Some ties cannot be broken,
Some secrets you cannot hide.
Some sorrows cannot be spoken,
Some desires cannot be denied.
Struggling to move on with her life after she loses her husband in World War II, Caroline Hunt brings her two daughters back to her childhood home in Salem, Massachusetts. Caroline’s chance meeting with her college sweetheart leads to a complex union that weaves two families together, bringing both great joy and heartrending sorrow. At the center of this compelling drama is the simmering, uncontainable attraction felt by step-siblings Dinah and Tru.
A profoundly stirring story of young people on the brink of adulthood and the stark realities of family life—including harrowing grief and the consequences of long-buried secrets—Prospice is rich with psychological detail and unforgettably delineated characters. In elegant prose and pitch-perfect period detail, Karen Kelly draws us deep inside the lives of her characters, offering poignant humor along with page-turning suspense that will captivate readers to the very last, revealing page.
Prospice is Latin for “look ahead,” an apt designation for this beautifully wrought debut sure to be embraced by all who love The Memory Keeper’s Daughter or the novels of Julia Glass and Ann Patchett. Evocatively portraying several generations of vividly drawn women, it is the story of a family that learns, through sorrow and loss, to find happiness and the strength to look ahead.
PROSPICE Reader’s Guide
In reading and thinking about the novel, consider the following questions:
The crucial and everlasting significance of the relationship between mothers and daughters (as well as fathers and sons) is essential to the foundation of the book. Prospice is told from the perspectives of only two characters: Caroline and Dinah. How does the resonance of this mother/daughter relationship contribute to the emotional impact of the story?
The style in which Prospice is written is distinctly formal and proper. How does this inform your overall perception of the characters and the story?
The evolution of social mores and the immediacy of communication in today’s world would effectively preempt much of the sense of taboo, misunderstanding, and heartache found in Prospice. How does the setting contribute to the romance and sense of anticipation in the novel? Would this story be as compelling, complicated, or even interesting today?
In the beginning of the story, Caroline moves to Salem to escape “…the ghost who sat in Gideon’s chair….” At the end of the story, Caroline, Tru, and Dinah have moved back to Beaufort. What role does place play in the novel?
When Tom and Caroline first talk, he mentions his wife Margaret’s suicide. Was the fact that her suicide followed on the heels of Whit’s accident a noticeable clue to the secrets yet to be discovered, or did the subtlety elude you? What other clues did you find along the way to foreshadow what was to come?
The title Prospice is taken from a poem by Robert Browning, written after his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, had died. It is also the Latin imperative to “look ahead.” How do these ideas relate to the themes in the novel?
Readers tend to relate best to things they recognize from personal experience. Caroline’s reaction upon discovering the feelings of Dinah and Tru may have surprised you. She was dismayed, yet remained circumspect and somewhat measured. Is this how you would have reacted? Did it affect your feelings about Caroline—or about Dinah and Tru? Do you think her reaction was affected more by the mores of the time or by her own particular personality traits? Do you think personal experience informs your perception of the plausibility of a character’s actions?
In the same vein, when Tom reveals that he had always known that Tru was Whit’s son, what was your reaction? Does his acceptance surprise you? How would you imagine that scenario might go if it happened within your own life?
Looking back, what foreshadowing can you recognize of Jemima’s ultimate tragedy?
How does Dinah’s unusual maturity and academic intellect serve the story? Do you see adolescents and young adults today as being less mature or more mature than those of another generation?
What conscious or subconscious impact do the letters that Dinah finds have on her? How does the love story between Nathanial Hawthorne and Elizabeth Peabody that unfolds in the letters relate to the love story in the main plot?
The clues that Tru leaves for Dinah in the first half of the novel are sometimes subtle. Which ones stood out as the most telling? Did the underscored lines in Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales effectively clue you in to his feelings?
What role does Coco serve in the novel? Throughout the story, do you think her character evolves, or is it the empathy, perception, and open-heartedness of those around her that evolves?
