David Klein on What Makes a Good Book Group Novel

You’ve got your glass of wine, your comfy seat. Everyone is settled in. Chat time is over and someone says let’s talk about the book. The heated debate begins – hopefully.

After my novel Stash came out in 2010, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a number of book groups. I discovered what made a good group book novel.

It’s a novel that gets conversation going and rolling. It’s a novel with characters that spark disagreement, liked by one reader, loathed by another. It’s a story that maybe not everyone loved, but everyone has an opinion about, and wants to share it.

In Stash, a suburban mom is arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana and subsequently faces a series of moral dilemmas and tough decisions that impact her life and those around her. Some readers sympathized with her. Others called for the firing squad. The story addressed issues about marriage, parenting, drug use, and crime. It made for lively, not always comfortable, discussion.

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And I realized that a good book group novel can take you out of your comfort zone. If everyone loves a book and feels the same way about a character, there isn’t much to do except nod your head and reach for more dessert. But if members of your book group disagree about a character, the decisions she makes, or an issue raised, then everyone will be clamoring for a chance to speak and reaching for another glass of wine. No one is ready to go home yet.

Why do some novels become favorites of book clubs? Because there is something significant to discuss. Such as the nature vs. nurture debate in Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (we do need to talk about Kevin, and his mother). The toll of time or the structure of storytelling in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad (the squad is coming to visit us, too). Or the abhorrent behavior of parents, spouses, and children in Christos Tsolkias’ The Slap (who wouldn’t want to slap that brat?).

Read any of these novels and you are likely to have a take, perhaps a strong one, about characters, events, and style. About wrenching, no-win situations characters face. About moral decisions that have no clear right or wrong but clear consequences no matter what the character decides. About way in which the story relates to your life.

Some of you might love the book. Others not. But everyone will be thankful they read the novel, and most will be enlightened in a new way or gain a better understanding of another reader’s perspective when the discussion is over.

In my most recent novel, Clean Break, four lives intersect when a bystander steps into an argument between a married couple. From beginning to end, the novel raises questions that readers might answer differently – and passionately.

Should the bystander, Jake, have stayed out of it? Does he get too involved? Should Celeste be more forgiving of her husband’s weaknesses? What motivates one of the characters to commit a crime that forever changes the lives of all of them? And the ultimate question: Is it possible to make a clean break from a troubled life and get fresh start?

I like to imagine the members of book groups pouring an extra glass of wine, eagerly grappling with these questions raise in Clean Break, and being reminded of how important novels are in their lives. Books groups tend to be intimate, personal gatherings where opinions and feelings can be explored and challenged. Through discussion and debate, you can gain not only insight into a novel, its characters, and its author intent, but also into yourselves as readers and your fellow book group members. Keep reading. Keep talking.

Clean Break by David Klein – Excerpt

David Klein, author of Clean BreakDAVID KLEIN reveals, “I mostly keep my head down trying to write. I read a lot of fiction, a mix of contemporary and classic novels. I love movies, but will only go see one if I think it’s going to be great (most are not). Plus I’m immersed in the fun and drama of living with a teenager and a pre-teen in the house. One of my inspirations in writing Stash was the question: ‘What if a well-respected mother and wife who liked to occasionally smoke a little pot got busted?’ For Clean Break, I was interested in this question: ‘What measures can you take to get someone you once loved to leave you alone?'”

Visit David online at ByDavidKlein.com and on Facebook and Twitter @byDavidKlein.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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