Reading Group Center




Celebrating Mary Morris

When Jodi Picoult finished reading Mary Morris’s latest novel, Gateway to the Moon, she proclaimed, “If you haven’t read Mary Morris yet, start here. Now. Immediately.” Hers is advice we recommend you take. Gateway to the Moon is the perfect introduction to an author who writes about history, relationships, travel, and the feeling of being stuck in an almost fablelike manner, with a sense of humor, and in a voice that is instantly relatable.

Once you’ve finished Gateway to the Moon, you’ll be sure to want to check out Morris’s earlier works. If you were drawn to the historical aspect, try The Jazz Palace. If you liked that the story took place over multiple generations, check out The Waiting Room.  If you prefer to dip your toe into an author’s work before committing to a full novel, why not try her short-story collection The Lifeguard? One thing’s for sure, you don’t want to miss this unique American voice!

 

Gateway to the Moon
“A perfect vehicle for book club discussions.” —Jewish Book Council

In 1492, two history-altering events occurred: the Jews and Muslims of Spain were expelled, and Columbus set sail for the New World. Many Spanish Jews chose not to flee and instead became Christian in name only, maintaining their religious traditions in secret. Among them was Luis de Torres, who accompanied Columbus as an interpreter. Over the centuries, de Torres’ descendants traveled across North America, finally settling in the hills of New Mexico. Now, some five hundred years later, it is in these same hills that Miguel Torres, a young amateur astronomer, finds himself trying to understand the mystery that surrounds him and the town he grew up in: Entrada de la Luna, or Gateway to the Moon.

Poor health and poverty are the norm in Entrada, and luck is rare. So when Miguel sees an ad for a babysitting job in Santa Fe, he jumps at the opportunity. The family for whom he works, the Rothsteins, is Jewish, and Miguel is surprised to find many of their customs similar to those his own family kept but never understood. Braided throughout the present-day narrative are the powerful stories of the ancestors of Entrada’s residents, portraying both the horrors of the Inquisition and the resilience of families. Moving and unforgettable, Gateway to the Moon beautifully weaves the journeys of the converso Jews into the larger American story.

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Jazz PalaceThe Jazz Palace

“Riveting. . . . As her tale unfolds, we know that we are in the hands of a master.” —Christina Baker Kline, author of The Orphan Train

Boomtown Chicago, 1920s—a world of gangsters, musicians, and clubs. Young Benny Lehrman, born into a Jewish hat-making family, is expected to take over his father’s business, but his true passion is piano—especially jazz. After dark, he sneaks down to the South Side to hear the bands play.

One night he is asked to sit in with a group. His playing is first-rate. The trumpeter, a black man named Napoleon, becomes Benny’s friend and musical collaborator. They are asked to play at a saloon Napoleon has christened The Jazz Palace. But Napoleon’s main gig is at a mob establishment, which doesn’t take kindly to their musicians freelancing. As Benny and Napoleon navigate the highs and the lows of the Jazz Age, a bond is forged between them that is as memorable as it is lasting. Morris brilliantly captures the dynamic atmosphere and dazzling music of an exceptional era.

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Waiting RoomThe Waiting Room

The Waiting Room is the intricate tale of three generations of women whose lives have been shaped by the essential experience of all women, that of waiting—for love to grow stronger, for wars to end, for life to move ahead. In its richly woven texture, its movements through time and space, the novel introduces us to the unforgettable members of the Coleman family:  Zoe, who returns home after years away to confront her brother Badger’s break with reality—the result of taking too many drugs in Canada, where he fled to avoid the Vietnam War; June, Zoe’s mother, who first suffered a deep estrangement from her husband when he returned from World War II; and Naomi, the grandmother, who fled the pogroms of Russia. These three women confront men, madness, dreams, and ultimately one another.

Filled with humor and the wisdom of generations, The Waiting Room is a novel of hope in the face of loss, of war and its casualties.  It is also about freeing oneself from the dark side of waiting, and escaping into the light of love.

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LifeguardThe Lifeguard

In this collection, Mary Morris shows her great sensitivity to men and women in moments of turbulence, uncertainty, and crisis in their lives—and how they can reach for the unexpected and the spiritual at such times.

In the title story, a lifeguard sees his teenage mystique among the girls on the beach dissolve in a panicked moment when he cannot save a child. In “The Wall,” a woman confronts her husband’s first marriage, in the form of a mural on a kitchen wall that he is strangely unable to contemplate painting over. In “The Glass-Bottom Boat,” a mother on her first trip abroad learns about trust through a solicitous stranger. In “The Snowmaker’s Wife,” a housewife left alone while her husband works long hours at a mountaintop ski resort starts to suspect his betrayal—as well as her own perceptions. “Vital Signs” tells of the consequences of a doctor bringing back to life a young woman, half-dead on the side of the road; and “Cross Word” is a wonderfully funny play on those puzzles and the people who do them.

Combining Mary Morris’s consummate craft as a storyteller with her gift for dramatic travel writing, The Lifeguard is a powerful and haunting collection.

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