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Reading Group Discussion Questions
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  1. Do you sympathize more with Kathy Nicolo or with Colonel Behrani in part one of the novel? How does Dubus's use of alternating first-person narratives affect your response to, and involvement with, the characters?
  2. The contested ownership of the house on Bisgrove Street is the fulcrum of the novel's plot, Who, in your opinion, owns the house once Behrani has pain cash for it? What would be a fair solution to the conflict?
  3. Early in the novel Behrani buys himself a hat, which he says gives him "the appearance of a man with a sense of humor about living, a man who is capable to live life for the living of it" [p.28]. Why is this a poignant thing for Behrani to wish for himself? Does he in fact take life too seriously?
  4. What does Kathy's response to Nick's desertion reveal about her character? Why does Lester fall in love with Kathy? Is he better for her than Nick was?
  5. Lester tells Kathy that he had wanted to become a teacher, but plans changed when Carol became pregnant. Is Lester's job in law enforcement a poor fit for him? Why did he once plant evidence in a domestic violence case?
  6. Who, of the three main characters, is most complex? Who is most straightforward?
  7. Where does the hostility between Lester and Behrani spring from? How do their memories — Lester's of his teenage girlfriend and her brother, Behrani's of his murdered cousin, Jasmeen — function to reveal the deep emotions that motivate action in this novel?
  8. At what point do Kathy's and Lester's actions depart from the path of a simple desire for justice and move into something else? Why can neither of them seem to act rationally? Does Behrani act rationally?
  9. Does Lester drink to break free of a sense of deadness, or to anesthetize himself? Why does he risk his family life as well as his professional life for his involvement with Kathy? Is he attempting to reinvigorate his life, or is he unconsciously seeking to destroy himself?

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