SAVE YOUR OWN

Elisabeth Brink

 Gillian Cormier-Brandenburg is a virginal, narcoleptic, atheistic Harvard Divinity School student about to complete her Ph.D. When the faculty deems her dissertation unsuitable and threatens to revoke her fellowship funding, Gillian—determined to defend her topic—sets out to gather research. She takes a job at a halfway house for recovering addicts and struggles to shed her skin as an anxious and socially inept graduate student in order to become an unlikely figure of authority. The women at Responsibility House—including the motorcycle-obsessed Janet, former prostitute Florine, and house martyr Stacy—challenge Gillian at every step, and eventually inspire her to confront her limitations and find her place in the world.

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 Gillian Cormier-Brandenburg is a virginal, narcoleptic, atheistic Harvard Divinity School student about to complete her Ph.D. When the faculty deems her dissertation unsuitable and threatens to revoke her fellowship funding, Gillian—determined to defend her topic—sets out to gather research. She takes a job at a halfway house for recovering addicts and struggles to shed her skin as an anxious and socially inept graduate student in order to become an unlikely figure of authority. The women at Responsibility House—including the motorcycle-obsessed Janet, former prostitute Florine, and house martyr Stacy—challenge Gillian at every step, and eventually inspire her to confront her limitations and find her place in the world.

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  • Mariner
  • Paperback
  • June 2007
  • 288 Pages
  • 9780618871933

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About Elisabeth Brink

Elisabeth Brink grew up in Boston, graduated from Brown University, and lived for six years in the rural Midwest, where she was an editor at a children’s magazine. She went on to work as a technical editor, a high-tech marketing director, a product manager, and a halfway house counselor before earning a Ph.D. in American literature from Brandeis University in 1993. Since then, she has taught writing and literature at Harvard, Tufts, and Boston College. Her fiction has garnered her fellowships in Prague and St. Petersburg, and her stories were nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the late Andre Dubus. Save Your Own is her first novel. She lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Praise

A Book Sense Notable Book

“[Elisabeth Brink is] clearly a gifted writer with a slant of mind, sense of humor, and turn of phrase all her own.” —Seattle Times

A smashing debut—hilarious, smart, and charming. Gillian Cormier-Brandenburg is one of the most original characters I’ve encountered in recent fiction, a winning mix of intellect, innocence, and anxiety. I fell in love with her, and I think you will, too.” Stephen McCauley, author of Alternatives to Sex and The Object of My Affection

“Gillian, like Save Your Own, is a keeper.” —USA Today

Discussion Questions

Do you consider Gillian a strong character? Why or why not? How would you define strength?

Some of the characters in the book are former criminals and drug addicts. How—if at all—do you think this might have affected the way you viewed them as you were reading the book?

Which characters did you sympathize with most? Which characters did you find the least sympathetic? How did your sympathies shift over the course of the novel?

The comic scenes in the novel sometimes veer close to the slapstick, as when Gillian runs up the stairs yelling “A-E-I-O-U and sometimes Y!” at the top of her lungs, or when she tries to teach the women grammar by shouting out “Remember Eliza!” at the dinner table. Discuss the role humor plays in these scenes and throughout the story. How does comedy contribute to the way we experience the book?

Much of the conflict at Responsibility House occurs between Stacy, a rigid rule follower, and the rebellious Janet. Which character is more responsible? More admirable?

Parts of the plot revolve around the rules laid out in Responsibility House’s Handbook of Policies and Procedures. At first Gillian struggles to enforce them, but as time goes on she begins to question them. What leads to this change in her understanding?

Why is it important to Gillian to write the Pink Book, which reduces the number of rules to two? Do you see the Pink Book as an improvement over the Handbook of Policies and Procedures? Why or why not? What are the dangers inherent in each?

Gillian continues working on the subject of “secular conversion experiences” even after the committee tells her that it does not approve of her topic. Why do you think she refuses to change her topic? What does this say about her character and actions?

In your opinion, is there such a thing as a “secular conversion experience”? What are some examples of those experiences in the book? What are some of the ways “conversion” can take place? What else might it be called?

Gillian doesn’t think she’s capable of having a conversion experience. Do you think she is right? Why or why not?

The epilogue summarizes Gillian’s life between the ages of twenty-six, when the story takes place, and forty-five, when she tells it. Why do you think the author included an epilogue? Does your perception of Gillian change after reading it? How? Discuss how her earlier experiences may have helped shape the rest of her life.

What do you think the title, Save Your Own, means?