2. These stories are very short—a few of them are less than a page—and the whole book is only 100 pages. Dawn Raffel has said she revises by cutting. Why do you think she has chosen to make the stories so brief? What blanks is she asking the reader to fill in, and why?
3. In "Her Purchase," the mother says to her young son, "How can you be lonely when I love you so much?" How does this theme resonate throughout the book?
4. In "Sibling," which is one of the shortest stories, what is implied about the roots of sibling rivalry?
5. Many of the stories are about people dealing with loss—sometimes, as in "Steam," the death of a parent, sometimes a subtler loss, like an idea about oneself. How do these characters deal with loss? Does it differ from the way you deal with loss? At the end of "Steam," why does the narrator tell her sister she is "so far away"?
6. In the stories "Our Heaven," "Love," "The Interruption," "The Alternate Palace" and "The Air and Its Relatives," parents and grandparents refer briefly to World War II and the Holocaust, and then quickly change the subject as if they can't bear to consider it. Yet the atrocities of the past color not only their lives but also those of their children and grandchildren. How does your family deal with trauma? Was anyone in your family affected by the Holocaust? What kind of emotional legacy did it create?
7. "Our Heaven" moves back and forth in time. In some sections, the narrator is a child, and in others she is an adult talking to her aging mother. What is the effect of layering the past and present this way?
8. In "Flesh, Blood," the harried mother thinks, "No moment is sacred and all of them are." What does she mean by this?
9. Why is the story "Seven Spells" written as a list? At the end of the story, what spell has been broken?
10. Although the stories are not "linked" in a traditional sense, objects, phrases, and images move from one story to the next. For instance, a scarf that is knitted in "The Woman in Charge of Sensation" turns up on a child in "No Place on Earth." Birds also appear throughout the book, and so does water. What other items keep cropping up? What do they signify about the connections between people—even people who will never meet?
11. Language and cadence are important in these stories. If you read a few paragraphs aloud, how does it affect your experience of the book? Is it easier to connect to when you hear it spoken aloud?
12. Many of these characters—especially the father in "Our Heaven" and in "The Air and Its Relatives"—grapple with faith and religion. The title of the last story, "Beyond All Blessing and Song, Praise and Consolation" is a translated line from the Mourner's Kaddish, an ancient Jewish prayer written in Aramaic. What is the book's attitude toward faith? Does it differ from yours?
13. How does the final image in the book relate to the first story, in which a young man and woman are looking at the night sky?
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