Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- While Esme believes abstractly in Thurlow's ideas, she has a hard time buying the healing powers of the Helix: "Loneliness was a pandemic...Thurlow had that right. It was the rest Esme couldn't get behind. Fellowship among strangers as antidote to a life's worth of estrangement?" (page 29). Do you agree or disagree with Esme? Do you think that Thurlow's philosophy is good and it's his practice that's flawed?
- Ned posts to an online forum that "the thing about Luke is that he's able to do what no other Jedi has so far: he can feel love without turning evil" (page 55). Replace the word "Jedi" with "human being" and think about it. How many characters in Woke Up Lonely do terrible and selfish things for someone they claim to love? Do you think self-interest is ultimately the pandemic, not loneliness?
- When talking to Lynne, who is actually Esme in disguise, Bruce reveals that, "I'm terrified [my job at the Department] marks the end of a period in my life when I tried to do something that mattered. I don't know who I am anymore. I am estranged from myself. Isn't that ridiculous?" (page 88). How are Bruce's thoughts ironic given his feelings towards the Helix?
- In the midst of his attempts to make a ransom tape, Thurlow Dan says, "I would like...the chance to humanize this story so that among those for whom the expiry of my life will come as good news, there are two who might someday know of the sorrow wrought in my heart for them" (page 111). Do you think Thurlow's story humanizes his character? Do you feel sorry for him once you know the truth?
- During his first speech, delivered at a college lecture hall while Esme is giving birth, Thurlow says: "Everywhere and all the time people are crying out for each other. Your name. Mine. And when you look back on your life, you'll see it's true: woke up lonely, and the missing were on your lips" (page 155). How does this statement thematically represent the book as a whole? Why do you think Maazel chose Woke Up Lonely for the title?
- When Esme passes Ida off to Crystal for an ice skating trip, she realizes that "with love comes expectation" (page 135). What is this realization significant for Esme? Do you think her character changes throughout the novel? If so, how?
- Though the Helix is a fictional movement, many therapeutic and even religious groups like it exist. Do you think communities of like-minded people can bring relief or do they further estrange us from reality? What aspects of the Helix appeal to you, if any?
- On one of her notecards Esme writes: "I wanted to escape the fear born of love for you and Idathe fear that there were feelings in this world that could undo your resolve to live isolated from the trauma and wreckage that come in train of relations with other people" (page 222). Why do you think love breeds fear, especially for Esme? Is it love that causes our self-interest or can love actually cure us?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.