Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D
1. Most of Burned deals with the distant past, interspersed with brief accounts of recent therapy sessions. What does this structure say about Louise's relationship to the past? Louise's mother, Dorothy, believed it wasn't beneficial to discuss the past, to be "mired" there. Is it more productive to move forward and leave the incident behind?
2. There is an idyllic quality to Louise's descriptions of that summer in Wellfleet, Cape Cod. Is this colored by the accident and its aftermath? Will Louise always remain nostalgic for that time and those possibilities?
3. During their parents' nine-month hospitalization, Louise and Annie found a delicate peace on the farm with their aunt and uncle. If you had to make the decision to pick them up or take Stella Chase's advice and wait, what would you have done?
4. In the absence of information about her parents, Louise imagined macabre stories from the snippets of conversation she overheard. Children often hear and see more than we give them credit for, and this limited information, coupled with their overactive imaginations, can lead to morbid conclusions. Is it beneficial to be less secretive around children, or is too much knowledge a bad thing?
5. Dorothy was arguably the greatest victim of the tragedy, and dealt with it in the most admirable way. When she entertained the idea of eventually looking better than she used to, through the miracles of plastic surgery, did those notions mean she wasn't prepared to face reality or, as a nurse, did she really believe it was possible? Have you ever found yourself believing in impossible scenarios because you're not ready to accept reality?
6. While contemplating suicide, Hank focused on everything he felt guiltiest about: not bringing his embarrassing parents to Yale to visit him and convincing his terminally ill brother not to get married. Hank wondered whether the accident was punishment for his reprehensible behavior. Many of us try to find a reason to blame ourselves when we're confronted with something purely accidental and utterly horrific. Is this mode of thought advantageous in any way or should we categorically battle against it?
7. To Louise, Della was an important member of the family. How did the rest of the family view her? Della's eventual dismissal implied that her role in the family was mostly a professional one. What did Della's reaction suggest about her view?
8. Dorothy was arguably a demanding, exacting mother even before the accident. In its aftermath, she directed this "bully strength" inward, and pulled her out of the self-pity that ensnared her husband. Are domineering personalities beneficial to survival when faced with tragedy? Would Louise have had a different opinion of her mother if it weren't for the accident?
9. Everyone has different coping mechanisms. Louise responded to the accident in part by behavior that was in some ways self-destructive. Do you remember times in your childhood when you couldn't articulate what was wrong but you expressed this confusion through unusual behavior?
10. The epilogue provides a glance into the rest of the lives of the Nayers. Did anything surprise you? In considering the epilogue alone, do you believe their lives, in the grand scheme of things, would have been different if it weren't for the accident? How do you believe your family would have dealt with such a tragedy? How would it have changed your lives in the long run?
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From the April 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!