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?
9. Why do you think Judith goes to the trouble of getting sham identification cards made for "Edith W. Winks"? Have you ever been in a situation when you took a certain pleasure in your own anonymity—and the chance possibilities that came with it?
10. When he meets her, Willy calls Judith "muy peligrosa." Is he right that Judith is dangerous? Is he right about the way in which she's dangerous?
11. What do you think about the way Judith and Willy part ways, when she leaves for college in California? What would you have done in her place? If you were Willy, would you have tried to follow her?
12. When Judith sees Willy again at his cabin by the lake, he is a much-changed man. What do you think of his transformation? How might things have turned out differently for Willy had Judith stayed in Nebraska?
13. Toward the end of the book, Judith stares out the car window at "a flat treeless landscape without interest except for the occasional antelope feeding in the day's last light. Deer can jump fences, but antelope can't, or won't; she couldn't remember which. Willy had told her, a long time ago. How it was a failing that often cost them their lives." How does this work as a metaphor? Who is the antelope and who is the deer?
14. A reader at Norwich Bookstore in Vermont noted that "as looking through water blurs the lines we perceive to be straight, so does Judith view her own life, which has become not quite as she thought it would be." What was your reaction to Willy and Judith's final scene? Why does Willy do what he does? How do you imagine Judith's life a year after the book's last page?
Read O's review of To Be Sung Underwater
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