know how to hurt a guy.”

This was how it went with them typically. En garde, thrust and parry, touch”. Maggie was getting good and goddamn sick of it. The wordplay aside, Kenneth’s pot smoking irritated her only moderately in and of itself, though she would have been severely annoyed had she known the truth, namely that Kenneth was working on a snootful of cocaine as well as the pot and two pony glasses of straight Norse vodka. He was lit up like the antique pearlescent star at the top of their eighteen-foot Christmas tree, and the first guest had yet to arrive.

For a few years now, Kenneth had been on relatively good behavior. Maggie sometimes essayed to think he had ‘matured.” Back in “96, hadn’t they spent nearly a million dollars in legal fees clearing up that little incident when he drove his German automobile through a radar trap on the Merritt Parkway at 127 miles per hour–it handled like a dream–and was so whacked out on blow that he left a two-ounce plastic baggie of the stuff right out on the passenger seat for one Officer Wilsey to see? Not that Kenneth couldn’t afford to pay for his error. Lawyers loved to see him coming the way kitchenware purveyors rubbed their hands at the sight of Maggie.

The nineties had been stupendous years for Kenneth. Starting out in the stuffy old bond house of Throop, Cravath, Herndon, and Hobbs, he had learned the trick of packaging any old thing as a salable security: odd lots of mortgages, clumps of credit card debt, you name it. From there it could be abstracted further into options and futures, all of it oozing profit. When Kenneth was a boy he and his prep school buddies had played a variation of Monopoly in which absolutely everything on the board was for sale, not just the real estate from Baltic Ave­nue to Boardwalk, but also Chance, Community Chest, Go, the jail, even the manufacturer’s logo in the center. Everything was a commodity. You could even buy the tokens each player used to travel around the board–the top hat, the race car, et cetera–and charge exorbitant rent for their use. These boys had grown up and entered their fathers’ world of brokerage and had begotten the Wall Street of the eighties and nineties. That was how Kenneth Darling parlayed a very modest one-million-dollar trust fund into a two-hundred-million-dollar fortune–and he was a small fish, a guppy.

Maggie’s feelings about Kenneth were so complicated these days that she would not have known where to begin even with the help of Fairfield County’s most telepathic headshrinker–not that she needed one. Crude as it was, she rather enjoyed feeling Kenneth’s paw down her dress, for she was a woman of a certain age, and it was reassuring to know that she was desired by her husband, who by any objective standards of measurement was still a prize catch. Kenneth competed in triathlons. It was his chief avocation. At age fifty-two he had the body of a Dartmouth sophomore–a better body than the indolent beer-­swilling Dartmouth sophomore he had actually been years ago. Six foot two, 177 pounds, Kenneth had pectoral muscles like Kansas City strip steaks, shoulders that looked padded under the Versace suit but were all solid deltoid meat, and a hard rippling belly that a Mexican washerwoman could scrub soapy linens on. True, he had lost his hair–at least the sandy strands on top–but what remained on the sides curled about his ears and neck to contrast nicely with his perpetually tanned skin, and his well-shaped head made up for its baldness as an elegant old house by the sea makes up for its faded paint with classic architectural proportions. His face had the same carpentered precision. Had he not been a minor Wall Street wizard with $200 million, he might well have appeared in gentlemen’s clothing advertisements. Add a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and you would have an impression of intellect, not entirely a false one either, for Kenneth read novels.

Beyond all the good bone structure and rigorously trained gristle, however, stood the matter of his character, revealed already in part by the monkeyshines with drugs. There was also his tendency for a kind of perverse willfulness that Maggie called “Kenneth’s passive-­aggressive streak.” He injured by omission rather than by commission. He forgot things: an anniversary, thank-you notes, the party at the Museum of Modern Art where he was supposed to meet Maggie after work. He called it absentmindedness. He was one of those people who say they have no sense of time and yet never show up early, only late. Maggie considered his behavior the foul excrescence of some long-buried rage, probably against his mother, Georgia, the bitch. He almost never finished a project outside the office, and Maggie wondered how many things he left dangling there, despite the fabulous stream of income. Of the nine triathlons Kenneth had entered since his coke rehab in 1996, he had dropped out on the final miles in eight of them, variously on account of “cramps,” ‘dehydration,” ‘dizziness,” and other vague complaints. In the early years of their marriage, this nonsense about not finishing things nearly drove Maggie crazy. (Maggie always finished what she started and had never missed an appointment in her life.) Back then, they worked on things together–rehabilitating the original orchard, for instance. These days, Kenneth simply paid somebody to do things: refinishing his sailboat, buying Christmas presents, driving Hooper, their son, down to his Swarthmore registration.

