Reading guide for Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman

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Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 352 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

For 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 stepson—a 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 grief—and guilt—after 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 topics–about being in love, being a parent, being a child, and simply being alive in the real world—Love 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.



Discussion Questions
  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. What does Emilia's own mother teach her about being a parent? How does Emilia's mom compare to Jack's mother, from Syria?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. 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?
  10. 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?
  11. 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 while shopping?
  12. 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?
  13. How would you characterize Emilia's father? Do you empathize with his ex-wife's desire to rekindle a romance with him?
  14. 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?
  15. 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?
  16. 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 stepparents?
  17. 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 "meant-to-be," unrealistic?

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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