1. How would you describe Mimi as the book opens, and how
does she change over the course of the novel? What does she come to
learn, as she matures, about place and home?
2. Mimi's mother Miriam feels trapped in Miller Valley, yet her husband
Bud is tied to the land. How do their positions reflect their individual
personalities...and affect their
relationship as a couple. In other words, describe Miriam and Bud and
their marriage. With whom do your sympathies lie—with one more than
another, or with both equally?
3. Why is Mimi so tied the valley? "I knew there was a world outside,"
she says, "I just had a hard time imagining it." When her mother tells
Mimi that her grades in school mean a "road to something better than
this," Mimi balks. Is her reluctance merely a childish fear to move
beyond a familiar world? Or is it something else? If you were Mimi's
mother, or an elderly friend, would you urge her to move on?
4. Mimi says she "felt lost most of the time," as if there was a "big
rattly empty space between her stomach and heart." She wonders "whether
other people felt the same way without showing it." What does she mean?
Is she speaking of basic loneliness, or something else? Has she
expressed a feeling common to many (most) of us?
5. Talk about Ruth and her agoraphobia. Why does she inspire bitterness
on the part of her sister Miriam? Did you sense what Ruth's secret was,
or were you surprised once it was revealed?
6. The book asks an important question about how closely our identities
are tied to our origins, both place and family. Do we change when we
adapt to new experiences and when we lose what we treasure? Do we ever
really leave the past behind us?
7. The book takes place in the 1960s. If you were alive at that time,
how well does Quindlen bring the era to life? Was it a different time
from now—culturally or sociologically?