Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1) David claims that, "The nature of beauty is transient" (42). What does he mean by this? This definition is convenient for David: since beauty has an expiration date he will never have to trouble himself to seek it. Do you think Tyler shares this opinion? Does she think something beautiful, like love, can be non-perishable? Or does she believe that it's worth finding even if it will expire? How does her opinion change over the course of the novel?
2) Why is David so obsessed with his video game (53)? Tyler thinks that David, "likes things that doesn't really exist"(12). Why does she form this opinion of him? Is it true of her as well? Does she want a fantasy boyfriend instead of a real man? Tyler seems very sensitive to the way in which people create fantasies and fabricate feeling, even in their most intimate moments. She knows she does this herself, and says of sex with David, "Sometimes I wish it was all as good as it probably sounds to the lawn maintenance men outside trimming the shrubs"(25). Why does Tyler indulge David's fantasies and her own? Are there other instances in this novel where fantasy clashes with reality?
3) The ninth reason Tyler cannot be with David is that, "He lives across the country and doesn't want me to be here with him anymore and does not wish to move to the south, where I live" (47). How does Tyler's sense of the geographic gulf that separates her from David reflect their emotional separation? Think about the numerous ways in which Tyler and David seem to inhabit separate spaces even while they live together. David makes it clear that Tyler should stay out of the kitchen while he is cooking (50), and Tyler picks up more subtle cues that his space is his own which she reacts to by trying to "fold into smaller pieces so the space around [her] looks bigger" (13). She tries to make a sanctuary for herself in the bathroom (50), but feels constrained there. How do these dynamics characterize their relationship for us? What do David and Tyler need to overcome before they would be able to occupy the same space?
4) Does it surprise you when Tyler finally reveals that she and David have only been living together for two weeks before she returns to her family (59)? Why or why not? Consider the way she chooses to reveal her history. Why does she spend so much time talking about David? How does her obsession with him affect her perspective, and how does your awareness of her perspective affect the way you read the book?
5) Since we only get glimpses of David through Tyler's eyes, he remains an elusive character throughout the novel-more a shadow of a person than anyone real. Ask yourself, how important is David (the actual character of David rather than Tyler's perception of David) to the story? Do we ever get to see the "real" David, or is the lens through which the narrator perceives him too murky?
6) After returning to her family, Tyler suggests that perhaps she wasn't in love with David after all. She says, "I think I might think I'm in love with David and am allowing him to rip my heart out and stomp all over it for effect"(77). How does her need for attention affect her relationship? Does she trust her own attachment to David? Do you? Can you compare the way she interacts with her family to the way she approaches David? Do any of the same patterns emerge? Are you surprised that the narrator seems to be aware of these dynamics and yet seems powerless to overcome them?
7) When Tyler is drinking at Perry's house, she says, "I was getting back at Dad, who gave me the thirst that can never be quenched and who left me too soon. I was getting back at David, who wouldn't fucking say goodbye"(115). How does Tyler's relationship with her dad parallel her relationship with David? In what ways does her one-night stand with Perry reveal new aspects of her relationship with both men? What do with learn about her relationships with these men while she spends time with Parker?
8) Tyler's night with Perry shows her just as much about her relationship with alcohol as it does her relationship with men. Tyler has two significant breakthroughs after that night. She says, "I never enjoyed sex with David .I always screamed because he was filling this hole I could never fill completely on my own, and I knew that he would empty it again soon and I would be left all alone. I am all alone now, and I have come to grips with the fact that I could have a drinking problem"(118). How are Tyler's two epiphanies, the honest acknowledgment of her desperate sexual relationship with David and the realization that she has a drinking problem, related? Do these destructive tendencies share a common root? What train of thought allows her to reach both of these conclusions in the same night?
9) Tyler says of her life, "When in doubt, trust it won't work out" (131). Do you think this is sometimes a self-fulfilling prophecy for Tyler? Her perceptions and biting criticism, which is often directed at herself, comprise nearly the entire the book. How much of her grief is due to tragic circumstances in her life, and how much stems from her own bleak outlook? How does her history of depression complicate our perception of her? Does her outlook change?
10) When Tyler takes off on her road trip, what do you believe the goal of her journey is? Do you think she knows where she is headed? As she heads out of Nashville, all she says is, "I am leaving all of this. I am going to conquer this list"(124). On the road, she studiously checks off her life goals one at a time, but after she slits her wrist, she confesses, "I pretended I didn't really know why I was on this road trip"(182). This seems to imply that she had an ulterior motive, something other than the list, which she was working on. Are you surprised when she ends up on David's doorstep? What do you think she has accomplished by the time she gets there? Is that the end of her journey?
11) After her panic attack Tyler crosses off number four, "Decide to live"(144) on her list of goals. And yet, further along, seized in a fit of depression, Tyler acts suicidal. She explains bitterly, "My blood has been poisoned by my father's genes, my family's burdens, my own shortcomings. I want to rid myself of this poison, even if I don't survive the removal"(180). How does this scene fit into to Tyler's journey? Is her self-destructive act a set-back for her, or is it ultimately providential?
12) After all her adventures, Tyler deletes the number one item on her list of "Top Ten Things I Want to Do in Life": "Do what makes you happy" (195). She replaces is with another goal: "Get support. And good backrubs." Why does she make this change? How are these two goals related?
13) A fortune teller at the Italian street fair in Nashville told Tyler the same fortune year after year: "I would never have to worry about money, that my true love was far, far away, that I was born and old woman and I would be getting younger as I got older. And I believed her, every year, I believed her" (124). Do you think Tyler has a younger, fresher outlook by the end of the novel? Has she come any closer to love?