Lately, they might have dwelt on separate planets. Kenneth, more than ever, had his Wall Street bastion at Throop, Cravath, his exercise regime, his lunching clubs, and his sailboat. Maggie no longer had Hooper to look after. Now she had her career. In her published books on cookery and party giving, she turned her natural mode of living into a national object lesson on the domestic arts. Not the old dishpan hands, “Hints from Heloise” suburban drudgery of her mom’s day, but a new, glittering, upper-crust vision of the American hearth and home. To succeed at this was quite a feat in an age when many educated females wrote off homemaking as a sucker’s game invented by the enemy, men, to keep women down. Apparently, a residual desire to provide something more spiritually fortifying than microwaved veal stew and canned entertainment still lurked deep, even in educated hearts. And, of course, more and more Americans, including those with good incomes, lived in soulless, artificial places that they despised, in homes that mocked their ideals about a good life, surrounded by laborsaving gadgets that eliminated all the shared material enactments of marriage, until couples stayed together mainly because they liked the same TV shows.

Maggie’s evocation of the American home was an antidote to all this, and she was making a fortune writing books about it. Nothing like Kenneth’s millions, but to date a good $7.8 million in net profits. In short, she could easily take care of herself now, and nearly in the manner to which she was accustomed. It was something she and Kenneth didn’t talk about openly–for money, among those who have a lot of it, is considered a squalid topic–but Maggie’s recent success had changed the equation of their union.

“Let’s have a quickie, darling,” Kenneth breathed warmly in her ear, his left hand still rummaging in her bodice, his right hand on the velvet overlaying her Junoesque belly.

“You must be insane,” Maggie said, not pugnaciously but with a deep rueful exhalation. Kenneth was an avid lover, perhaps to a fault. But could there be a worse moment?

At once footsteps resounded on the ancient pine floors as servants swarmed into the hall seemingly from every opening. Kenneth extracted his hand and jerked himself around looking nonplussed. One of the waitresses hired for the night noticed his loss of poise and giggled. She was a Sarah Lawrence freshperson. Meanwhile, a chunky brunette with laughing eyes, dressed in a chef’s white tunic, marched up to Maggie carrying a clipboard. This was Nina Stegman, Maggie’s assistant. Aide-de-camp was more like it. Tonight, she was in charge of a Christmas Eve Feast for Two Hundred, as the affair would eventually be recorded in one of Maggie’s books on holiday entertaining. Maggie, blushing, smoothed her velvet gown and adjusted her emerald drops.

“I’ll see to the barman,” Kenneth said and made himself scarce.

“The last of the capons will be finished at seven sharp,” Nina reported, “but the left oven on the big Garland is acting weird.”


“It’ll shoot up to five hundred for no reason.”

‘damn! The thermostat’s shot again,” Maggie said decisively. “It happened on Thanksgiving in “93 and incinerated three acorn-fed pheasants I’d mail-ordered from Michigan. You’ll have to regulate it manually. Here’s what you do. Take a wooden spoon and jam it in the door so it stays open a crack to let the heat out. Keep close tabs on the thermometer inside. It takes vigilance but it’ll work in a pinch.”

“Roger,” Nina said, in her jocular military manner. She loved high-pressure situations, as did Maggie, and for much the same reason: both were highly competent individuals who relished the chance to shine in an emergency. ‘did you want to use the hollowed-out hubbard squashes for the stuffing?”

“No, the footed Targee silver bowls. You know, those acanthus-leaf things.”

“Oh dear, I thought I’d put the parsnip puree in those.”

“No, the Staffordshire luster.”

“Roger. And the yams in the Meissen basins.”

