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Leaving Alva

A Novel


For Chloe, it was enough. More than enough. So she packs her bags and heads for the bus station, headed for who-knows-where and who-knows-what. Where turns out to be Arizona, and what turns out to be a liberating journey of self discovery and the realization that freedom has as many risks as it does rewards. As Chloe's story unfolds in Victoria Lipman's beautifully written and wonderfully entertaining debut novel, it becomes clear that leaving Alva is not only the best thing Chloe could do, it's the only thing she could do.

After a warped childhood of emotional deprivation, of being lonely, friendless, and motherless, Chloe wants only to feel loved. So when Alva comes along -- steady, kind, approving -- he seems to her a sanctuary, a rock-steady place where she can anchor and feel safe. But marriage proves to be a dead end rather than an escape, a safety net that turns into a trap. Quite simply, Alva loves Chloe too much, with love constant and unqualified -- and suffocating.

So she takes off for the Greyhound bus station, leaving behind a note telling Alva that he deserves better. Her only priorities in picking a destination: no place cold or states with a North or South in their names. She settles on Phoenix, buys a one-way ticket, says good-bye to one life, and anxiously anticipates the new one. Her seatmate is Zeno, an outrageous, impulsive, and hugely selfish woman who charms Chloe with exotic tales of her past, present, and future. After Alva, the freedom Zeno represents is pure intoxication, so she accepts the invitation to stay in Phoenix with Zeno and her aunt Ethel.

Despite the sense of freedom that comes with leaving Alva, Chloe still doesn't feel entirely at home with these two strange women. Ethel, who owns and runs a small flower shop, is the fattest woman Chloe has ever seen. And Zeno -- well, she's just plain odd.

Finally it's enough to send Chloe back on the road, only this time she's more confused than ever about who she is, where she's going, and what she wants to find once she gets there. But at least she is free to take this journey, and what a trip it is -- funny, moving, filled with wonderful characters and stark, stunning insights.

And what does Chloe find? Well, for one thing she comes to realize that in real life you can go home again, but you just may not want to...

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. Chloe writes in her note to Alva, "You're a good husband Alva, but good isn't enough. Your goodness is only the kind that means you have no badness." What does she mean by this? Why does she leave Alva? Do you think she was right in leaving? After hearing the story of Zeke Chloe begins to feel guilty. Is she justified in this feeling?
  2. Chloe never mentions searching for her brother and sister. Why hasn't she tried? Will she ever?
  3. Why does Chloe leave Aunt Ethel's right after Zena leaves? Is it because of Zena? Ethel? Or something else?
  4. "Growing up I hadn't felt much like either a male or a female. Sometimes when I thought of myself, I'd picture a brain, a pile of gray matter where words and ideas traveled convoluted paths." Discuss how this passage illuminates Chloe's responses to sex with Zena and Alva. By the end of the novel is her sexuality clear? Do you consider her to be a lesbian?
  5. Why does Chloe write Alva a postcard from Los Angeles? Is she trying to retain an attachment to him? Or does she have another motive?
  6. Chloe says that she doesn't "believe much in God." Does she have an underlying belief in God? Or has she given up on all spiritual beliefs? Why?
  7. Lipman creates many vivid supporting characters throughout the novel: Billy/MaryBelle, Jake, Patsy, Miss Ida and Dolly. What, if anything, do these people teach Chloe? How do they help her progress is in her self-discovery? Or do they hold her back?
  8. Chloe moves from wanting Zena to come back to not even thinking about her. How and why does this change take place? Does Zena signify something or someone from Chloe's past? Who?
  9. Lipman moves the narrative back and forth from Chloe's present journey to her past. Is there a pattern that the passages from her past appear? What do they elucidate about Chloe's turmoil in the present?
  10. What effect did the girlfriends of Chloe's father have on her? What stands out about Loretta for Chloe? Did these women alter her perception of herself? How?
  11. Why does Aunt Ethel show herself to Chloe without clothes? What does she mean when she says, "You've been wondering and imagining what I look like, and that gets in your way of knowing me." Why does Ethel then take Chloe to an "Other Friends" meeting? What is Ethel hoping Chloe's reaction will be? What reaction does she have?
  12. Chloe often refers to her feelings of loneliness and her need for affection yet she is unable or won't let anyone become close to her. How did this dichotomy develop in her past? Does she conquer it by the end of the novel?