Reading Guides

The Doctor's Wife
Elizabeth Brundage
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Lydia Haas has devoted herself to Jesus, her church, and her husband. Only recently, now that it’s too late, has she realized how much she has sacrificed to all of them.

Michael Knowles is a rising young doctor, and ob-gyn at a prominent hospital. He is a man committed to his principles, to rescues with uncertain outcomes, and to his wife and the life they’ve made. He never intended to have to make a choice.

Annie Knowles is the “doctor’s wife.” The first time she walked into their 1812 Federal-style home in High Meadow, an idyllic town in upstate New York, she thought she’d be happy there forever. But that dream has worn thin, and another man—a colleague at the local college where she teaches—is insinuating slowly, surely, and passionately into her life.

Simon Haas’s paintings of his wife, Lydia—dating from when she was a child—made him famous, and infamous. The story behind those paintings, and behind his marriage, is not one Simon chooses to tell. Until he meets Annie Knowles.

In this stunning work of debut fiction, the story of these four people—and the cataclysmic effects of their relationships—is woven together in a tale of passion, betrayal, fear, love, and death.


Elizabeth Brundage

Elizabeth Brundage is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she earned an MFA in fiction and a James Michener award. Her short fiction has been published in the Greensboro Review, Witness Magazine, and New Letters, and she contributed to the anthology Thicker Than Blood: I’ve Always Meant to Tell You, Letters to Our Mothers.


  1. This novel begins with a Prologue told, we learn, from Lydia’s point of view. What was your initial reaction to her? What did you think had happened from the Prologue? Which of your assumptions were correct? Which incorrect?

  2. When discussing popular images of women from magazines with her students, Annie poses the following questions: “Is it natural for women to want to be weaker, smaller? Do we want to be dominated or protected by men?” Consider the three women in this novel: Lydia, Annie, and Celina. Discuss how each of these women would answer these questions. How does each woman conform or defy popular notions about women?

  3. Why does Simon keep Lydia’s house for her? What other ways does Simon go out of his way to keep Lydia’s past a part of their lives? Why do you think it’s important for him to keep Lydia’s past in their present?

  4. When Annie thinks that her husband is dead she thinks, “Without Michael, nothing is beautiful.” Given the tension before the accident and considering all you learn by the end of the novel, are you surprised that she would think that? Why or why not?

  5. What was your initial reaction to Reverend Tim? Who did you think he was? Why do you think Lydia invests so much trust in him? What void does he and the entire church group fill in her life?

  6. Discuss Michael’s relationship with Celina. Given his attraction to her, do you think it was right for him to begin a business relationship with her? Do you think Michael would have been willing to work at the clinic if someone else had been asking?

  7. Should Michael have quit the clinic when the risk to himself and his family became apparent? Why do you think he stays? Annie struggles with his decision to stay on at the clinic but ultimately agrees that he doing the right thing. Why do you think she comes to that conclusion? Are their principles worth the risk they are taking with their family and their relationship?

  8. What does Simon offer Annie that she is not finding at home? Do you sympathize with her need for Simon? Do you feel that the affair is justified?

  9. Simon tells Annie more than once that she’s a romantic who sees only the best in people. Do you think that is true? Why or why not?

  10. Why does Simon insist on keeping his past with Lydia a secret? Do you think he was right to take her after her father died? He tells Annie that he did not sleep with Lydia until she was nineteen, when they were married. Does that redeem his actions in any way? Would you consider his actions to be kidnapping? Why is it worth the risk to him?

  11. Annie is supposed to be writing a story about Simon. Does her ever interest her as a story? Is she, from the beginning, only looking for a lover? What about his story fascinates her?

  12. Do you think that Simon is really in love with Annie? Is Annie in love with Simon? With Michael? Discuss the different types of love in this novel. Do any of these relationships qualify as love?

  13. Why doesn’t Simon turn Lydia in to the police when he initially suspects that she involved in terrorizing the Knowles? In what other ways do Simon and Lydia protect the life they’ve created?

  14. At the end of the novel, Annie and Michael are moving out of their house, but they are still together. Did this surprise you? Do you think she ultimately loves Michael? Do you think she keeps the baby?

  15. Why do you think the novel is called The Doctor’s Wife? Is Annie the main character? Is she the catalyst for the action?

  16. In the end, did you think that any of the characters in the book were sympathetic? In what ways were they all to blame for what happened? In what ways are they redeemed?