“Check,” Maggie said as Nina scribbled away. “Okay then, hors d”oeuvres–endive and codfish gunk?



“Baked and resting. Will brisk as needed.”

“How about the mango salsa.”

“Just spooned it into radicchio cups.”

‘do they sit okay on the tray?”

“The weight of the salsa flattens out the bottoms.”

‘shrewd. How about the minisouffl’s?”

“Capons out, souffl’s in.”

“Angels on horseback?”

“All saddled up and ready to ride.”

“Crab sticks?”

“An anytimer. The first guest.”

‘do I look all right?”

Nina lowered her pen, eyes narrowing. Maggie adored her assistant’s brutal honesty.

‘something’s a little odd here,” Nina said, wedging the clipboard under her arm and fussing with Maggie’s left shoulder strap.

Maggie was tempted to tell Nina that Kenneth had been feeling her up a moment ago–a perverse impulse to brag–but something stopped her.

“There, that’s better,” Nina said. “The house looks gorgeous.” She kissed Maggie on the cheek and bustled back toward the kitchen.

A photographer materialized, burdened with Nikons. This would be Reggie Chang, who had worked with Maggie on her last three books. Maggie was his favorite subject. He could just point and shoot. It was impossible to get a bad picture of her. Reggie had never seen anything like it. He worked with thousand-dollar-an-hour models all the time, and even these ethereal creatures could look like goons and harpies once in a while. But Maggie, never. She had some supernatural ability to appear winning, intelligent, and perfectly natural in every shot. The camera not only loved her, it seemed to owe her some huge debt. Each contact sheet was flawless. And the oddest thing was, until her rise as an author and tastemaker, Maggie had never modeled professionally for so much as a toothpaste ad.

On top of the professional pleasures of photographing Maggie came the side benefits. For example, tonight’s lavish affair. Reggie loved parties and Maggie’s were simply the best. Perhaps a little short on film stars and the Soho art-noir crowd, but with plenty of celebrities of the more elevated sort. And always with that deeply specific sense of occasion. A Maggie Darling Fourth of July made you glad to be an American no matter which knucklehead occupied the White House or what country we were bombing. And a Maggie Darling Christmas made Reggie feel as though the blood in his veins went back to Ethelred the Everready of the Saxons. There wasn’t a time Reggie came to Maggie’s house when she failed to feed him magnificently. Her kitchen made Lut”ce look like a Greek luncheonette. Reggie couldn’t figure out how she did it–and he wasn’t the only one. After a day of shooting, he’d sit at the big scrubbed pine table sipping a kir while, out of what seemed like nothing more than a few scraps, Maggie whipped together fettucine with lobster chunks in ginger cream, or some such. He had seen her do it! Not Nina Stegman or some factotum. She blew his mind.

Reggie was more than half in love with Maggie Darling. Driving out of Manhattan in his sporty red Miata, he wondered endlessly what possible circumstances might induce her to pose in the nude for him. These thoughts led to sexual fantasies that embarrassed even Reggie in the privacy of his own skull, they were so hopelessly adolescent. For instance: Maggie bent over an arugula patch, dressed only in clogs and gardening gloves, presenting her bare buttery posterior as she glanced over her shoulder at the lens . . . things like that. Yet, no matter how bestial the tableau, Reggie could not imagine Maggie looking other than winning, intelligent, and perfectly natural. To him, she was no less than what her books (and his photos) made her out to be: the quintessential American woman.

Reggie never let on about the depth of his feelings. The fact that Maggie was twelve years older than he made her seem that much less obtainable, though the older-woman angle also increased her allure. Lastly, there was Kenneth. Reggie thought of him as Hercules Unchained with a bottomless bank account. Next to Kenneth, Reggie felt like a fat little laughing Buddha of the type sold in cheap Chinatown giftshops.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” said Maggie, greeting him with a kiss.

Melting in her hearthlike glow, Reggie said, “I shot a roll of the house from outside. With the snowflakes swirling around it looks like one of those liquid-filled paperweights that you shake.”

“It’s snowing out!”

“Why, yes.”

