Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. In a departure from the normal course of her life that Judith calls a "swerve," she rents a storage unit and registers it under a fake name. What do you make of her impulse?
2. Would Judith have started to think about Willy so intently had she not undergone her "swerve"? How might things have gone differently for her and her family had she never made that phone call?
3. Judith believes in the kind of love that "picks you up in Akron, Ohio, and sets you down in Rio de Janeiro." What do you think of this "Rio Variation" on love? Do you think such connections are almost inevitably short-lived? Is it the combination of brevity and intensity that makes them linger in the imagination?
4. The author says that while "the road less traveled" is the more overt theme in the book, he had in mind an examination of marriage as an institution. All the principal characters weigh in on the subject at one time or other. Judith's mother's approach is aphoristic—"all marriages come with a pinhole leak," etc.—but at one point Judith wonders if a successful marriage might not be defined as one in which "the whole was greater than the sum of its parts." Using this as a measure, what do you make of Malcolm and Judith's marriage?
5. To what degree does Judith make her mother's pessimistic pronouncements regarding marriage come true? Did you ever feel that those aphorisms had a dangerous power—that they were predictions Judith wanted to escape but couldn't?
6. Judith's daughter, Camille, is full of spirit and opinions and doesn't often kowtow to her mother, which Judith finds irritating. What connections would you draw between Camille and the younger Judith we see in the scenes from her youth?
7. What do you think of Judith's father, Howard Toomey, and his decision to leave Vermont and put down roots in Nebraska? What part did Judith's shallow roots in Nebraska—the fact that she was an outsider, not a native—play in her decisions about Willy?