Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- What is the metaphor of the title? How do the epigraphs help to set it up?
- The stories share several themes, among them aging and the passage of time, parents and children, divorce and separation. What would you say is the primary theme of the collection?
- Several of the story titles have multiple meanings. How does Moore's wordplay keep the reader guessing?
- The dialogue in Moore's stories is often funny. Would you call the stories themselves humorous?
- Real-life current events cast shadows over several of the stories. How does Moore use them to shape a deeper meaning?
- In "Debarking," when Zora tells Ira, "Every family is a family of alligators," (p. 15), how does this foreshadow what's to come?
- Ira reads a poem in Bekka's journal: "Time moving. / Time standing still. / What is the difference? / Time standing still is the difference" (p. 31). He has no idea what it means, but he knows that it's awesome. What do you think the poem means?
- Why do you think Moore titled the story following "Debarking" "The Juniper Tree"?
- This second story has a dreamlike quality. Do you think Moore expects the reader to accept it as realistic?
- In "Paper Losses," Kit asserts: "A woman had to choose her own particular unhappiness carefully. That was the only happiness in life: to choose the best unhappiness" (p. 68). What do you think of this notion?
- What point is Moore making in "Foes"?
- What is the metaphor of the "rat king" sequence (p. 140) in "Wings"?
- In "Subject to Search," Tom says that cruelty comes naturally to everyone (p. 166). Do you agree? Does that assertion prove true in Moore's stories?
- "Thank You for Having Me" draws a clear connection between weddings and funerals, marriage and death. What connections have you seen in your own experience?
- On page 184, Moore writes, "Maria was a narrative girl and the story had to be spellbinding or she lost interest in the main character, who was sometimes herself and sometimes not." Which other characters in the collection could be described in this way?
- Which of Moore's characters would you most like to meet again?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Knopf.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.