Any Bitter Thing

Any Bitter Thing

by Monica Wood


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Richard Russo has celebrated Monica Wood's fiction as "thoroughly captivatingwarm and wise and beautifully written," and Andre Dubus III praised it as "luminous and gracefulentertaining yet transcendent." Any Bitter Thing, Wood's brilliant new novel, is her breakout book, a timely, gripping, and compassionate tale of family, faith, and deeply hidden truths. One of its greatest strengths is its continuous ability to defy expectations. It's not what you think. It is worse. Lizzy Mitchell was raised from the age of two by her uncle, a Catholic priest. When she was nine, he was falsely accused of improprieties with her and dismissed from his church, and she was sent away to boarding school. Now thirty years old and in a failing marriage, she is nearly killed in a traffic accident. What she discovers when she sets out to find the truths surrounding the accidentand about the accusations that led to her uncle's deathdoes more than change her life. With deft insight into the snares of the human heart, Monica Wood has written an intimate and emotionally expansive novel full of understanding and hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345477682
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/25/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Monica Wood is also the author of Ernie's Ark, a collection of stories, and My Only Story, a novel. Her fiction, book reviews, and articles appear in numerous magazines and literary journals. She was born and still lives in Maine, which is also where her fiction takes place.

Reading Group Guide

1. As the novel opens, Lizzy says, “I tell this with the authority of memory.” A page later, she says of the girl who hit her,“She tells the cop she thought she hit a deer. She tells her parents she thought she hit a deer. She tells the judge she thought she hit a deer. Eventually, I guess, she thought she hit a deer.”Shortly after that,she observes,“The human craving is for story, not truth. Memory, I believe, embraces its errors, until what is, and what is remembered, become one.” What is the author implying about the nature of memory, and the nature of this novel?

2. This novel is, in part, the story of a marriage.What do you see as the turning points in Drew and Lizzy’s marriage? Do you think Lizzy and Drew are well matched?

3. Father Mike was both a father, small “f,” and a Father, capital “F.” How well do you believe he fulfilled both these roles? How did one role enhance the other, or diminish the other?

4. 1Vivienne tells Father Mike, “Faith has nothing to do with the Church.” Is this true? Does Father Mike’s faith fail him, or save him? What about the Catholic Church–does it fail or save Father Mike?

5. Would you describe Lizzy as an emotionally guarded woman or emotionally generous?

6. What do you think is the essence of Lizzy’s bond with Harry Griggs? Why does she turn to him instead of to her husband or friend? Is he more than just a stranger who will listen? Why did Lizzy defend Harry to his daughter, Elaine?

7. Is Vivienne a good woman or a bad woman? Do you blame her for her crime? Was her behavior in the aftermath merely an instinct for self-preservation, or more than that? Has she paid enough of a penance?

8. Is Mrs. Hanson a villain? What would you have done if you had seen what she saw?

9. One of the most moving passages in the book is Father Mike’s lament about being an accused person: “You wonder what made your love so desperate and gushing.What impelled you to admire her child’s body in the bath, the seal-slick purity of it, the strength it seemed to be acquiring, its miraculous shape-shifting? You wonder why you loved her sweaty socks, her smell as you tucked her in, her breath after she ate a plum. How can you help but wonder? You could not pass her in a room without touching your hand to her head, your thumb to her chin. What did all that mean? Tainted, all of it, your dearest memories stained for good.” Are Father Mike’s parental feelings every parent’s feelings, or do his unusual circumstances make for unusual feelings?

10. When Father Mike refers to Lizzie’s calloused hands as “the working girl’s stigmata,” how does this colorful phrase suggest several layers of pride? A similarly layered observation comes at the end, when Lizzy begins to see Father Mike’s “latter-day self bleeding through the veneer of his present-day self,like a painting beneath a painting.” Do you think Lizzy is beginning to heal in this moment, or is she merely connecting to a time when she felt the most safe, the most loved?

11. Lizzy and Father Mike are, in one sense, innocent victims of circumstance. But how does Father Mike bring about his own downfall? After Vivienne’s confession, he has no choices. But could he have made choices long beforehand that could have prevented his undoing–a choice to listen to Vivienne when she “wishes to talk about Ray,” for example, or a choice to confront Ray rather than turn a blind eye?

12. What does Lizzy see in Andrea that makes her a favorite student? Do you think they are much alike?

13. What will become of Lizzy and Mariette’s friendship now that they understand the full truth of the people they loved? Is a shared childhood enough to sustain a friendship for life? Is there really such a thing as unconditional love?

