Reading Guide for Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo


by Tiffanie DeBartolo

Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo X
Sorrow by Tiffanie DeBartolo
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Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

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  1. Joe is a sensitive character. How would you describe his relationship to masculinity? How do you think the constructs of a masculine society affect Joe's self-esteem?
  2. What do you think it is about October that Joe finds attractive, given his own background and upbringing? How does he change as they become more involved? How does October change?
  3. October says: "I think love is the ultimate art project. To me, there's nothing more beautiful, more powerful, or more meaningful than truly and purely loving another human. No expectations. No strings attached. Just the freedom to be who you are and to be loved in spite of that." Is this kind of love truly possible — to have love with no expectations?
  4. Do you consider October to be the epitome of a young, accomplished, independent woman and artist? Talk about her character, her personality, work habits and motivations. Then discuss how she ended up in the love triangle between Joe and Cal.
  5. Discuss Joe's obsession with trees and, in particular, redwoods. What role have the trees played in his life? Have you ever experienced nature in the way that Joe does? That is, nature as family, friend, or at least something so comforting and familiar, it strikes you with a sense of awe?
  6. There are many big things in the book: a big dog, big trees, a big birdcage, big love, big friendship, and big art concepts. Let's add that Cal is also larger than life. Though both Joe and October are described as being physically small. Do you think the author is trying to show or tell us something here?
  7. Discuss the birdcage project. What do you think it symbolized for October? For Joe?
  8. After the birdcage performance, Joe says: "Art isn't about people who are better than us showing us how much better they are, it's about being reminded of the ways in which we are all the same." This is a powerful realization for the narrator, and, hopefully, for the reader. Does it ring true for you?
  9. DeBartolo gives a nod to performance artist Marina Abramovic with October's Living Exhibit "Sorrow: This is Art." If you are with an in-person reading group, divide into twos and recreate the experience. Place your hands in each other's and hold each other's gazes for five minutes. If you are online, hold each other's gaze for five minutes. Discuss the experience.
  10. Joe grapples with the fact that he's forsaken his dreams and desires at every turn, but he desperately wants to change that. Do you believe a person can change? Do you believe a person can right themselves back onto the path on which they belong, especially after so many wrongs? And is there a 'right' path?
  11. Joe and Cal's friendship runs deep. What is Joe to Cal? Discuss the impact they've had on each other, in childhood and as adults. Would you have forgiven Joe, as Cal did?
  12. You're attending October's "Sorrow: This Is Art" exhibit. You sit down across from her and take her hands. What emotions would she feel in you right now?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Woodhall Press. 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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