Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Emilia Greenleaf, life is by turns a comedy of errors and an
emotional mine field. Yes, she's a Harvard Law grad who married
her soul mate. Yes, they live in upper-class comfort on the
Upper West Side of Manhattan. But with her one-and-only, Jack,
came a stepsona know-it-all preschooler named William whose
greatest pleasure seems to lie in torturing Emilia. Because of
William, Emilia has learned about a number of impossible
pursuits, such as the pursuit of cab drivers who speed away when
they see William's industrial-strength car seat, and the pursuit
of lactose-free, strawberry-flavored, patisserie-quality
cupcakes, even though William's "allergy" is a figment of his
over-protective mother's imagination. William is a reminder of
another, more poignant pursuit: Emilia's struggle to ease her
griefand guiltafter the death of her newborn daughter.
With wry candor and tender humor, acclaimed novelist Ayelet
Waldman has crafted a powerhouse novel for our time, rousing us
to cheer Emilia on as she tackles the absurdities of modern life
and discovers what family really means. Brimming with discussion
topicsabout being in love, being a parent, being a child, and
simply being alive in the real worldLove and Other
Impossible Pursuits is a memorable choice for reading
groups. Whether you're exploring the book with friends or on
your own, we hope that the following questions will enhance your
experience of this magnificent tour of the heart.
What were your initial impressions of Emilia? In what way did your image of her change as you learned
more about her? As she narrates, is she always honest with us
and with herself? How does she balance humor and intensity when
describing what it's like to be a woman on the edge?
Discuss the many forms of love described in the novel. Is
love ever a truly impossible pursuit? What factors make it seem
that way to Emilia?
How does Emilia cope with being a pariah among the other
preschool parents? What are the criteria within this community
for determining whether a woman is a "good mother"? What purpose
does their competitive attitude serve? What does Sonia seem to
think about the culture of American mommyhood?
What does Emilia's own mother teach her about being a
parent? How does Emilia's mom compare to Jack's mother, from
Discuss the author's choice of New York, and Central Park
in particular, as the backdrop for much of the novel. How does Emilia perceive the wonders and dangers of this locale? What
fragments of her childhood can she revive in the park?
Is the tension between Jack and Emilia solely related to
the loss of Isabel and the presence of a testy ex-wife? How
might the early months of their marriage have gone in the
absence of such agonies? Did their relationship change very much
as they went from being lovers to being spouses?
What seems to account for the vast differences between Emilia and her sister Allison? Out of the many parenting styles
presented in the novel, which seems to be the ideal? In what way
are parenting styles reflections of an adult's overall outlook
on life, as much as his or her concern for a child? How do you
personally determine when a level of caution has become
irrational and unrealistic?
What do you make of William's seemingly nonchalant
response to tragedy, such as loudly announcing the absence of
the Twin Towers while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge? What do
children see (or not see) compared to adults? What did you make
of his attempts to draw a family picture, and his depiction of
Isabel as an angel?
Do you agree with Jack's assertion that Emilia married him
because she was trying to become her father? Do you believe his
statement that he married Carolyn because he loved her? Do you
agree with his friends who believe that age had everything to do
with his attraction to Emilia? What ultimately is the basis for
deep romantic attraction?
What keeps Emilia from experiencing the Walk to Remember
in the same way that the other families experience it? Does the
walk nonetheless have healing results for her?
After her blowout argument with Jack, Emilia takes refuge
in her best friend, Simon, and a jaunt to Barneys. What makes
her friendship with Simon such a lasting one? Why is she in some
ways more comfortable with him than with Mindy? Why is Simon the
ideal person to accompany her while she faces her new waistline
How significant is Judaism to Emilia's identity? How do
she and William contend with issues of spiritual traditions?
What other elements shape Emilia's sense of self?
How would you characterize Emilia's father? Do you
empathize with his ex-wife's desire to rekindle a romance with
Do Emilia and William share any common personality
traits? Is she genuinely reckless or insensitive to his needs?
Why is it so easy for Jack to believe the accusations that
Emilia is not fit to care for his son?
What motivates Carolyn to provide Emilia with
pathological evidence that Isabel's cause of death was Sudden
Infant Death Syndrome? Were you happy to see Carolyn achieve
happiness in the end, with a man who seems suited to her and a
baby on the way?
Emilia gets her hands on numerous guides to
step-parenting and even pays a visit to William's therapist.
What wisdom does Love and Other Impossible Pursuits offer
At the end of the novel, Emilia confirms her father's
advice about rational thinking; she says that mystical ideas and
hopes interfered with her marriage to Jack. Do you agree with
her? Is the concept of bashert, the notion of
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Anchor Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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