Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In this novel, Matt breaks up with Katie by leaving behind a diary written
by his wife Suzanne for their young son, Nicholas. Suzanne pours out her
feelings about Matt, Nicholas, about her joys of being a country doctor in
Martha's Vineyard, about being a wife and mother, about her love for the
Island and for the sea. Matt tells Katie he can't see her anymore, but leaves the diary for her.
Was he courageous or cowardly? (We later learn that he doesn't like to talk
about sad things.) What is the best way to tell a new partner about a past
life? Should he have put Katie through this agony?
The lasting lesson in Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is the story of
five balls. In it Life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The
balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. Every day you
keep them all in the air. Then you come to understand that work is a rubber
ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls are made of
glass. When dropped, they will probably shatter.
Suzanne's glass ball was her health. Is there anything she could have
done to keep all the balls in balance? Should she have given up more to save
her life? Stopped being a doctor, hired help for Nicholas? Gone to other
Matt is the forgotten one in this book, because we never really get to
know how he feels. The diary is written by Suzanne and the story is about
Katie's reaction to the diary.
He's a complex guy with a library filled with classics. He writes poetry,
paints houses, went to an Ivy League college. He likes to dance and race
cars. He's a caring father and husband. In fact, he seems to be too good to
Yet like many writers, he put much of his emotion in his writing, as we
can tell from the last anguished chapter in the diary. How can we help
people like Matt who hurt, yet are so emotionally blocked that they seem not
to need any help?
Katie is an enigma. She's a sensible, hardworking woman. She lives by the
country creed she was taught: Hands to work; hearts to God. Yet her love for
Matt blinds her and causes her usual caution to go out the window.
Why did she get pregnant without a certain future? Having children wasn't
yet in their plan. Of all the characters in the book, it seems as if Katie
profits most from the lessons of the five balls. She is trying to find
balance, but it's a tough juggling act because she's put her whole life into
her work. Which ball is most likely to shatter for you, and how can you stop
this from happening?
So many books about love and loss take place on peaceful islands
surrounded by idyllic seacoasts, salty breezes, and ocean sounds, Alice
Hoffman's Illumination Night comes to mind. Could the story have the
same power if set in landlocked Iowa or New York City streets?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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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