“I had no idea.” Maggie bit her lip, imagining her guests’ automobiles fishtailing into highway guardrails and ditches, nobody showing up, all the food and work wasted–but she immediately dismissed the thought as though it were a misbehaving employee.

‘say, that’s a snazzy outfit, Reg,” she said, forcing herself to ­focus on something immediate and real.

It was a shawl-collared dinner jacket of crushed velour, in deep holly green.

“Ralph Lauren, fifteen hundred bucks,” Reggie said. He knew she’d ask.

‘very nice. Say, do you mind following me around while I see to things?”

And so Reggie tagged after her like a paparazzo, snapping his shots as Maggie made a final inspection tour of the premises before the big rush.

Copyright ” 2004 by James Kunstler. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reading Group Guide


1. What motivates Maggie? Does she seem to have an eye on history and her place in it? Or is it her own insatiable drive to make things attractive and delicious? Is it her determination to make things right that propels her?

2. ‘maggie understood that her readers expected a degree of fantasy in her books'(p. 112). Is the fantasy one that distances the reader? Or are there characters you could identify with? Which ones?

3. How would this story have changed if Maggie had told it in the first person? Would it have been as real? As funny? As pointed?

4. “Here she was, a woman on the shady side of forty-five, widely admired, successful in business, financially secure, physically radiant, desired by a man with the look of an angel and the libido of a Shropshire ram; and she was in Venice, no less, consorting with stars of the silver screen” (p. 133). Certainly at times Maggie is flying high.

She seems to have it all, Maggie, the ‘self-confessed control freak” (p. 133). But she cannot always keep control. How does she keep anxiety at bay? We see her make lists about house and garden and parties. We also see her reach for the wine, such as in Venice in the sleigh-shaped bathtub with a gold dolphin for a handle. ‘soon, the partridges of worry flew over her mental horizon and disappeared” (p. 137). How else does she try to regain control or mask the symptoms of worry?

5. In spite of her less than idyllic childhood, do you see evidence of decent, admirable traits in Maggie? What are those traits? Courage? Generosity? Honesty? Self-knowledge? Rock responsibility? ‘maggie always finished what she started and had never missed an appointment in her life” (p. 6). When are the moments that Maggie seems most human? Is it when she is vulnerable? Think of her initial reaction to Ken’s treachery; her humiliation and fury are undeniably human. But she can also be shrewd, abrupt, cavalier, and judgmental. We recall her reaction to Reggie’s overdose, particularly his farewell note. “The banality and bad composition shocked her. It seemed unworthy of the man she had known. She was angry at herself for having exposed this streak of shallow sentimentality in someone she wished to regard as a deeper person” (p. 222). Are we reminded of Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair? Or even Scarlett O’Hara? Does this put Maggie in a tradition of picaresque heroines whose fa”ades may slip at times but who prove themselves survivors?

6. Maggie can be harsh and vindictive in her revenge. Do her victims deserve such retribution? Does the reader delight in some of these moments? Give examples.

7. How would you describe Maggie as a mother? Has she done a better job than her own mother? Discuss her relationship with Hooper. What is the irony of Maggie’s nurturing as it influences her love life? Think of Swann and ‘mum.”

8. Is there built-in irony in the phrase “American Dream”? Are we braced to see that iridescent bubble burst? A major theme of the book is the self-made zillionaire. What makes these stories page-turners? Are they credible? However mindblowing the excesses, do we recognize these types from television and news stories? Is the book, on multiple levels, a fable for our times?

9. Describe the men in Maggie’s life. Are they drawn simply as they relate to Maggie? Or do some seem strong enough to stand on their own as people? Which ones?

10. Apart from the exuberant comedy, what are some of the serious concerns addressed by the novel–and by Maggie? Just for starters, consider racism, crime, drugs, illiteracy. Others? Does the author incite us to care about these issues? Would you call some parts of the book tragicomedy? What aspects of the violence and mayhem leave Maggie and the reader with a real sense of loss? We recall the scene from her childhood in which she learns about bleakness. Her father has just told her that God has made her so special that nothing can ever hurt her. ‘maggie remembered feeling so sad when he left her in the dark because she knew she wasn’t that special, and even at eight years old, she knew what the darkness really meant” (p. 68). Does that early knowledge diminish her, or does it help to keep her rooted in the real world?

