Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Clearly everyone doesn't go through the grieving process in the same way
and at the same speed. What does Sophie's experience tell us about grief?
How do Sophie and Marion differ when it comes to grieving? What aspects of
Sophie's grief can you relate to? Are we sometimes too quick to tell people
to "get over it," and move on with their grief? How might we be
more comforting to those who are struggling with grief?
The theme of illness or decay extends beyond Ethan's death. At one point,
Sophie says, "I look at the house and all I see is cancer." Her
house then becomes literally much emptier than when Ethan was alive. Do you
think that the death of a loved one casts a shadow on a living space? What
other clues does the author give that Sophie must leave the house she shared
As a young widow, Sophie feels alienated at times from other widows and
widowers in her therapy sessions, and among her friends. Does her youth make
it more difficult for others to sympathize with her? Along these lines, does
her youth make it harder for her to cope with Ethan's death?
Crystal is one of the most intriguing characters in the novel in that she
both provides comfort to Sophie and gets under her skin. Do you think
Crystal helps restore a sense of control in Sophie's life, or does she take
it away because she is so trying of Sophie's patience?
Low self-esteem is a huge problem for both Sophie and Crystal, but they
cope with it differently. How does each character deal with their
self-esteem and confidence issues? How does Sophie's experience with low
self-esteem help Crystal overcome her cycle of self-destruction?
Sophie's mother dies when she is a young girl. Yet for someone who grew up
without a mother, she demonstrates an incredible maternal instinct. Towards
the end of Ethan's illness, Sophie was a caregiver. And at the end of the
novel Sophie becomes a surrogate mother for Crystal and Marion (and even
Drew in the last scene) - once again she is in the position of being a
maternal caregiver. Is being a motherly-type figure therapeutic to Sophie?
Does being a parental figure help Sophie overcome Ethan's death? Aside from
her father's visit, do we ever see Sophie allowing herself to be taken care
At one point in the novel Sophie says, "Here's what happens in the
movies: A single woman moves to a small town in the country to start over,
and a rugged Sam Shepard kind of guy--lean and muscular, a cleft chin, and a
thirty-three-inch waist in faded Levis's--finds her." Yet at the end of
the novel she's involved with Drew, a handsome actor. Did you find that
unbelievable or disappointing? Or did you think that was okay since clearly
her knight on a white horse has already revealed that he has some commitment
The concept of the non-traditional family manifests itself several times
in the novel. After Ethan's death, Sophie finds herself with her father
living 3,000 miles away and no other immediate relatives to turn to. By the
end of the novel, how has Sophie's notion of a "family" changed?
Who constitutes this new family? Can this new family fill the void that
Sophie clings to Ethan's possessions and becomes very attached to his ski
sweater over the course of the story, almost personifying it. Finally, she
decides to part with most of Ethan's belongings, even the sweater. Why is it
so difficult to part with the physical things left behind when someone dies?
Does wearing and holding onto this sweater help Sophie overcome Ethan's
death, or does it impede her progress of moving on with her life? Is Jasper
a good home for Ethan's sweater, or should Sophie have kept it?
Do you think the expression "good grief" is apt? Is a grieving
period necessary in order to recover and move on? And do you think someone
ever moves on from a loss such as one that Sophie experienced?
The notion of loyalty and commitment comes up throughout the book:
Sophie's loyalty towards Ethan and her guilt about starting a new
relationship with Drew, Ruth's commitment to her failed marriage and
reluctance to let it go, even Marion, with her Alzheimer's, maintains a
committed belief that Ethan is alive. When is it okay to acknowledge that
something - a relationship, a person - has died and that the person left
behind can start anew?
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Warner Books.
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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