The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass
Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D
1. From the stories characters remember and tell, what kind of mother was Poppy? Even though Poppy was mother to both, are Trudy and Clover similar as mothers? Describe them and their relationships with their children. And how about Sarah? What kind of mother is she? Does being a mother define any or all of these women?

2. How do Percy's age, background and profession shape the way he thinks about the world around him? How do others describe Percy, and how does he describe himself? How has being a single father and now an involved grandfather defined him? How do you think he would have been a different father and man had Poppy lived?

3. By the end of the novel, how has Percy changed/evolved?

4. Why has Percy not been with any women since Poppy's death? Is it habit and routine, nostalgia and commitment to his wife, or guilt over her death; or a combination of all three? How does he fall for Sarah, and why does he let her into his life?

5. The novel takes place over the course of a year with chapters varying from Percy's point of view (told as we discover looking back from a year later), in first person, to those of Celestino, Robert and Ira. Why are only Percy's chapters told in the first person and the rest in the third person? Why do you think the author has chosen all male voices?

6. Why is the novel called The Widower's Tale? What do you think of this allusion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales?

7. This is a novel about family and the intricacies of the intertwining relationships between family members. Discuss and compare some of the central familial relationships in the novel, i.e., between grandfather and grandson, Percy and son-in-laws, the two sisters.

8. Describe Celestino—he's an outsider and loner whom circumstances pull into the United States and into Percy's orbit. How does he come to be so crucial in Robert and Percy's life by the end of the novel?

9. Why is Celestino and Isabelle's relationship doomed to fail? Why do they have such polar views on a possible current friendship? What does each represent for the other? How is their adolescent love different from that between Robert and Clara?

10. Discuss Robert's relationship with his mother. Why does he write his college essay about her? Why has the author decided to tell of their relationship from his angle rather than Trudy's?

11. Why does Percy allow the school to take over his barn and property, thus disrupting his life (and opening some doors)? What does this say about him as a father, and his relationship with Clover?

12. Why does Clover resent her father and betray both him and her nephew, Robert, at the end of the novel?

13. Why does Robert get involved in Arturo's "missions"? Discuss their friendship and why Arturo is so appealing to Robert. How is Arturo "of everywhere and nowhere"?

14. Why do Percy and others agree to some extent with the message of the eco-terrorist actions, but not all? What do you think the author is saying of our culture of greed and mass consumption?

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15. Discuss the importance of the tree house in the novel. What does it represent, if anything, for the four main characters?

16. Houses are often characters in Julia Glass novels. Compare Percy's house to central houses in her other novels, if you've read them. Describe Percy's house and its importance to the Darling family. Discuss its tie to the neighboring house and the revelation at the end about the two brothers who built the houses. Why is this important?

17. How have libraries changed over the course of Percy's working in one, through his youth, his daughter's youths, and now Robert's youth? Percy doesn't seem to approve of the direction libraries are going. Do you?

18. "Daughters. This word meant everything to me in that moment: sun, moon, stars, blood, water (oh curse the water!), meat, potatoes, wine, shoes, books, the floor beneath my feet, the roof over my head." (page 109). Compare and contrast Percy's two daughters.

19. Why is Sarah so mysterious and unforthcoming about her lump, and then breast cancer? Why does she betray him with using her ex-boyfriend's insurance and not telling Percy? What does this say about Sarah and her feelings for Percy?

20. While visiting a museum, Percy's friend asks, "What sort of landscape are you?" And Percy replies, "A field. Overgrown and weedy." "Or a very large, gnarled tree," his friend adds. (pages 281-82) How would you describe him? How about yourself, what sort of landscape are you? Is it easier to describe someone else as a landscape than yourself?

21. How is this book both a tale of our time and a story specific to its place, to New England?

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