Customer Reviews

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Any Bitter Thing 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
girlsnp More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully written epiphany as a woman learns the bitter and better truths of her haunted past. The debth of the story and character devopment is riveting and kept me longing for a satisfying conclusion for all. The author delivers by weaving the time lines and multiple plot undercurrents seamlessly. Can't wait for book club to dicuss this great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author, Monica Woods, can write! Very refreshing style, I loved it. Characters were developed well and we learn more about each one as the book flows on. It was thought provoking and stimulated a conversation with a friend who had read it. It has been a while since I read it but it lingers on--highly recommended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book because someone selected it as our next book club read and I have to say that I was not looking forward to reading anything about child molestation. However, I am so glad that I read it! Once I started I couldn't put it down and I read it in one day. It is not at all what I anticipated and Monica Wood writes with such stunning and thought provoking imagery that there were several paragraphs that I slowed down and re-read savoring the words like poetry. The plot was completely unexpected and flowed smoothly from one shocking revelation to the next. I highly recommend this book and I will be looking into reading anything else written by this talented author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got completely wrapped up in this book with the detailed way that Mainards describe something but still keep the story moving. The second half of the book really picks up the pace with a few surprises.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this beautiful, thought provoking, heart-centered story of people at their best, in their deepest needs, and at their worst. Belonging and redemption are at the heart of this beautifully written story. I believe others of all faiths in a 'God' of their own particular belief system will see a universality about the people in this story, and their struggles to live within the bounds of their 'institutional' beliefs, and their own personal needs and failings. 'God' being a God who cares/loves but does not necessarily respond at our 'beck and call' to save all our struggles as we might want Him to do. The struggle to belong, be seen, be heard, and be loved for ourselves is handled with great care by Monica Woods in a surprisingly absorbing book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was one that I paced myself reading, although I wanted to read all day and night to find out what the truth was. The suspense and wonderfully detailed memories urged me to take this book with me everywhere I went just to read how Lizzy dealt with the troubles she experienced in her young life. I am so happy that I took the time to read this mystery, I never would have guessed the truth in a million years, Monica Wood is very skilled in her works, she fooled me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of human relationships, vows, sin and atonement, this author delivers a powerful story, each word deliciously crafted like fine chocolate
Guest More than 1 year ago
Last year,my daughter gave me Monica Wood's book 'Ernie's Ark' . I loved it so much, that I presented eight copies of it to my book group. They all agreed. After reading it,I knew I had to read everything Ms. Wood wrote. 'Any Bitter Thing' surpassed my expections. I adored this book. She writes with such a passion for her characters. Please don't make this into a movie, the beauty of your words will get lost.
abirdman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't want to like this book, but I do. It's a great story-- the beginning is tender and heartbreaking, and it turns by the end into a rousing good story. Well-crafted and very moving.
mlake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was very surprising. I thought that I knew what was going to happen, how the book would end, but I was surpirsed. Simple descriptions caught me, surprised me with the strangeness and perfection of the images conjured. Read this book!
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my top reads this year. A poignant story, with well developed characters, and a plot line that has you sitting on the edge of the chair, convinced that something is not being said. The ending doesn't disappoint. Essentially this is the story of a woman, orphaned at age 2, raised by her uncle, who happened to be a priest, and their subsequent loss of each other. Her adult quest to fit together missing pieces of her life is extraordinarily could so easily have become a daytime soap, but isn't. Rather it is a quiet, believable, compelling story that makes it my first 'couldn't put it down' of the year.
ss1214 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For myself I found this a very boring and depressing book. I only made it halfway through. Just reading it seemed like a chore. Too bad I usually get excited about Maine authors.
PermaSwooned on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written. After her accident, the main character has to try to piece together the puzzle of her life, including things that she never examined very closely. The book has real tragedy in it, and many adults that had no idea what to do with a child in her situation. Reading the story as it unfolds is like opening a very special gift. I highly recommend it.
SugarCreekRanch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I almost gave up halfway through. The story was really dragging. I read the reviews, and they referred to "plot twists", so I kept at it. I'm glad I did -- the last third was substantially more interesting. But overall, not one I'll be recommending to friends.
cataylor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book begins with a young woman named Lizzy being hit by a teenage driver while jogging. Her sense of awareness during the time she is left on the road, found by a driver, and the time she is in the hospital leaves her convinced of one thing in particular -- she saw her deceased uncle, Father Mike (a Catholic priest), who raised her after her parents death when she was a small child. In her search to find someone who'll believe in her, she has to confront her troubled marriage, her relationship with her best friend, and she must revisit her childhood in a way she never could before. The book is full of twists and turns that leave the reader reeling and thinking. I loved it.
risadabomb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written and the author draws you deeply into a world of faith and forgiveness. It is a truly moving story.
suedonym on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd like to see this one have more buzz. Wood takes a situation in which the premise is basically set, but then weaves a tale of character development and new reactions/developments that was engrossing. I kept reading furiously.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my first book by this author. The book caught my attention right away and held it to the end. I cared about the characters and loved the imagery, the authors use of language, and the story line. In short, I really loved this book and could not put it down! I will definately be looking for more books by this author.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For me this book was slow to get into. I had to force myself to read it at times. Then the truth and secrets stated coming out and it became very intriguing. I just woulda liked for the relatinship with Frannie to have been more developed. And the profanity left out.