UYC’s Book Club: The Group

Alright guys, I want you to imagine the Sex and the City crew, circa the 1930’s.  Got the visual?  Now pick up a copy of The Group and start reading.  Here’s the brief synopsis from Goodread’s:

Mary McCarthy’s most celebrated novel portrays the lives of eight Vassar graduates, known simply to their classmates as “the group.” An eclectic mix of personalities and upbringings, they meet a week after graduation to watch Kay Strong, the first of the group, be married. After the ceremony, the women begin their adult lives–traveling to Europe, tackling the world of nursing and publishing, and finding love and heartbreak in the streets of New York City. Through the years, some of the friends grow apart and some become more entangled in each other’s affairs, but all vow not to become like their mothers and fathers. It is only when one of them passes away that they all come back together again to mourn the loss of a friend, a confidante, and most importantly, a member of the group.

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Discussion time!  I posed three questions below that were discussed at book club (pictured above!), and my responses to each.  If you’ve read the book, please jump into the conversation in the comments below!

1. What character in The Group did you identify with most?

Hmm, can I be really difficult here and say I didn’t really identify with any?  In fact, I found that to be the most frustrating part of reading this book…I really wanted to have a Carrie or Charlotte that I could be like “yes! that’s the book version of me!” to, but just didn’t happen.  I’m not sure if this is because of the generational differences (although, I don’t think so: these women were all pretty evolved for their time), but more likely each character did something that rubbed me the wrong way, making it hard to identify with them.  Norine?  She was messy and was having an affair with her best friend’s husband.  Kay?  She stayed with the cheating, awful husband, who then committed her to a psychiatric ward (and I don’t believe for one second that she didn’t know!)  Helena?  She KNEW the affair was going on and didn’t say a word to anyone!  Ladies, seriously?!

2. What surprised you most about the book?

If I started reading it not knowing it was supposed to be set in the thirties, I truly would have thought that I was reading contemporary fiction written by a Park Slope mom!  There were frank discussions of pre-marital sex and birth control, strong opinions on breast feeding, approaches to mental illness that were quite shocking, affairs left and right, and women running the gamut of what they chose to do with their post-college lives: some holding careers, others being housewives, some traveling, some taking an active political role…the book painted a picture of women being much more evolved in the thirties than I suppose I imagined them to be.  I do wonder if this had anything to do with these women living in Manhattan and being upper-class, though?  Would this have been a much different story if it was about a group of girlfriends living in middle America and being working class during the depression?  I think so.

3. Do you think this book paints an accurate picture of female friendships?

It’s interesting to note that of the group of 8 friends, the only time they are all together post-college is at the beginning of the book for a wedding, and at the end of the book for a funeral (I won’t give any spoilers in case you haven’t read it!)  Other than that, very few kept in touch regularly through the stories of their lives, which is very different than the besties on Sex and the City, right?  But perhaps more realistic?  Living in NYC poses a special kind of challenge in getting together with people, and working around everyone’s crazy schedules.  There’s many people I’ll go 6 months without seeing, who really only live less than a mile away!  So again, do you think this is a New York phenomenon when it comes to maintaining friendships, or do people everywhere just naturally drift apart post-college, and really only come together for those big life events?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book below, and make sure to join us next month for our discussion on The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., which we’ll hold on the blog on Thursday, November 20th. Between now and then feel free to share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #UYCBookclub!

By: Jessica Tiare Bowen

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