Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss Susan’s fascination with the history of the Grelliers and Abigail’s diaries. Why do you think she attaches herself so strongly to her husband’s family history?
2. What is your first impression of Gina Haring? Does your perception of her change as you learn more about her?
3. At various points in the story, Myra Schapen uses the family website to report the misdeeds and misfortunes of her neighbors, most importantly the Grelliers. Do you view the website as a source of power for the Schapens? How is media, in general, portrayed in the story?
4. Jim tries to think of his son’s death as the result of a number of different forces, whereas Susan blames herself. What do you think most influenced Chip’s decision to join the army and, subsequently, be killed?
5. Susan makes a point to call her children by their proper names, rather than their nicknames like everyone else. Why do you think this is?
6. Jim emphasizes the sentiment that “you can’t farm in the valley if you’re on bad terms with your neighbors.” Indeed, community values are embraced by most of the families in the valley --- with the exception of the Schapens. At the same time, however, Kaw River Valley seems to be the breeding ground for outcasts, including Gina Haring, Robbie, and even Lara herself. How do you feel about this juxtaposition?
7. Do you see a difference between the Schapens’ spying habits and Lara Grellier’s own compulsion to sneak into other people’s houses?
8. The perfect red heifer represents different things for different groups. The Jews view her as the key component to rebuild their Temple and the Schapens, specifically Myra, Junior, and Arnie, see her as profit. Can you think of what the heifer might mean to Robbie?
9. Throughout the story, various characters use the words “dyke” and “retarded.” How do you feel about these words and their uses in the story?
10. Although in different ways, Susan and Elaine both lost a child. Are there any other parallels between the two women?
11. In chapter 51, Pastor Nabo attempts an exorcism on Robbie, Lara, and Elaine. How did this scene make you feel?
12. Elaine never falters in her accusation of Myra Schapen as the person responsible for the fire in the bunkhouse. However, late in the story Jim remembers his own grandfather’s grievances with the hippies. Who do you think set the fire, if anyone, and for what reason?
13. Discuss your feelings at the end of the story. Do you think it could have ended differently?
- Publication Date: October 28, 2008
- Mass Market Paperback: 624 pages
- Publisher: Signet
- ISBN-10: 0451224485
- ISBN-13: 9780451224484