Flirting with Pete
Casey Ellis has arrived at a lonely place in her life. Her mother remains in a comatose state several years after a terrible accident -- and now her father has died.
Although Casey didn't really know him -- never met him, in fact -- she had held out an oblique hope that someday this man, Dr. Cornelius Unger, a celebrated psychologist, might acknowledge her. In an attempt to please him, she even went into his field and became a counselor, to no avail.
It comes as a shock, therefore, when she learns that he has left her his beautiful townhouse in Boston's exclusive Beacon Hill section. She is of half a mind to sell it and use the money to care for her mother, but then she visits the townhouse and finds it enchanting. In fact, any chance she might have had of resisting the house is lost when she falls in love with the hidden garden out back. Sweetening the deal is the maid, a woman close to her age, who cooks and cleans and wants only to please her; and the gardener, a man who is as enigmatic as he is handsome.
Yet always in Casey's mind is the question of why Cornelius Unger chose to acknowledge her in this way. Sensing that he had an ulterior motive, she searches the house and finds the first part of a manuscript that could be a novel, a journal, or a case study of one of her father's clients. The manuscript tells the harrowing story of a young woman named Jenny who was sexually abused by her father and emotionally abused by her mother. When her mother was murdered, her father was sent to prison. Now, after only six years in jail, he is about to be released, and Jenny knows she has to escape. Her way out appears in the form of a mysterious stranger, a dream of a man named Pete, who shows up on his motorcycle and offers to whisk her away.
Convinced the story is true -- even more, that her father has left this manuscript as a message for her -- Casey sets out to find the rest of the pages. With the discovery of each additional segment, she learns more about Jenny, about herself, and about Cornelius Unger, who she realizes has planned this journey for her, actually begun the first day she set foot in his house. The manuscript proves to be the key to understanding not only her father's past but also that of the man she has come to love.
Flirting with Pete reaches its climax with a startling twist, one that explores the role of imagination in our everyday lives. Through Jenny's story, Casey gains insight into her own life as she vacillates between what she wants to be true and what actually is. With unflinching grace, Barbara Delinsky delves into the human psyche as it colors contemporary family life. Flirting with Pete is sure to touch a personal chord with readers and win her even more dedicated fans.
Read an Excerpt
The memorial service was held in a dark stone church on Boston's Marlboro Street, not far from where Cornelius Unger had lived and worked. It took place on a sunny Wednesday in June, three weeks after the man's death, just as he had instructed. Whatever had occurred before then had been private and small. Casey Ellis had not been invited.
She sat four rows from the back of the church, and a more genteel audience she couldn't imagine. There was no sniffling, no whispering, no sighs or moans or wails. Sorrow was not a factor here. This was a professional gathering, a crowd of men and women wearing the... see more
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Reading Group Guide
1) What was your experience reading a novel that has such a unique format? How did the story within a story -- Jenny's story -- affect the pacing and the structure of Casey's story? How might the story have been different had it been told in a linear narrative, or from one point of view?
2) "But what do I do with the anger, if there's no one left to blame?" This quote comes from Joyce, one of Casey's patients. But how might it inform our reading of Casey herself? Why does Casey seem so incapable of letting go of the anger that she feels for her father? Although she is a therapist, does she sometimes seem unaware of her own emotions and motivations? What is it about the house in Beacon Hill that seems to finally break through her wall of anger?
3) On page 130, as Casey talks of one of her client's "Imposter complex", she says, "So, here she is, solidly in the black, doing better each year, and still feels like those restaurants are a deck of cards on the verge of collapse. Her parents see her that way. It's been ingrained in her." To what extent do characters in this story seem unable to break free of their past?
4) Parental judgment and familial conflict certainly play a key role in Fliritng With Pete -- there isn't a single character who isn't in some way damaged by the way that he or she was raised, although the experiences and the damage varies. In what ways do the childhood experiences of the cha see more