Shadows and Ghosts Reading Guide


Genre:  Fiction
Categories: Contemporary, Literary, Satire, Women's, Jewish


I wrote Shadows and Ghosts because I love movies and I wanted to give readers a cinematic experience, but, more specifically, the kind of cinematic experience one finds in classic women's movies.  So, I fashioned a tale about a critically acclaimed, slightly crazy, Bohemian filmmaker, and gave her a conservative, uptight, identical twin sister. Then, I surrounded her with a cast of women as smart, mouthy, and neurotic as she is, and framed her story with screenwriters' directions and images from the films that shaped her life.

The book opens with this image from Young Frankenstein

 Dr. Victor Frankenstein stands over the inanimate hulk he has made and begs the heavens to give it life.
 — because it represents how my filmmaker, Ida Mae Glick, and probably all filmmakers, writers, artists, and composers feel when they create something.


In her opening statement, Ida Mae cites images from these films:

Singing in the Rain
The Graduate
Cinema Paradiso
Young Frankenstein

Even if the films are unfamiliar, the images provide an important introduction to Ida Mae's character. Why?

Ida Mae says, "Within this frame, I can impose context upon chaos, mess with people's minds, and manipulate their perceptions." Does this make you trust her as her story unfolds? Or not?

The main body of the book begins with the phrase: "Fade In."  What effect did that have on how you read the book? 

The book has two narratives going simultaneously: Ida's Mae's first person, past tense account of the events leading up to her heart attack, and a third person, present tense description of the events following it.

Did this technique ever make you ever feel as though you were watching a film that had a voice-over?

Shadows and Ghosts deals with relationships between:

—identical twins
—best friends
—mothers and daughters
—patients and therapists
—husbands and wives
—unmarried men and women
—academic colleagues
—artists and their subjects
—reality and illusion
—the living and the dead

How do these materialize in the book?  (For instance, Ida Mae and Lisa are sisters and twins. But, are there any other types of sisters? Any other types of twins—i.e. non-human images that occur as twins.  There are two main mother-daughter relationships—Ida Mae's and Edna's, and Fern's and Judith's. But are there any other motherly relationships between characters?). Discuss these and how they connect to each other and the book as a whole.

While there are many women in Shadows and Ghosts,  Ida Mae, Fern, Lisa, Edna, and Judith have the largest roles and go through the greatest changes.  Discuss the growth (or lack thereof!) in these women. How did you see them at the beginning of the book? In the middle? At the end?   

Spencer K. Montague's tale occurs as a story within a story which uses many of the book's themes, such altered vision and the boundary between reality and illusion. What other themes can you find in it?

Why does Spencer begin his tale by talking about the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden?

Who is his other-worldly visitor in the forest preserve and jail?

Who are Ida Mae's other-worldly visitors?

Although there are many other-worldly beings in the book, the title refers to other types of shadows and ghosts, too.  What are they?

After Ida Mae and Edna argue in Chapter Five, Edna disappears.  In Chapter Six, Ida Mae says, "I never should have yelled at her." Is she talking about their most recent argument? Or  another?

What does Ida Mae want most in life?  


Watch The World of Henry Orient,

—Why would Ida Mae and her sister feel so strongly about this film?

—Which girl do think Ida Mae felt was most like her? What about Lisa?

—Do you see any other parallels between Ida Mae and Lisa and the characters in the film, particularly regarding their fantasy lives, and their relationships with their parents?

—Do you think Ida Mae saw any of herself in Henry Orient?

Watch Rebel without a Cause.

—This film spoke to a generation of teens in the 1950's, and made James Dean a star.  Why does Ida Mae identify with it?

Watch The Purple Rose of Cairo.

—Of all his movies, Woody Allen calls Purple Rose his favorite. Ida Mae feels such a strong connection to this film that she cites it as she enters the Wielander Dairy Barn for the first time, and meets Phyllis's friends. What similarities do you see between the boundary between the real and cinematic worlds in Allen's film, and the boundary between those two worlds in Ida Mae's life.

—In both the film and book, what consequences arise when those boundaries dissolve and characters cross them?

Look at these paintings by Rene Magritte:

The Human Condition I
Empire of Lights
The Blank Signature
The Son of Man
The Large Family
The Voice of the Winds
Time Transfixed

—Ida Mae says of Magritte, "He would have been my guru...had we lived at the same time." What is is there about this artist's work that so appeals to her?

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