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Mercury in Retrograde

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Mercury in Retrograde includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Paula Froelich. 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. 

     

    Description

    When Mercury is in retrograde, the only guarantee is anything that can go wrong, will.

    Penelope Mercury, an intrepid reporter at the New York Telegraph, has pounded the pavement for five years from borough to borough, carrying out her boss’s eccentric orders to break stories that seem inconsequential to everyone but him. Finally, she is inches away from being promoted to her dream job—covering courtroom drama for the paper—but after one spectacularly disastrous day, she is fired instead.

    Lena “Lipstick Carcrash” Lippencrass has a fabulous life, even by a socialite’s standards, as a top editor at the high fashion magazine Y. Long lunches with her girlfriends and afternoons spent shopping at Bergdorfs are all in a day’s work. But when Lena’s always indulgent parents abruptly cut off her cash flow and kick her out of her beloved West Village duplex for refusing to work for the family business, she is forced to confront the reality of what it takes to pay the bills.

    Dana Gluck, a workaholic lawyer, was married for two years to a man who was perfect on paper but increasingly critical in reality. She hoped that her dreams of motherhood would be fulfilled and also fix their marriage problems. Instead, her husband leaves her for a model who, to make matters worse, promptly gets pregnant.

    When fate conspires to have these three very different women move into the same SoHo apartment building, they soon discover that having their carefully planned lives fall to pieces might be the best thing that could have ever happened to them.

     

    Discussion Questions

    1.      On the surface, Penelope, Lipstick, and Dana are three very different women. Why do you think they become friends?

    2.      Lyrics to several popular 1980s songs appear throughout Mercury in Retrograde. Why do you think author Paula Froelich decided to include them? How did they enhance your read?

    3.      What role does fashion play in the novel? What do each woman’s clothes say about her character?

    4.      Why do you think Paula Froelich included horoscopes at the start of each chapter? What do they add to the novel?

    5.      If she had not been fired from the New York Telegraph, would Penelope have ever quit her job?

    6.      Why is Socialstatus.com initially so important to Lipstick? If she “always feels dirty after reading the website” (page 15) why does she still visit the site?

    7.      Instead of staying at her parents’ home and joining the family business, why does Lipstick decide to strike out on her own?

    8.      Following her divorce, why is Dana so hesitant to socialize with other people? Is she afraid to get hurt, embarrassed about being single once again, or something else?

    9.      “And every day [Lipstick would] think, I’ll call them tomorrow. But she never got around to it” (page 186). Is she simply too busy, or is there another reason Lipstick never returns her mother’s telephone calls?

    10.  Following the disastrous events at the Met Gala, Lipstick thinks, “What is Bitsy going to do? What will be on Socialstatus.com? What am I going to tell my mother?” (page 240). After previously declaring she no longer cared about what her fellow socialites think, why do these thoughts run through Lipstick’s mind?

    11.  Why doesn’t Dana finish decorating her new apartment? And why are the few items she does buy all in white?

    12.  Each woman has a complicated relationship with her parents. To what extent do they care about their parents’ approval, and do these relationships change throughout the novel?

    13.  Ultimately, is Penelope happy with her job at NY Access? Have Penelope, Lipstick, and Dana found success both in their professional and personal lives?

     

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1.      There are several characters in Mercury in Retrograde who bear strong resemblances to real-life people. As a group, see if you can name them all.

    2.      Penelope, Lipstick, and Dana all endure wacky, disastrous moments while on the job. Now that they’re behind you, why not share your own favorite embarrassing work stories?

    3.      The Met Gala is an important event both in the novel and in New York society. Before your meeting, do some research on the soirée and bring pictures of your favorite red-carpet looks.

    A Conversation with Paula Froelich

    Q.    You are a well-known newspaper columnist. What made you decide to write your first novel?

    A.    Frankly, I was bored. I was writing gossip items day in and day out and wanted to write something longer and more substantial.

     

    Q.    Mercury in Retrograde focuses on three young women facing huge turning points in their lives. What advice can you offer to other women in similar predicaments?

    A.    I always say—just go with it. Life’s biggest disappointments are usually the biggest blessings. Garth Brooks has a song that says “I thank God for unanswered prayers.” I kind of feel like that most days.

    Q.    When did you first move to New York City? Was your first apartment anything like the ones at 198 Sullivan Street?

    A.    I moved here in 1998 and I shared my first apartment with two other women. Both completely nuts. I now live in Penelope’s apartment—complete with the crazy bathroom that is split into two closets: one is a toilet, one is a shower. New York living at its finest! Heh.

     

    Q.    Fashion plays an important role in the novel. How would you describe your own personal style?

    A.    Oh, I just try to find something that doesn’t look like a complete disaster on me!

     

    Q.    You included horoscopes in each chapter. How did you come up with this idea? Are you a big believer in astrology?

    A.    I don’t subscribe to it completely, but there’s something there . . . my astrologer Karen Thorne has been right too many times! But basically the horoscopes were a tool.

     

    Q.    In your experience, is the New York media as hectic as the ordeals Penelope endures make it seem?

    A.    Um. YES.

     

    Q.    You mention some New York figures by name, meanwhile other characters sound very similar to real-life people. Why did you decide to identify some but not others?

    A.    I identified some because their stories were well known. Others, I kept out for personal reasons.

     

    Q.     “Mercury in retrograde” refers to a time when anything that can go wrong does. Have you ever had that experience? If so, how did you get through it?

    A.    Oh lordy—Mercury in retrograde describes my life from 2006 to 2009! I got through it like I do everything: one foot in front of the other.

     

    Q.    What’s your favorite part about living and working in Manhattan?

    A.    Everything! Manhattan is a small slice of the world. You can visit any country just by hopping on the subway.

     

    Q.    From Penelope’s work, to Lipstick’s society events, even to Dana’s dog Karl, you seem to have a lot in common with these women. Is it fair to say you’re a composite of all three, or do you relate to one more than the others?

    A.    Oh, they are all me. Every single one of them!

About the Author

Paula Froelich
Photograph by Melanie Dunea

Paula Froelich

The deputy editor for the New York Post's Page Six column, Paula lives in New York City. Mercury in Retrograde is her first novel.

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