Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
When she learns she was kidnapped as a child, Delia's choice of profession
takes on a new significance. What motivated Delia to pursue a career in
search-and-rescue? Does she view it differently once she knows about her past?
Delia says that as children she, Fitz, and Eric each had their roles: "Fitz
was the dreamer; I was the practical tactician. Eric, on the other hand, was
the front man: the one who could charm adults or other kids with equal ease."
Have they continued these roles into adulthood? How so? Is each one
comfortable in his or her role, or is there a longing to be something
In one instance Eric muses that "there are people in this world who have
done worse things than Andrew Hopkins." What is your opinion of what Andrew
did--taking Delia away from her mother and creating a new life for the two of
them? From a legal standpoint, is he guilty of a crime? How about from a moral
Andrew himself says, "Does it really matter why I did it? By now, you've
already formed your impression. You believe that an act committed a lifetime
ago defines a man, or you believe that a person's past has nothing to do with
his future." A person cannot change his or her past actions, but can they make
up for the hurt they've caused by helping others? Does the good that Andrew
has done for the town of Wexton and for the senior citizens in his care--not
to mention the happy childhood he gave Delia--make up for or excuse his taking
his daughter? What do you make of Elise's remark to Andrew that Delia "turned
out absolutely perfect"?
Eric believes that he does not have "the experience or the wits or the
confidence" to represent Andrew. Why then does he agree to take on the case?
Why does he continue to act as Andrew's attorney even when it causes tension
between him and Delia?
In one instance Delia says to Fitz about meeting her mother for the first
time, "I want this to be perfect. I want her to be perfect. But what if she's
not? What if I'm not?" How does the reality measure up when she finally meets
her mother? What kind of understanding do Delia and Elise come to? Why does
Elise give Delia the "spell"--is it to help Andrew or her daughter?
Delia believes "it takes two people to make a lie work: the person who
tells it, and the one who believes it." How do the characters in the novel,
including Delia herself, prove this to be true?
During the trial, Eric tells the court he is an alcoholic. What does the
exchange between Eric and Delia while he is questioning her on the witness
stand reveal about their relationship? Do they view each other differently
after this exchange? As two people who love alcoholics, how does Delia's
treatment of Eric differ from Andrew's treatment of Elise? Whose actions and
reactions, given their partner's disease, do you support?
Eric says to Andrew, "Everyone deserves a second chance." How does the
idea of second chances play out in Vanishing Acts? Are there any characters
who deserve a second chance and don't get one? And, conversely - are there any
characters who do get a second chance - and squander it?
Elise tells Delia, "If you had grown up with me, this is one of the things
I would have tried to teach you: marry a man who loves you more than you love
him. Because I have done both now, and when it is the other way around, there
is no spell in the world that can even out the balance." Discuss this in terms
of Delia's relationships with both Eric and Fitz. Which man do you think Delia
should be with, and why?
Both Delia and Sophie quickly develop a close relationship with Ruthann.
When Ruthann commits suicide, Delia is there to witness it. Why does she not
try to stop Ruthann? What does Delia come to realize about herself from this
Many of the chapters told from Andrew's point of view occur while he is in
prison, "where everyone reinvents himself." What do these scenes, which depict
in graphic detail the harsh realities of life behind bars, reveal about
Andrew? What do they add to the overall storyline?
Right versus wrong is a dominant theme in Vanishing Acts--whether Andrew
was right or wrong to kidnap Delia, whether Eric is right or wrong to hide his
continued drinking from Delia, whether Delia is right or wrong not to stop
Ruthann. How do the multiple perspectives in the story blur these lines and
show how two people can view the same situation completely different? Were
there any instances where you changed your mind about something in the story
after reading a different character's viewpoint?
Fitz tells Delia, "I think you're angry at yourself, for not being smart
enough to figure this out all on your own...If you don't want someone to
change your life for you again, Dee, you've got to change it yourself." How do
Fitz's words make Delia see her circumstances differently?
Ruthann introduces Delia to the Hopi creation myth, which suggests that
humans have outgrown the world four times already, and are about to inhabit a
fifth. Do most people outgrow their origins? Is reinvention part of the human
experience? How do each of the characters' actions support or disprove this?
At one point, we learn that Fitz has not been writing about Andrew's
trial, but about Delia. In fact, when he reads the first few pages to her, we
can recognize them as the first few pages of this book. How does this affect
the story you read? Is Fitz a reliable narrator?
Much is made of the nature of memory - whether it is stored physically,
whether it can be conjured at will, whether it can be organically triggered or
planted. Ultimately, do you believe Delia's recovered memories at the end of
the book? Why or why not?
How are each of the main characters--Delia, Fitz, Eric, Andrew, and
Elise--most changed by the events that take place? Where do you envision the
characters five years from now?
Reproduced with the pemission of the publisher, Atria Books.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Washington Square Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...