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Seven Moves

"[Anshaw’s] gift for narrative and character development . . . are brought to generous fulfillment in this beautifully nuanced novel." —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Christine Snow, a Chicago therapist, has at last escaped past demons—an inattentive mother, a con-man father, too many wrong lovers—and found blissful domesticity with Taylor Heyes, a travel photographer and the answer to Chris’s dreams. The two women share a house, a dog, favorite spots—a life. Then, one morning, Taylor disappears.

Chris quickly becomes alarmed. Has Taylor left in anger, or has she met with some terrible fate? Chris’s close friend and colleague, Daniel, consoles but cannot comfort her. Her patients demand her attention even as she becomes too distraught to take care of herself. A mutual friend, Leigh, reveals things about Taylor that Chris never guessed at. Then, searching Taylor’s darkroom, Chris finds a clue that sets her off on a journey into the Moroccan desert and into the recesses of her own psyche.

Badly shaken, Chris questions her own perceptions: if she has misread Taylor for so long, perhaps she hardly knows her own mind. She also faces the painful, but possibly redemptive, truths about the under-pinnings of her life. Seven Moves bursts with jazzy spirit, the poignancy of loss, and the promise of self-discovery

Questions for Discussion

We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and provide a deeper understanding of Seven Moves for every reader.

1. What are some of the ways in which Chris and we question—as a result of her misperception of her and Taylor’s relationship—her competence as a therapist and lover?

2. What different views of female sexuality emerge from the relationships and actions of Chris, Renny, Taylor, Leigh, and Stéphane Michaud?

3. Does Chris’s challenge ultimately become one of recreating her very identity, beyond merely reconstructing her life without Taylor? What is the relationship between identity and love, desire, and self-deception? To what extent do we create our own identities or have them imposed upon us by society?

4. How central to Chris’s life is her need for control? Does she come to realize that loss of control is a defining element in her disintegration? How is the need for control related to a person’s self-esteem?

5. In what ways do Chris’s neglect and manipulation by her parents, in her early years, contribute to the vulnerability that surfaces following Taylor’s disappearance?

6. There are numerous references to gambling throughout the book, from Chris’s card-sharp father, to the Magic 8 Ball, to Chris’s own prowess with cards. What is the significance of all these references?

7. How much to the point is Myra’s comment (remembered by Chris) that “covering a lot of territory means you’re never wholly vulnerable in any one place”? In what ways does our gradually acquired knowledge of Chris’s sexual history contribute to our understanding of her character and her inability to achieve true intimacy?

8. Chris’s best friend and closest confidant, Daniel, is a fellow therapist and a heterosexual man with troubles of his own. How does his role differ from that of Leigh?

9. How do the ten flashbacks, juxtaposed with the ongoing narrative of Chris’s present, contribute to our understanding of Chris’s attraction to Taylor and of Chris’s changing comprehension of their relationship? To what extent do these flashbacks foreshadow for us, if not for Chris, the outcome of that relationship?

10. In the first flashback, we learn that “in the face of everything Chris knows to be true about the fundamental isolation of humans, their imperviousness to real connection, or the failure of connection to alleviate the isolation, . . . she longs to . . . slip back to the place before unbelieving.” What does this tell us about Chris’s inability to confront her own emotions and behavior? How does a terror of being “stunningly, utterly alone” impact Chris’s personal relationships?

11. What are the two most important physical clues Chris discovers that enable her to better understand Taylor’s disappearance? How is it ironic that she finds both clues in Taylor’s darkroom?

12. At the novel’s midpoint Chris arrives in Morocco and confronts Stéphane Michaud in the desert. What is the correspondence between the desert, where the paved road gives way to unmarked sandy tracks, and Chris’s inner state? What revelations does she have during her drive, in the Berber market, and in her confrontation with Mme. Michaud?

13. Stéphane Michaud tells Chris that “for Taylor, aging was like a death. The powers she holds are youth and beauty.” How does Chris react to this? To what extent does this explain Taylor’s disappearance?

14. Chris and we are presented with growing evidence that the Taylor she loved was, to a great extent, a figure of her own imagining. And after her visit to the psychic, Chris realizes that “who she is missing and who she might find are quite different people.” How does each of us, like Chris, create the person we love out of our own needs, hopes, desires, and ideals?

15. Chris’s words near the end of the novel, directed to Daniel, are: “The ferocious solitude and isolation of it all. Souls sealed away in separate bubbles.” To what extent does this constitute Chris’s final judgment of her own and everyone else’s situation in life? What does it reveal about Chris’s newly acquired sense of self?

About the Author

Carol Anshaw was born in Detroit and has lived in Chicago for many years. Before Aquamarine  and Seven Moves  were published, she wrote restaurant reviews, articles on a variety of topics (including barbed wire), and young-adult vampire novels. And for seven years she was backup (to Roger Ebert) movie reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times. Anshaw writes short stories and reviews books for newspapers and magazines nationwide. In 1990, she received the National Book Critics Circle Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.

Aquamarine appeared to excellent reviews in 1992. For this inventive, provocative novel she won the Chicago Public Library's Carl Sandburg Award and the Society of Midland Authors Book Award. In 1995 she received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. The publication of Seven Moves  in 1996, again to reviewers' acclaim, established Anshaw as a novelist of the first order.

While working on her next novel, Anshaw continues to write short stories (which have appeared in Houghton Mifflin's annual collection, The Best American Short Stories  and elsewhere) and teaches in two graduate writing programs—at the Art Institute of Chicago and at Vermont College, from which she received her own degree in 1992.

A Conversation with Carol Anshaw

In Aquamarine you gave a single character three parallel lives. Does Seven Moves also bend the novel form in some way?
No, I wanted to work with a straightforward narrative this time. I’d become interested in novels that were serious fiction and at the same time compelling stories. Also, I’d seen a lot of books about people who run away, but not many about the people they leave behind. If someone you love suddenly disappeared, this would, I think, push you onto the hardest ground of your self, and I wanted to explore this constellation of event and emotion.
Why did you make the main characters of Seven Moves gay women?
Well, it’s the world I live in, a world I feel has not been written about enough. I tried to create a sort of panoramic view of urban lesbian life to show how we’re very much like straight people, and also very different. By setting the book in Chicago, and addressing issues of intimacy, isolation and loss that have come up in my own life, I feel more vulnerable and exposed with this book than with Aquamarine. In Aquamarine I created a protagonist quite unlike myself who lives several lives very different from my own.
How did you become a novelist in the first place?
My mother tells me I tried to write my first book when I was six, but didn’t know enough words. I came to writing through reading. I’d go to the library, look for titles I liked, bring home these stacks of books. And since they were novels, that’s what I wanted to write. I was really in a cave by myself during this time, through adolescence and into my 20s. I had little in the way of formal education, didn’t know anyone who wrote fiction. I just kept reading and writing, teaching myself as I went along.
What are you working on now?
I have the beginnings of a new novel in mind, also a short story titled “The Mystery of the Jungle Airstrip,” which isn’t a mystery and doesn’t feature either a jungle or an airstrip.

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