Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Forever, Interrupted includes discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The plot of Forever, Interrupted isn’t strictly linear and, instead, alternates between Ben and Elsie’s courtship and Elsie’s mourning. How did this affect your reading experience? Why do you think the author made this narrative choice?
2. At various points throughout the novel, Elsie and Ben voice the concern that perhaps their relationship is progressing too quickly. Before reading this, would you have thought that two people could be ready to marry after six months of dating? Did Forever, Interrupted affect your opinion one way or another?
3. Romantic love may seem like the driving force behind Forever, Interrupted, but in what ways does friendship also shape the novel? In particular, how does seeing Elsie in the role of a friend—and not just as Ben’s girlfriend and wife— add to our understanding of her? What do her interactions with Ana, as well as with Mr. Callahan, reveal about her as a character?
4. Elsie is furious with Ana when she tries to give her a copy of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s memoir about losing her husband, and laments, “My job is books, information. I based my career on the idea that words on pages bound and packaged help people. That they make people grow, they show people lives they’ve never seen. They teach people about themselves, and here I am, at my lowest point, rejecting help from the one place I always believed it would be” (p. 164). Do you share Elsie’s perspective about the power of books? Why might this belief system be so painful for her to embrace immediately after Ben’s death?
5. D o you understand why Ben never told his mother about his relationship with Elsie? Why do you think Elsie didn’t push him harder on this?
6. Why is it important to Elsie that she and Ben were legally married? What do you think about Susan’s point of view, that, “It means nothing . . . You think that some ten minutes you spent with Ben in a room defines what you meant to each other? It doesn’t. You define that. What you feel defines that. You loved him. He loved you . . . It doesn’t matter whether it’s labeled a husband or a boyfriend. You lost the person you love. You lost the future you thought you had” (p. 250)?
7. Turn to the scene where Ben and Elsie are driving to Las Vegas and, as a group, read aloud the argument that they get into. Could you see each point of view, or did you side more with Elsie or Ben? Should one of them have handled the conversation differently?
8. When Elsie first arrives at Susan’s house, she realizes: “I can’t help but think that maybe because it’s okay to cry, I can’t” (p. 261). Can you find some other concrete examples of the grieving process that are illustrated in the book? Were there particular moments of Elsie’s (or Susan’s) mourning that especially resonated with you?
9. A na and Mr. Callahan each try to offer Elsie words of comfort and wisdom after Ben dies. At the time, she mostly rejects what they have to say. How has Elsie’s point of view changed by the end of the novel—and have Ana’s and Mr. Callahan’s perspectives shifted as well?
10. E lsie has a very distant relationship with her parents. How do you think their absence from her life affects first her courtship with Ben—and then later, her experience of mourning? Do Elsie’s views on family change over the course of the narrative? Do you think the novel distinguishes between what constitutes friendship and what constitutes family?
11. Ben and Elsie’s relationship is twice likened to a “supernova.” Discuss the two different contexts that this comparison appears in. Ultimately, do you think it is an applicable analogy for their love?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Pretend you are casting the film version of Forever, Interrupted. Who would play Elsie and Ben? Susan and Ana? What about Mr. Callahan?
2. Revisit Susan’s quote in question #6. Do you think this argument could be applied to the institution of marriage more generally? That is to say, if it doesn’t matter whether Elsie and Ben were married for nine days or zero, does marriage matter at all?
3. In The Year of Magical Thinking (the book Ana buys for Elsie), Joan Didion writes: “Marriage is memory, marriage is time. Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time.” What do you think she means by this?
4. T he evening of their first date, Ben and Elsie prepare to order Chinese food and quickly discover that they do not agree on their rice preferences. When Elsie suggests that they get two different orders of rice, Ben responds, “Maybe when the romance is gone we can do that, but not tonight.” (p. 68). Can you think of something that has in the past (or would in the future) signify to you that you’re past the early stage of a relationship? How does a concept like “romance” in a relationship change or manifest differently over time?
5. If Ben hadn’t gone out for Fruity Pebbles that night—if he had lived—what do you think would have been in store for Elsie and Ben’s marriage? And do you think Elsie would be as close to Susan?