Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Outside Valentine is a novel told in three voices, with three points of
view. What are the unifying themes that tie the parts to a whole?
- When we meet Lowell in 1991 he is a man at the crossroads whose past has
caught up with him. Susan insists that he retrieve the safe-deposit box but he
avoids doing so. Why has he so totally isolated himself? What prompts Lowell to
reevaluate his life at this point?
- When Susan pores over all the news items she has collected about Charlie
and Caril Ann, what strikes her most is the love they share. She sees a photo
where they seem all tangled up in each other. Her response is to wonder if she
will ever love like that. Is Susan's search for love rewarded?
- What propels Lowell toward Susan? Does he think Susan can rescue him, and
in what way? What does Susan expect to gain by saving Lowell?
- Lowell says that he knows the murders changed his life but cannot remember
who he was before. What motivates Lowell to marry Susan? He states that at the
time she "was just somewhere to go." Is Lowell capable of loving her?
Of loving anyone? When Mary almost drowns at Port Saugus, he runs away. Why has
he been such an absent father?
- Like Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song, Ward draws a portrait of a
troubled killer bound for death row. Is Charlie at all a sympathetic character?
The nation was riveted to the case and seemed in favor of his execution; the
warden at York where Caril Ann was confined comments that the public would be
happy to see her join Charlie. Was capital punishment the right answer for his
- When Charlie and Caril Ann first meet at the treehouse there is an instant
connection and understanding. What draws them together so immediately?
- Susan's mother and Charlie both take so much work to love that they bring
the whole world down around them. How are they similar?
- One of the large issues in the novel is what people do for love. How does
each of these characters behave in the face of love? What draws the women to
such damaged men? Caril Ann to Charlie; Caril Ann's mother to Roe; Susan's
mother Nils? Susan to Lowell?
- Susan searches the Port Saugus house for clues of her mother-where she
might have gone, who she really was. Does she ever find the answers she's
- Caril Ann always denies she did anything wrong, claiming it was all
Charlie. Why didn't she try to save any of the victims? Was she guilty too? She
remarks that the angriness inside her is something more real than anything she
ever knew. Why doe she refuse to take any responsibility for the killings? Does
she deserve to be forgiven?
- Susan says that you cannot escape your past; your past becomes your
children's past-things you don't deal with become your children's dirty laundry.
Each character is traumatized by the events set in motion by Charlie and Caril
Ann; how do they go about healing themselves and their pasts?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.