1. Describe Eliza as an adult and as a teenager. How has she changed? What of her personality is the same? How did the trauma of her kidnapping impact her relationship with her parents, her sister, her husband, her children?
2. What did Eliza have in common with Walter's other victims? How was she different? Why didn't Walter kill her too?
3. When she visits the parents of Walter's last victim, Eliza cant help but think of their daughter and her role—or lack of it—in her death. "She hadn't killed Holly, but she hadn't saved her, either. Was that the same thing? She had resolved to live. Was her decision to live the same as willing Holly to die? She had chosen to live, which she believed meant doing whatever Walter said. Holly was the one who had fought and run." Discuss the questions Eliza raises about her own culpability. Does Eliza share any blame for Holly's death?
4. How would you characterize the relationship between Walter and the teenage Elizabeth? What about his relationship with the adult Eliza?
5. How did knowing Walter as intimately as she did save Eliza's life? Which person knew the other better? Did she owe Walter his life—or anything at all—since ultimately, he spared hers? Did he know her as well as he thought? Was he surprised by the outcome when she finally visited? Were you?
6. What does Walter want from Eliza? Why does she agree to see him? What does she want from him?
7. Walter mused about the trial that convicted him. "Shouldn't his victims have the final say? But there was Elizabeth. He hadn't been lying when he said he felt the greatest guilt toward her. What he did to her—that was a betrayal. The others, he didn't know them, they weren't real to him. But Elizabeth had been his co-pilot, his running buddy. His Charley to his Steinbeck." Why did Walter feel guilty about Elizabeth? How did he betray her?
8. Eliza had felt protected by the invisibility with which she cloaked herself, taking her husband's name, moving abroad for several years. Can we ever truly hide from those who want to find us? What is the emotional cost if we try? What was the cost for Eliza?
9. Eliza wished her son could stay young and innocent for years. "But she knew there was no spell, no magic, that could keep a child a child, or shield a child from the world at large. In fact, that was where the trouble almost always began, with a parent trying to out-think fate. Stay on the path. Don't touch the spindle. Don't speak to strangers. Don't pick the rose." Why does Eliza think this way? What does she mean by "that was where the trouble almost always began"? Do you agree with her assessment? Are we overprotective of our children? How can we gird them for the perils the world offers?
10. When she was asked if Walter deserved to die, Eliza responds, "It doesn't matter what I think. He was sentenced for the murder of Holly Tackett, and her parents made it clear that they approved of the death penalty. I wasn't consulted." Do you think Walter deserved to die? Why is it so difficult for Eliza to offer her opinion? Do you think she feels guilty for surviving?
11. Eliza's sister Vonnie accuses her of "existing...You let life happen to you. You live the most reactive life of anyone I know. If there's one thing I would have learned from your experience, I think it would be to never let anyone else take control of my life." Is Vonnie correct in her assessment? Has Eliza learned this lesson?
Read O's review
Get more reading guides
From the September 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!