What do you think the real relationship is between Coco and Harley?
What did you find most surprising within the story?
Who are your favorite characters in the book?
Does the book end as you expected? How did the ending affect you?
Questions & Answers from Karen Kelly on
Had you been thinking about this story a long time before you started writing it down? How long did the actual writing process take?
The idea for the story actually began with the scene near the middle of the book. It was a visual image I kept having of a young man rescuing his stepsister from a cold, rushing creek. I don’t know exactly where it came from, but it wouldn’t leave me. I had been thinking about writing a novel for quite some time, kicking around several ideas over the years, but this one moved in and stayed. The story just sort of came to me—it seemed like it was already there; I just needed to write it down.
As an editor who reads a lot of fiction, I was astonished at how confident and polished Prospice was, right out of the gate. What kind of training have you had? Did you rely on a writer’s group or some valued readers along the way who helped guide you?
I can’t claim any formal training. I guess a lot of good reading could be considered good training, but my only previous experience with writing had been a lot of essays on other’s works. I didn’t have any idea what the process should be—I just decided to sit down and write 1,000 words a day, whether they were any good or not. I didn’t know if that number was a little or a lot. I had no template, but I never really thought my book would be published so there wasn’t any pressure—it was more a necessary creative outlet. I come from a long line of creators. We have to produce things.
What kind of writing do you like to read for pleasure? Who are the writers who inspire and sustain you?
The writer I most admire is probably Nabokov. The fact that he can write like he does in a language that is not native to him is stunning. And recently, I was on a Faulkner kick. What seemed so difficult to grasp at twenty became so germane and compelling at a later age. Re-reading “The Sound and the Fury” after a few decades was an epiphany. Same with Robert Penn Warren. Let’s see…Wallace Stegner, particularly “Crossing to Safety” and Wally Lamb, and I can pretty confidently say I’ve read every book ever published by Tom Wolfe, John Irving, Truman Capote and Irwin Shaw also comes to mind—especially “Voices of a Summer Day.” But we all relate to things based on perspective and experience, so there is flux. Lately I’ve been impressed with Anthony Doerr and Amor Towles and Andrew Sean Greer. Hmmm…there are a lot of men in the room. Let’s add Willa Cather, Beryl Markham, Anita Shreve and Donna Tartt.
Prospice is first and foremost a family story. Are any aspects autobiographical? And if so, how does your family feel about their lives being shared with the world?
I can’t imagine that any fiction writing isn’t somewhat autobiographical, just in the small, experiential details. Almost anything one writes is probably based on some experience or another. At this writing she doesn’t know it yet, but my mother was very likely the inspiration for the step-sibling dynamic. I found out when I was about thirteen that she had, for a short time, a stepbrother and -sister. This revelation must have had some impact, because the idea of a stepbrother came back to roost. Wuthering Heights may have contributed something to that as well. There is something so powerfully poignant about young love that is fostered by growing up together, so to speak.
If there is one lesson you’d like us to learn from the characters in Prospice, what would it be?
A few of my own abiding philosophies are evident in the telling of the tale—for instance, when Caroline explains to Dinah that they should focus on the positive, cherishing the good days while they have them; that they shouldn’t let fear or worry color more than it has to. I think people tend to give misfortune more power than it deserves, allowing it to rob them of some very precious time. Also, like Caroline, I dislike wallowing. I really do think there are those who secretly enjoy their misery. In most cases, you can choose your happiness. Another thing that is probably not so much philosophy as superstition takes the form of the one-handed furniture mover from the opening scene, whose reappearance throughout the book serves to give Dinah some perspective on life’s misfortunes. I tend to do that a lot—measure the situation I’m in against what could be worse. I guess I tend to look on the bright side. But the flip side of that is that I live with a constant awareness of what exactly those things would be—the worst-case scenarios that would bring me to my knees. So, while I am ever grateful to have been thus far spared my worst nightmares, I’m always sort of waiting for the penny to drop.