Book Club Guide | The Dangers of an Ordinary Night by Lynne Reeves

As a school and family counselor, as well as a novelist, it’s my hope that every facet of my work creates opportunities for thoughtful conversation around the relationship issues we find most difficult to talk about. Fiction is a powerful vehicle for examining universal experiences. When it comes to The Dangers of an Ordinary Night, I wanted to invite readers to inhabit the lives of women caught up in caretaking—lost in marriage and parenting. It’s my desire to add to the ongoing conversation about the toll addiction takes on every member of the family.

Book Club Questions

  1. The Dangers of an Ordinary Night is a novel about trust in our most precious relationships. At one point, Nell says, “Once someone lies to you, it’s impossible to know when they’re telling the truth.” Discuss the personal betrayals Nell, Cyn, and Fitz have experienced. In what ways do these breaches of trust interfere with their other relationships?
  2. After Fitz’s friend Maddie died, he sacrificed his opportunity to go to Juilliard. Years later, every Monday night, he plays piano in a nearly empty bar for tips in coins. Why does he punish himself by disallowing the recognition he deserves given his talent? How do feelings of guilt and regret impact our lives even years after we’ve experienced a traumatic event?
  3. Early in Nell and Zeke’s relationship, she sees him as charming, spontaneous, and fun. It isn’t until after they’re married that Nell can see that his big personality has a darker side. Do you have empathy for Zeke throughout the novel? Does his continued self-sabotage impact your ability to root for him to get well?
  4. At one point, Nell reflects on Zeke’s cycle of addiction by saying she, “lost all sense of what was normal, entering a state of non-movement, letting his relapses and remissions take center stage in their lives.” In what ways are women today letting the needs of other family members take away from their own pursuits? How does this impact their own happiness?
  5. Eventually, exhausted by the rush and surge that is life with Zeke, Nell decides to leave him. She says, “Her little boat of a heart is no match for his sea of white horses.” Is it ever justified to sever ties with someone who struggles with the disease of addiction? Is it a heartless choice or one of survival? Might you feel differently if the person battling addiction is your child?
  6. In one of Cyn’s early sessions with Tali, she notices that, “like lots of girls her age, Tali has already learned to bury a request for help in either politeness or sarcasm.” How do young women get these messages? Is it harder for women and girls to ask for the help they need to cope when they’re in the shadow of a family member’s illness or addiction?
  7. Sam’s mother, Ana is a classic stage mother. Discuss the particular intensity of her parenting. How does her treatment of Sam impact his mental health? Does Ana mean well, or is her over-involvement purely selfish?
  8. Fitz and his sister Keira are keeping a terrible secret about the death of their friend Maddie Townsend. They’ve come to believe it’s better to hurt themselves trying to live with it, than it would be to devastate their mother and the girl’s parents with the truth. Do you agree that there are times when keeping a secret does more good than harm?
  9. Nell says she will never forgive herself for not anticipating, “the dangers that hide in an ordinary night.” What does this phrase mean to you? Why do we sometimes miss the signs of mental illness and addiction in our loved ones? And why, with hindsight, is the evidence that something was amiss seemingly hidden in plain sight?
  10. In the end, Cyn says she is “caught between two dangers—to avoid loneliness, she’ll have to expose herself to love.” Why does living wholeheartedly make us vulnerable? Do you think Fitz ever tells Cyn about his complicity in the aftermath of Maddie Townsend’s death? If so, does she forgive him? Do you think Cyn and Fitz have a chance at healthy love?