By KellyO'Connor McNees
BerkleyApril 2014

Trade Paperback384 pages, $15.00, ISBN: 9780425264584
Subject: Women's Lives / Friendship / History

  1. How does the imagery of fauna in the book echo the themes of the story? There is an appearance of a rabid dog, a caged bird, and a dead rabbit (as well as the carved stone rabbit on Josette’s headstone). Consider the moments that animals enter the story—how does McNees use the animals to reinforce the dynamic of the human characters?
  2. Jean-Henri tells Susannah that “These dogs are born to do one thing…and that is pull.” The same rigid destiny seems to be true of the men and women of the story. What characters defy what they are “born to do” and what characters accept their societal roles?
  3. Magdelaine tries to help the young women of Mackinac Island reach beyond their expected roles in society to find their own path. However, she is determined that Jean-Henri live out his traditional role and pressures him against following his desires. Why doesn’t Magdelaine view this as a hypocrisy?
  4. The characterization of men in the book is somewhat polarizing: we experience violent, controlling men like Paul Pelletier and Edward Fraser or passive, sensitive men like Jean-Henri Fonteneau and Alfred Corliss. Why do you think the author chose to create such a dichotomy?
  5. Why do you think the author chose to include the discovery of the abandoned infant? Noelle and Father Milani were minor characters, and Esmee and Jean-Henri could have had their own child. How does the adoption change the relationships within the household?
  6. Secrets factor heavily into the story: Susannah is forced to lie (or withhold information) about her past, Therese chooses to keep her survival a secret from her family, and Jean-Henri and Esmee chose to keep Raphael’s origins a secret. How are these secrets a necessity? What damage can they do? Which secrets are out of utility, and which are more a matter of choice?
  7. Susannah undergoes an evolution as the novel progresses. Clearly, in the final confrontation with Edward, the woman who holds the gun and instructs him to leave is very different from the woman who was cowed by him at the beginning of the novel. What are the other important signposts of Susannah’s evolution?
  8. While Susannah becomes stronger, Edward’s life unspools. How does his physical deterioration reflect his inner self? Is his financial ruin a matter of time, or does Susannah’s abandonment somehow spark his downfall?
  9. Susannah consistently rebuff’s Alfred Corliss’s attempts at friendship or romance. Why do you think the author chose to keep the outcome of their relationship a mystery? How do the changes in their relationship reflect the changes within Susannah?
  10. The book begins with a line from Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet XVII”: I love you as the plant that never blooms but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers. How does this frame the novel as an unconventional love story? How does it comment on Susannah’s role as both a fugitive and a gardener?
  11. Christianity and Catholicism specifically heavily factor into the book, though not always in a positive light. How is the Christ story echoed in Therese Savard’s journey after the death of her sister Josette? How does it also inform Josette’s story?
  12. It is clear how Magdelaine and Therese save Susannah, but how does she save them in return? It is clear that Jean-Henri and Esmee save Raphael, but how does Raphael save them?