About this guide...
Return to main book page...
Nineteen years ago, a famous man disappeared from Los Angeles, taking his
two children to a rocky, desolate corner of New Mexico, where he raised them
in complete isolation in a utopian "Sanctuary." Now, Dorothea, the man's
23-year-old daughter, is leaving this place for the first time in search of
her missing brother. Dorothea's search will turn into an odyssey of
discovery, leading to the shocking truth about her family's past and the
terrifying events of the day that drove her father to flee L.A. in a
desperate attempt to protect his children from a dangerous world. But
Dorothea's journey will also introduce her to a doctor turned cabdriver who
has suffered his own losses. Together, they have a chance to make a
discovery of a different kind: that though a heart can be broken by the
tragic events of a day, a day can also bring a new chance at love and a
deeper understanding of life's infinite possibilities.
1. Charles Keenan is described differently by every character in the
book: Lucy says he's a "good person," Janice calls him "controlling,"
Jimmy pegs him as a "liar," and in Dorothea's eyes he can do no wrong.
What do you think of Charles? Is he a sympathetic character?
2. What is the "angel moon" and how does it relate to Dorothea's idea
that "life is about what you believe as much as what seems to be
reality"? At which points in the book are there disparities between an
imagined world and the cold hard facts?
3. In all of their joint film projects, Charles casts Lucy in saintly
roles such as Joan of Arc and Helena Lott. He makes the case in one
interview that Lucy is a good match because, like the character, "Lucy
is such a principled person." Do you agree with this sentiment? In what
ways do Charles' filmmaking choices reflect his views on women?
4. Dorothea's trip to St. Louis affords her the opportunity to encounter
many things for the first time, most of which she approaches with a
childlike wonder and fascination. Is this innocence or ignorance, and
what do you make of it? What do you perceive as the author's attitude
toward pop culture?
5. Discuss your thoughts about Dorothea's relationship with the older
and world-weary Stephen. In what ways does it mirror young Lucy's
relationship to Charles? In what ways is it different? Discuss Lucy and
Charles's marriage. When did it start to deteriorate and why? What could
they have done -- if anything? What do you make of Lucy's second
6. Why do you think Dorothea is so devoted to her father, even after she
finds out the truth about the past? How is this similar to or different
from Lucy's devotion to Charles?
7. Following the loss of his wife and child, we learn that for Stephen
Spaulding, "it was only in his cab, talking to strangers, that he seemed
to be able to bring it all to life." Later, Dorothea unveils her story
to Stephen, Stephen reveals his secret to Charles, and eventually
Charles to Stephen, despite knowing very little about each other. Do you
think this compulsion to confess to strangers is a realistic phenomenon?
Why is there such comfort in anonymous disclosure?
8. As the title ONCE UPON A DAY suggests, there are several "days" in
this story - some tragic, some "charming" as Dorothea would say - that
serve as crucial turning points in the lives of the characters. Identify
4-5 of these days and discuss their significance. Why is ONCE UPON A DAY
a more appropriate title than Once Upon a Time? Do you agree that the
story hinges on these pivotal days or do you think that what occurs in
between these days is more interesting?
9. Throughout the entire book, Jimmy strays from Charles, questioning
everything from his father's identity, to his past, to Charles'
motivations for keeping the children sequestered at the Sanctuary. Why,
then, when he discovers Charles' secret shrine to Lucy and declares him
"crazy" does Jimmy say he's "never felt closer to him"? Are there any
other moments of craziness or insanity in the book? If so, what do you
think drives the characters to such extremes?
10. Read aloud the epigram from Don Quixote. Which character can
you best imagine speaking these words? Does the same sort of nostalgia
for a better time run throughout the book as well? What does the passage
say about fate and human existence? Do these lines strike you
differently now that you've read the book than when you first
About the Author
Lisa Tucker grew up in Missouri and lives in New Mexico with her
husband and son. She teaches creative writing at UCLA and sings jazz.
Lisa is also the author of The Song Reader and Shout Down the
Return to main book page...