This reading group guide for
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RIPE includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club. 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. Introduction
Cassie is burnt-out, sleep-deprived, possibly pregnant, and struggling to stay afloat at the well-funded Silicon Valley start-up she crossed the country to work for. She powers through with cold brew, cocaine, and the occasional call home to her loving but brusque father. All the while, she is accompanied by a miniature black hole that has been with her since birth. The black hole reacts to Cassie’s mental state, and as she begins to doubt everything she has worked toward, the embodiment of her anxiety and depression threatens to consume her. With razor-sharp social commentary, Ripe
tells the story of one woman’s unraveling in the face of the pressure cooker that is our late-capitalist society. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The novel is divided into sections based on the structure of a pomegranate: exocarp, mesocarp, membrane, and seed. Why do you think Etter organized the novel in this way? How do these terms relate to the sections they represent?
2. Talk about the “Believers” and how they function within the novel. According to Cassie, “Believers” are people who “were born to be” in Silicon Valley and “come from the Ivy League and throw their entire beings into technology” (page 6). What do you make of this class of people Cassie describes?
3. In order to keep up when life is too demanding, Cassie divides herself into her “true self” and her “false self.” She often lets her false self take over to handle a presentation, a coworker, or catty acquaintances. What do you think about Cassie’s method of splitting herself into two in this way? What does it say about how she views herself?
4. To create a stronger sense of camaraderie, Sasha, a cofounder of VOYAGER, has Cassie and her coworkers divulge their most traumatic experiences to one another. This backfires for Cassie, who then feels actively antagonistic toward the group. How else does this “forced intimacy” come up in the novel? Does Cassie have genuine relationships with any of her coworkers? What about her friends?
5. Throughout the novel, Etter juxtaposes scenes of disturbing violence with Cassie’s mundane yet toxic workplace environment (a man self-immolates on her way home from work, she witnesses a crow devouring a duckling outside her office window, her train is delayed after a work event due to someone jumping onto the tracks, and so on). How do these scenes set the tone of the novel? How does living with this contrast affect Cassie?
6. Discuss the way that Etter blends scientific research into the novel. What effect does she achieve by interspersing Cassie’s “Notes & Research” about black holes into the timeline of the story?
7. Consider the black hole that accompanies Cassie. Though its presence mostly baffles her, there are times she describes it as being protective. How does the black hole contribute to your understanding of Cassie? Of the events of the novel? Do you think the black hole has a physical presence or is it all in Cassie’s head? How does your experience of the novel change with each interpretation?
8. “When I was young, I thought God was a giant eye in the sky, spying on the world below” (page 209). Cassie serves as both the watched and the watcher at different points in the story. What role does being observed or observing play in the novel? What does this suggest about the nature of surveillance or self-surveillance?
9. What role does love play in the novel, if any? Cassie offers a few versions of love when describing her relationship with her family members. “My mother stung and stung . . .” Cassie says. “Some part of love must be the stinging” (page 15). But about her brother, she says, “I loved him in that silent way, the way where you don’t even have to talk about it” (page 62). How do we see Cassie’s understanding of love manifest? What impact does it have on her romantic relationship?
10. Cassie experiences a series of personal crises over the course of the novel, but the book is also set against the backdrop of several global ones—raging wildfires, soaring rates of unhoused people, and a rapidly spreading virus. How did these catastrophes influence Cassie’s personal journey and mental health? What parts of her experiences remind you of your own, whether in the early days of 2020 or today?
11. The novel is ripe with pomegranate imagery and metaphors. Why do you think Etter chose this particular fruit? How is this symbol working in the novel?
12. Discuss your interpretation of the ending of Ripe
. What did you make of Cassie’s decision-making leading up to this point? What is your ultimate takeaway after the events of the novel? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Museums hold a certain importance for Cassie and serve as a place of self-reflection in the novel. Visit a local history or art museum by yourself and meditate on the experience.
2. Take a look at the works listed in the Selected Biography and consider reading some of them to supplement your understanding of black holes.
3. Read Sarah Rose Etter’s previous novel, The Book of X
—whose protagonist is also named Cassie—and discuss the thematic crossover between the books. Do you think there is a connection between them?