Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- This novel tells of Dena's long journey home. What does home look and
sound and smell like to you? Is it a place or a state of mind?
- "Elmswood Springs is a town that likes itself." Do you agree
with this assessment of Dena's hometown? How does Dena's opinion of the town
change over the course of the novel?
- The Smith family talks about being able to stop time. Would you like to
have this power? If you could, when would you freeze time in your own life?
- Aunt Elner would want to be at home with her family and friends if she
knew the end of the world was coming. What would you do?
- What has caused Dena's identity crisis? How does she manage to keep the
people in her life fooled about her real condition for so long?
- Why are people in Dena's life so persistent even though she continually
shuts them out? Did you ever lose patience with her?
- Why does Gerry O'Malley believe in true love? Do you think it exists?
- Why does Dena sleep through Christmas every year and then lie about it?
Many people have very conflicted feelings about the holidays for a whole
host of reasons. How do you feel about holidays? Do you ever want to sleep
- Dena is initially very resistant to therapy. How much do you think therapy
helped her in the end? Did this novel challenge or confirm your own opinions
- 10. Dena's therapist tells her: I think you are mistaking a profession for
a personal identity." Discuss the meaning of this statment. Does it
apply to anyone you know?
- Ask each person in your reading group to give three answers to the
question: who are you? How easy or difficult is this to do? Do you have any
answers in common?
- What was the significance of Dena's recurring dream about the house with
- Dena gets to interview Tennessee Williams, an artist who inspired her. If
you could interview a person who has had a major impact on your personal/and
or professional development, who would it be? What would you ask them?
- This novel examines the nature of celebrity in modern America. Why does
Dena want to be famous? And why does she eventually reject it? Is celebrity
something you would want for yourself?
- Discuss the negative impact gossip in the media has on various characters
in this novel. Where do you think the line should be drawn regarding the
private lives of public people?
- Dena's career in television journalism in the 1960s and 1970s parallels
the rise of an increasingly invasive and sensationalized brand of news
broadcasting. To what degree do you think Dena owes her career to these
- How are Dena's good looks both a help and a hindrance in her career?
Discuss the problems women face in the workplace based on appearance.
- What was your immediate reaction upon reading about the disappearance of
Dena's mother on Christmas in 1959? Did your opinion change upon learning
the whole story?
- Do you think Sookie should have confronted Dena when she first learned
about her mother's disappearance? How do you think Dena would have reacted
- How do you think Gene and his family and friends would have responded if
Dena's mother had told them the truth? Do you think she was justified in
keeping her secret?
- Discuss the many worlds the Le Guarde children inhabited and how their
divided loyalties left them homeless in every sense of the word.
- Discuss the idea of "one drop of blood" and race relations in
the United States. How do you think things have changed, or not, since World
- Do you think Marguerite meant to do what she did in that bathroom in
Vienna? What does Dena think?
- What do you think Dena's life would have been like if her family had
- Dena is very reluctant to uncover the truth about her mother. Do you think
she has right to do so?
- Secrets helped destroy Dena's mother and uncle. And Dena's secrets almost
killed her. What makes the difference for Dena?
- This novel is filled with characters with distinct and quirky
personalities. Who is your favorite? What is your favorite descriptive
passage about them in this novel?
- Did the structure of this novel-shifting back and forth in time and place
and character-work for you? Why or why not?
- How did your group select this novel and the other books you have read?
What are you reading next?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.