1. On page 6, we’re told that “Sylvia Bran’s career as a voyant is
about to begin.” What did you imagine that meant when you read it? What
do you think it means now? Who turns out to be the more successful
voyant, Sylvia or Inez?
2. What part do language and etymology play in the story? How does
Sylvia use language as a barrier? Or a weapon?
3. Throughout the novel, questions of role and identity are raised:
Sylvia pretends to be a reporter to meet Inez; Jake wears Bermuda shorts
to court as a sort of costume; Christine dresses like a hooker for her
final rendezvous with Jake. What role does Inez assume? Is she
4. On page 175, Inez admits to herself that “she doesn’t care who
Sylvia is. Let her be whoever she wants.” Why is Inez willing to
continue the affair after such a grave deception? How does their
relationship change as a result?
5. How does the Cuban Missile Crisis impact the various characters?
Do you think they might have behaved differently if it weren’t for the
specter of imminent death?
6. Do you believe in Hy’s concept of a “mind lasso”? Which characters
wield it best? Do they know they’re doing it?
7. On page 273, Inez thinks, “A woman like her isn’t brave enough to
walk away from her family, her children, and go on living. She cannot
make so sharp a left turn in her life, nor can she sit idle.” Why do you
think Inez feels this way and continues to contemplate suicide, even
while she seems so happy? How might things be different if the story
took place in a different era?
8. Food has a different significance for each character, in for
example Inez’s fluctuating appetite or Jake’s gourmet assignations with
Christine. How does Sylvia’s simple, sensual attitude compare? What does
Isaac’s disdain for “goyish” mashed potatoes reveal?
9. Was it wrong for Jake to bring Isaac home to live with them? Did
he have any other options?
10. How does Bibi’s benediction alter the relationship between Inez
11. How does the fact that Sylvia’s mother was a suicide influence
her response to Inez’s initial confession? And later, when Inez
announces her “irreversible decision”?
12. What role does religious belief play in the story? Is it a help,
or a liability?
13. What do the chapter headings signify? Why do you think the author
chose to name each chapter individually?
14. Did the ending surprise you? How might it have been different if
the story took place in our era?