This reading group guide for The Perfect Mistress includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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Lauren Robinson wanted a simple life, and a simple life meant no strings. If love always led to infidelity and heartbreak—like it did with her cheating father, Vernon, and scorned mother, Joyce—then the best thing was to never become someone’s wife. So Lauren took a cue from her dad and never expected anything from the married men she dated, who had oblivious wives and plenty of money to spoil her with. But when ex-boyfriend Matthew King comes back into her life—the first and last man to ever break Lauren’s heart—she begins to question whether she’s really happy.
Joyce Robinson didn’t know what she had done to deserve the life she was getting. Not only had she lost both parents to disease, she lost her husband, Vernon, too—to a vengeful, gun-toting mistress who would not accept him leaving her. Worst of all, her teenaged daughter, Lauren, had enabled him to destroy their family. Now, dying of brain cancer and stuck in a facility, Joyce is trapped—not just by her disease-riddled body, but by an embittered heart, a cold facade, and an unresolved anger toward her now grown-up daughter. Will she be able to make peace with Lauren—and her choices—before it’s too late?Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In The Perfect Mistress
, we’re introduced to two parallel narratives of mother and daughter, Joyce and Lauren. What are your initial impressions of their relationship?
2. It’s clear Lauren loves her father deeply, and when he suggests that she might lose him if her mother ever discovered his extramarital relationships, she definitively decides never to tell a soul out of that fear. How does his threat of leaving manifest in her behavior, both as a child and as an adult?
3. When Joyce leaves to stay with her parents after Vernon cheats on her, her father insists that she stay with Vernon, saying the only thing that’s unforgivable is physical violence, and that anything else can be worked through. What do you think of this statement? Can anything be forgiven, or should it?
4. Vernon tells Lauren that humans weren’t created to be monogamous and that she’ll understand when she’s older. When Lauren asks her father if he’d be okay with Joyce having boyfriends the way he has girlfriends, a “look of sheer horror” (p. 87) sweeps across his face. He tells her that it’s different for men and women. Is it? If so, how?
5. What is the pivotal moment when Joyce decides Lauren has committed the ultimate betrayal against her? Why do you think it was so easy for Joyce to blame and hate Lauren for what had happened?
6. Lauren ended her two-year relationship with Matthew in college because she believed he was cheating on her. When he comes back into her life, however, she is surprised by how happy she is to see him. What do you think are the real reasons why their prior relationship ended?
7. When Matthew and Lauren are discussing a high-profile sexual harassment scandal in the news, Matthew comments that it’s a shame such a talented guy is being brought down by his libido. What’s problematic about that statement? Besides the obvious differences between an affair and sexual harassment, what are other reasons why someone would stray apart from a dissatisfied sex life?
8. Time and again, people in Joyce’s life comment on how Vernon was such a great father but a lousy husband. Do you think he was a great father? Why or why not?
9. Vivian tells Lauren that she’s contributing to the “destruction of the black family” (p. 165) by having affairs with married men. Do you agree with her? Why or why not? If there were no women with whom men could have affairs, would their relationships or marriages be perfect otherwise?
10. Joyce says to Lauren, “It was bad enough that you stole his heart from me, but then you turned around and watched him give it to other women” (p. 225). What do you think she means by this? How does this statement reveal Joyce’s true feelings?
11. Lauren reminds Joyce during Julian’s staged therapy session that she was just a child when her ultimate “betrayal” took place and thus is entitled to forgiveness, and that her debt is paid. What is Joyce’s response to that? Why do you think Joyce dismisses the “just a child” excuse?
12. Several people have to remind Joyce that Lauren deceived her mother because she wanted the approval of her father. Why do you think Joyce feels so hurt, even decades later, by Lauren’s secret?
13. Lauren’s mother makes the ultimate sacrifice on Lauren’s wedding day by attempting to apprehend Vivian, who was threatening Lauren’s life. What are the parallels between Joyce’s and Vernon’s last few moments on earth?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Do you believe the adage “once a cheater, always a cheater”? With your book club, discuss what it means to cheat (Is it cheating when it’s physical? Is it cheating when it’s emotional?), whether or not someone can change, and if you’d ever enter into a relationship with someone whom you know has cheated on others in the past.
2. Visit www.reshondatatebillingsley.com and select another Tate Billingsley title for your club’s next book. Have the group individually rank the characters in both books from best to worst (or favorite to least favorite). Take turns arguing your case!
3. A number of films tackle the topic of infidelity and the dissolution of a family. With your book club, select a film that centers the woman—whether she’s the cheater or the scorned—and have a movie night. (Don’t forget the popcorn!) Afterward, discuss its parallels with The Perfect Mistress.