Enhance your book club experience with these discussion questions, insider information, author interview, and recipe suggestions.
When Tallulah James returns to her Mississippi hometown in 1972 after a seven-year absence, determined to help her brother escape a murder conviction, she hopes to avoid the small town gossip mill and return to California as quickly as possible. But as Tallulah reconnects with her dysfunctional family, she becomes entangled in a web of long-held secrets about their history of mental illness, her tumultuous upbringing, and a terrible tragedy that nearly tore the family apart. Ultimately, the truth forces Tallulah to reckon with her past—and find a way forward.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you think Susan Crandall opens the novel with Walden’s arrest before revealing Tallulah’s backstory? How did your impression of Tallulah and her family evolve as the flashbacks unfolded?
2. In what ways are the Jameses a product of time and place? How would the novel be different in another setting?
3. Crandall depicts Margo’s activism in stark contrast to her selfishness as a mother. Why do you think Margo is outraged by social injustice but blind to the needs of her children? What fuels her outrage?
4. Does The Myth of Perpetual Summer reinforce or challenge any preconceptions you had about the 1960s South?
5. Discuss how the different characters perceive racial discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement. What do their various experiences and responses to racism say about them?
6. While Tallulah envies the stability of Ross’s family, she understands that their expectations for him are stifling in their own way. Which would you prefer? Ultimately, is Tallulah’s family her millstone or salvation?
7. How are the James children defined by their parents’ actions? Discuss how each of the siblings emulate and / or resist Margo and Drayton’s behavior.
8. Discuss how Tallulah’s childhood point of view shaped your impression of Drayton’s behavior in the flashback chapters. How did your understanding of his mental illness shift over the course of the novel?
9. Drayton tells Tallulah that history is like “dominoes set in motion on one era toppling those in the past” (115). How does this theory bear out for the James family? What does it take for Tallulah to break from the past and gain agency over her own life?
10. “Gran says family traditions are what give meaning to life,” Crandall writes (466). “But that’s not it. The family itself, if we accept it for what it is and not condemn it for what it is not, can be the fiber that weaves a rope that pulls us out of ourselves, and into a world where we’re willing to take an emotional risk.” Discuss the distinction here between tradition and family. How does the latter empower Tallulah to come out of her shell?
11. Why do you think the “ugly parts” of the James family’s history bring some of the siblings together and drive others apart?
12. Toward the end of the novel, Gran characterizes the cover-up of George’s death as “a lie of convenience that was meant to spare pain, not cause it” (485). What do you make of Gran’s obsession with keeping up appearances? Do you see her commitment to upholding the family legacy as shortsighted and harmful or practical?
13. Gran tells Tallulah that “hurt and anger make a strong person brave and a weak person broken” (486). Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
14. Discuss the ending of the novel. Were you surprised that Tallulah returns to Lamoyne? How is she able to make the family plantation a happy home despite her painful memories?
15. What do you make of the title? Did your perception of the “myth of perpetual summer” change over the course of the novel?
From the Desk of the Author
What is it like for a child to grow up in an emotionally unstable home? How would such an upbringing affect siblings differently? What mechanisms in the human psyche protect and preserve some of these children, while others are consumed by the pain? These were the initial questions that led to the creation of The Myth of Perpetual Summer.
All of my books begin with similar small vague and unformed kernels: a voice I can’t get out of my head (Whistling Past the Graveyard), a picture that forms in my imagination that I just can’t erase (Back Roads, Sleep No More), curiosity about how a time of great change in our country might alter ordinary lives into extraordinary ones (The Flying Circus).
My father had a difficult and emotionally unstable childhood. I always marveled over how instead of using it as an excuse, he learned from it. Instead of becoming angry and bitter, he grew into an extraordinarily empathetic and generous soul. And yet the shadow lingered. Few saw it because he was a strong man who carried on.
In this book the four James children are dealing with a myriad of things that undermine their emotional security: a old guard Southern family in decline and a town intent on not letting them forget it; a father with a bi-polar disorder; parents with an intense, volatile relationship; and a mother in absentia who’d rather march in protests than be involved in the lives of her children. This leads these four onto very different roads, some more dangerous than others, but all certainly born of that childhood.
I hope you enjoy Tallulah’s journey, perilous as it sometimes is. And I hope you take away from it a new appreciation for those dealing with mental illness. And I hope, as always, my story gives you a view of the world that encourages kindness.
4 cups blackberries, rinsed clean
1/2 cup white granulated sugar (less or more to taste, depends on how sweet the berries are and how sweet you would like your cobbler to be)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch (for thickening, can use instant tapioca instead)
3 Tbsp sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1) Toss berries with sugar, lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, cornstarch in baking dish: Put the blackberries, sugar, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon and cornstarch in a 9×9 baking dish. Stir to combine everything and make sure that the berries are all evenly coated with the sugar.
Let sit for 30 minutes for the berries to macerate so that the sugar dissolves and the berries release their juices.
2) Preheat your oven to 350°F.
3) Make biscuit dough topping: Vigorously whisk together the flour, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers or a fork until the topping mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Make a well in the center and stir in the milk and beaten egg until the dough is just moistened.
4) Drop spoonfuls of biscuit dough on top of berries: Scoop up the dough in large spoonfuls, and drop over the berries in the baking dish like cobblestones.
Pecan Pie (my dad’s favorite)
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon cold water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, water, and cornstarch. Bring to a full boil, and remove from heat.
In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Gradually beat in cooked syrup mixture. Stir in salt, vanilla, and pecans. Pour into pie shell.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until filling is set.
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1) In a large skillet, melt butter. Add cumin and cayenne; cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat; stir in the pecans, sugar and salt; toss to coat.
2) Spread in a single layer in a greased 15x10x1-in. baking pan. Bake at 300° for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Cool. Store in an airtight container.
Mashed Potatoes (to honor the dance)
Crawfish Boil (or Shrimp for those not in crawfish-land)
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Host a Southern-style brunch for your book club discussion. Don’t forget the mint juleps and the pecan pie!
2. Read up on the Civil Rights Movement and discuss how your learnings inform the historical backdrop in The Myth of Perpetual Summer.
3. Cast your film version of The Myth of Perpetual Summer. Which actors would you want to play the main characters, and why?
4. Read one of Susan Crandall’s other historical novels (https://susancrandall.net/susan-crandalls-booklist). Discuss which is your favorite, and why.
5. Learn more about Susan Crandall by following her on Twitter @susancrandall, Instagram susanzcrandallauthor, and Facebook .