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1. How does Robert's early childhood in the Oxford Circle prepare him for life outside the neighborhood? What qualities does he acquire there? How might these help or hurt him?
2. Robert's relationship with his mother is one of the most dominant in the novel. Do you think Stacia is a good mother?
3. At one point, Gwendolyn Smythe tells Robert that he "has it all wrong" about his family. She says that Stacia is a "brilliant home economist"; Vishniak is full of imagination, and Barry is more like his brother than different. Is Robert wrong about his family? Why does Gwendolyn see them so differently? Does her point of view affect how you see them?
4. What do Tracey's shirts do for Robert? What role do clothes and appearance continue to play throughout the novel? Have the clothes you wore ever influenced how you experienced an event, or were perceived in an important situation?
5. Why does Robert have so much trouble seeing that Tracey is in love with him? What roles do shame and secretiveness continue to play in their relationship?
6. Do you like Robert? Why or why not?
7. The 1960s take up a large part of this novel. How do Robert's reactions to the war compare to those around him? What does this reflect about him or his background?
8. Robert, Claudia and Tracey are all irrevocably affected by their first loves—so much so that they make endless mistakes that affect their lives for decades. What is Pomerantz suggesting about first love? Do you agree?
9. Barry Vishniak is funny, family-oriented and, at times, very generous. He's also a drug dealer and a thief. How do these contradictions affect your view of him? Is he an immoral person?
10. Crea Vishniak's relationship with her father is one of several important father-daughter relationships in this novel. How does her relationship with Jack Alexander benefit Crea, and how does it hurt her?
11. When we meet Sally Johannson, she is in a subservient, compromised role—men are whistling and hooting at her, staring at her body and offering her money. Is she a powerless character or a powerful one? Does her treatment of Robert, over the course of Part III, change how you think of her?
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Questions courtesy of Twelve.
From the August 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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