Appear­ances: A Novel

January 1, 2013

Appear­ances gets to the heart of what hap­pens when ill­ness inter­rupts the good life of a seem­ing­ly close Jew­ish fam­i­ly. Saman­tha Free­man, the fash­ion­able wife of a suc­cess­ful Boston busi­ness­man, loves her hus­band and her sis­ter, but the two of them can bare­ly exist in the same room. When her sis­ter is diag­nosed with can­cer in her ear­ly 40’s, her mar­riage and her fam­i­ly are tipped into cri­sis. Get­ting strength from her Rab­bi and her reli­gion, Saman­tha accom­pa­nies her sis­ter to her oncol­o­gy, chemother­a­py and radi­a­tion appoint­ments until her sis­ter los­es her bat­tle with the dis­ease. After a year of mourn­ing, Saman­tha immers­es in a mikveh to help find solace in the midst of pro­found loss. She dis­cov­ers pow­ers and skills she nev­er knew she had. A sto­ry of love, loss, grief, for­give­ness and heal­ing, Appear­ances reminds us that no amount of priv­i­lege can pro­tect us from mar­i­tal dif­fi­cul­ty, fam­i­ly con­flicts or mortality.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Son­dra Helene Levenson

  1. Why do you think Elizabeth’s hus­band, Jake, accept­ed her close rela­tion­ship with Saman­tha and Samantha’s hus­band Richard could not?

  2. What was Samantha’s part in the love tri­an­gle between her, Eliz­a­beth and Richard?

  3. Do you feel Richard’s demands at the begin­ning were based on not want­i­ng to lose Saman­tha? Did he want some­thing from her that she and Eliz­a­beth had?

  4. Do you think Saman­tha felt in some way respon­si­ble for Elizabeth’s illness?

  5. What do you think of Jake’s pro­found grief?

  6. What about Richard’s reac­tion to Elizabeth’s illness?

  7. How do you think Samantha’s and Elizabeth’s par­ents were treat­ed by their son-in-laws?

  8. Could the fam­i­ly have man­aged their reac­tions to Elizabeth’s ill­ness differently?

  9. Do you think Saman­tha is defined by her care tak­ing role?

  10. Do you think Saman­tha and Richard will end up stay­ing mar­ried? What would you do in a sim­i­lar situation?

  11. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of the title, Appear­ances”?

  12. Dis­cuss the con­cept of hav­ing enough love in one’s heart for a hus­band and a sister.