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|The questions that
follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of
THE NINTH WIFE by Amy Stolls
1. The novel opens with Bess's karate teacher saying, "Pick a partner
… and get a tombstone." Metaphorically, that's what society often urges
us to do: find someone, get married, and stay married for life "until
death do you part." But how difficult is that to do in this day and age?
What are our modern-day obstacles? Is such a goal realistic?
2. Bess is a 30-something living in a city with an ache for
companionship and kids, and bad luck in the dating realm. She tells Rory
she feels like a cliché. How does this affect her self-image and her
outlook on the future? Do you think current portrayals of single women
in the media (TV, books, movies, etc.) help or hamper the happiness of
real-life single women?
3. Do you think Rory should have told Bess about his ex-wives on their
first date or soon after? Would you have, if you were Rory? Likewise, do
you think Bess should have told him she was seeking out his ex-wives
(besides Carol)? If he had told her not to, should she have abandoned
4. To what degree should our past define us? Rory argues that you don't
have to know much about someone's past to understand that person in the
present. Says Fawn on Page 413, "A man iz voser iz, nit voser iz geven"
(A man is what he is, not what he has been). Bess argues, on the other
hand, that we're a sum of our experiences and that we need to understand
those experiences to understand ourselves and each other. Whom do you
5. What role does storytelling play in this novel? Do the stories that
Rory, Cricket, Millie, and Irv tell hide certain truths or do they help
to illuminate deeper, emotional truths? If the former, what might they
be trying to hide? If the latter, what would some of those deeper
emotional truths be?
6. Bess feels she knows too little about her own ancestry to feel
connected to a past. Why does this bother her? How does your cultural
heritage --- or, as for Bess, a lack of cultural heritage --- contribute
to your self-identity?
7. Why do you think Millie is physically harming Irv? Why do you think
Irv is keeping quiet about it?
8. Bess wonders if Washington, D.C., will feel like home after her
grandparents leave. And when asked if he feels homesick, Rory talks
about Ireland, even though he's been living in the U.S. for more than 25
years. What does "home" mean to each of them? What is it about where you
live that makes it feel like "home"?
9. Bess is sometimes frustrated with how many secrets Millie, Irv,
Cricket, and Rory keep from her. Do you think it's wrong for loved ones
to keep secrets from each other? If not, which secrets does a person
have a right to keep hidden and which ones should be aired? Conversely,
when does someone have the right to expose someone else's secrets? Do
you think this is going to be less (or more) of an issue in the future?
10. In an email to Bess, Dao asks: "What can we truly know?" What does
she mean by that? What message is Dao ultimately trying to convey? What
has Bess learned throughout her journey that might help her answer this
11. Would you, in the end, marry someone who has been married eight
times before? Is your answer different now that you've read The Ninth
Wife? What would be some of the determining factors in your decision?
What if he/she was married three times? Four times? How much "baggage"
is too much baggage to bring to a relationship for it to work?
12. Have Bess and Rory learned what it takes to make a marriage last
into old age? Do you think their marriage has a good chance of