11. What is the New York City of the book? Armed robberies in restaurants and concrete blocks thrown onto the expressway certainly create menace. “”The most unspeakable things happen every day in New York,” Maggie said. “Funny, though,” she halted in reflection, “it’s just a story in the newspaper until something happens to you”” (p. 83). Is her observation accurate, in your experience?

12. Were you struck by the consistent undercurrent of close-to-shady deals in the book? There is the stratospherically rich Hayward, a Richard the Third lurcher, who buys and sells on “tiny margins at absolutely the right moment” (p. 15). Think of Maggie’s stepfather, a second-generation New York City slumlord, and then the white-shoe editor Mr. Hamish manipulating stock. Maggie herself is guilty only of effacing the enormous crews it takes to manage her garden and party kitchen. But she decides in her enlightenment she will include photos of them at the end of her next book. Are we seeing a picture of business as usual and what’s the fuss? Are there finer satiric points being made?

13. In this very funny book, what are your favorite moments? The fastidious Hayward being forced to swallow an oyster is a Chaucerian moment. Recall Swann’s eyes that roved like a pair of busy hands over Maggie, making her feel she is being strip-searched. Think of Maggie, the culinary detective, sniffing out bluefish and cumin. And in the rubble of her collapsed marriage, Maggie does what comes naturally. “And being, above all, a practical person, she decided that what lay ahead was breakfast” (p. 39). Sometimes it is humor not for the squeamish, such as Georgia “throwing her hands up like a crippled cheerleader” (p. 52). Or the moment after a last romp of the moribund marriage when “the jumpsuit hung from a Tiffany dragonfly floorlamp like a dead paratrooper in a tree” (p. 49). Think of other examples of mordant or madcap humor in the book.

14. What is the credibility quotient of the book? Is it primarily broad-brush comedy? Is it possible that truth is even stranger than fiction? Where do you think the author indulges in wild fancy?

15. How would you make the book into a movie? Would you proceed chronologically or would you use flashbacks? Who would play Maggie? Ken? Hooper? Swann? Walter? Others? Who would be a good director?

16. A lot of people in the book really care about Maggie. Do you? Think of Hooper’s protectiveness: “Hey, parties come and parties go . . . It’ll be all right. You’ll see” (p. 29). Who else really cares for her? Complete strangers adore her, are grateful to her for empowering them, helping them make their lives more beautiful. If Jackie Kennedy was an icon who elevated fashion in America, has Maggie done the same for kitchen, house, and garden?

17. Maggie is an acknowledged genius in the kitchen. Everyone gravitates to her sublime talent (except perhaps her parents and mother-in-law). If the reader can’t exactly derive recipes from the book, the inspiration level is still high. What were some remarkable culinary moments? Recall her last-minute invitation to Reggie, saying she’d have to “rummage.” Then, “among the many and various contents of the fridge she descried a seven-pound free-range stewing hen, which she plunked into her largest Romertopf clay vessel, along with a cup of Meyer’s dark rum, a fistful of hand-ground Jamaican jerk seasonings, a drift of cilantro, a heap of Vidalia onions, and a shag of dried tangerine peel . . . with two hours cooking time to go’ (p. 185). Are we convinced of the merits of her reputation? Of the substance behind the myth?

18. What is the view of American justice in the book? Think of Ken and his speeding and dope event. Think about Hooper and his miraculous escape from prosecution. Maggie, too, has her way with the troopers partly by feeding them. Does it take Ken’s ultimate serial murders to make even his millions useless to save him?

19. What are we left with at the end? Is the book more than the sum of its satiric parts? Is Maggie? Does Hayward’s meditation on life’s possibilities give real hope? “A strange feeling has come over me lately. I’m convinced that a new day is at hand. We won’t all get there, but some of us will. Those of us who would be saved have to save ourselves. . . . Who knows? This is a mysterious universe. Anything’s possible. Even happiness’ (p. 319). Do Maggie’s own life and love at the end point to a more grounded happiness? Did you think of lady-of-the-manor analogies in earlier books?


The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald