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Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-59355-9
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Meet Billy Gertz: a fiercely independent playwright, whose newest drama imagines the story of a man waiting to hear if his estranged wife has survived a cataclysmic event. As her life touches three other unforgettable characters, Billy’s play—the emotion behind its genesis and its powerful performance—forms the thread that binds them all together. A moving love story and a tale of connection and loss, The Lake Shore Limited is Sue Miller at her dazzling best.

Excerpt

Because it was still afternoon, because she was in a strange room, because she was napping rather than sleeping (“I’ll just lie down for a bit and see what happens,” she’d told Pierce)—because of all this, she was aware of herself as she dreamed, at some level conscious of working to subvert the dream she was having, to make it come out another way, different from the way it seemed to be headed.

She was trying to get to Gus, that was the idea. Somehow she knew that he was far away and by himself, that he was in trouble. It was one of those dreams of turning wrong corners, of ending up in nightmare neighborhoods or in twisting empty corridors, of searching in vain. A dream of haste, too. Yes, now she understood that she was late, terribly late. She was trying to run, but her legs were thick and heavy, hard to move.

Oh, this is classic, she thought, floating over the whole mess. This is so predictable.

Let’s not, she thought.

And it worked. For here was Gus, suddenly, conjured by her, shoved into the dream where he wasn’t yet supposed to be—she still had miles to go. He looked younger than he’d been when last she’d seen him in life. He was smiling fondly at her.

“I’m sorry to be late,” she said. This came out oddly because, she realized abruptly, she was weeping.

“Oh, you’re always late,” he said, carelessly, affectionately; and she woke up.

It simply wasn’t true, what he’d said—she was never late—and this accusation, even so lightly made, this was the part of the dream that left her most disconcerted. She lay in the wide bed, the sensa- tion of weeping still with her—in her throat, her chest—and looked around the room. The hotel room.

They were in Boston, in an expensive hotel overlooking the Public Garden. She had booked it. She had even specified the floor—high up enough to be looking across into the trees. It must have been four-thirty or later, she thought. It was dusky outside and the room was deep in shadows. She could hear voices in the hall, the women who turned down the beds, most likely. They were lingering, chatting out there. It was a language she couldn’t understand, full of guttural sounds. Portuguese maybe. A jewel-bright stripe of light glowed at the bottom of the door. One of them laughed.

She was alone in the room. Pierce had gone to the Museum of Fine Arts, to a show she had read about in the paper and suggested to him—she wanted him to have something to do in the city that he enjoyed, too. It was a show of Japanese prints called the Floating World, prints of the life of the theater and the world of courtesans from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Apparently it included some never-before-displayed erotica, described as fantastic in its inventiveness. It was on account of this that she’d recommended it to Pierce. Just his cup of tea, she’d said to him.

“You’re sure you don’t want to go?” he’d asked as he was about to leave. “You’re not drawn by the prospect of those immense members being waved about?” He swung his arm wide. “Poked here and there?”

“I get my fill of immense members at home. I don’t need to go to the MFA for that.”

He had smiled, surprised at her, and then taken a formal bow before he exited, wearing his old tweed overcoat. She had told him recently that he looked like a panhandler in it—and he did, even when he was wearing the fancy leather gloves she’d given him for his birthday, as he had been today.

He didn’t care, he’d said. “And we could always use the dough.”

He would be back soon, she supposed. She should get up and try to make herself look more presentable.

But she didn’t right away. She lay with her eyes closed, thinking of the version of Gus she had invented in the dream. Why do we alter them in the way we do? Why make him so young, so happy?

Erasing it, she supposed. The way he’d died. The awfulness of it. Its solitariness, as she thought of it, though he’d hardly been alone.





Gus was her brother, younger by fourteen years. He would have been forty-five now if he’d lived. He’d died six years earlier. For the most part she’d stopped thinking, or even dreaming, about the moment of his death, the exact way it happened, which she was grateful for. But she still dreamed of him, and she was grateful for this, too. In this afternoon’s dream he seemed to have been in his early twenties—handsome, smiling, teasing her. That was his age at the point in their lives when they’d been closest. Before then she hadn’t paid much attention to him, he was so much younger—four years old when she went off to college, eleven when she married.

But a few years after that, when Gus was still in high school and she and Pierce were first living in New Hampshire, their parents divorced and things changed. Their father moved to California and disappeared, though for a few years he still called her occasionally late at night—midevening his time—loaded, weepy, full of useless and temporarily felt love. The first few times he did this she had stayed on the phone with him as long as he wanted to talk. She had imagined finding some way back to the affection that had existed between them when she was a girl.

But nothing happened as a result of the calls, nothing changed. They began and ended the same way each time, as if he had no memory of the one before. And probably he didn’t. Probably he had some vague notion when he woke the next day that he’d talked to someone he knew. Maybe he even remembered it was Leslie. But he clearly remembered nothing specific—not the promises to visit, not the pleas for forgiveness. In the end she started turning off the phone when she and Pierce went to bed.

Their mother moved into a one-bedroom apartment after the divorce, and Gus slept on a daybed in the living room. When he went away to college, she gave the bed to the Salvation Army and bought a real couch—she was tired of not having what she called “a decent place to entertain”—and that became Gus’s bed when he was home. She was dating by then, and often didn’t come back to the apartment at night at all, so Gus would wake alone in the morning, fix his own breakfast, and start calling his old high school friends for company.

Pretty quickly he stopped going home on school vacations and began to come instead to stay with her, to stay in the house just across the river into Vermont that she and Pierce had bought a few years after he got the job at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. They gave a room over to him, and he slowly began to accumulate stuff in it—books, sports equipment, records and tapes and posters. After college, he’d gone to work in Boston, but he still came home regularly—home to Pierce and Leslie’s house.

It was over these years that Leslie came to know him, to love him as a person, not just as the cute little brother. She understood that some of this had to do with her inability to get pregnant, for those were also the years when she and Pierce were trying, and failing, to have children. She was, she supposed, depressed most of that time. At any rate, she felt she was learning how deeply life can disappoint you, how all that’s good can become bad—for she and Pierce had turned away from each other then, and why not, when the most joyous, intimate connection between them had become enforced, more or less a topic for public discussion with doctors, with nurses—a matter simply of successful or unsuccessful function.

Unsuccessful, as it turned out.

And here came Gus, so sunny, so full of his boyish eagerness for life, so assured that all would always be well for him, that luck would follow him everywhere. He had a friend from college, Peter, who was also working in Boston, and he sometimes came up with Gus on weekends, or for holidays. “The fun boys,” they called themselves. And they were fun. The smallest things delighted them. Her maternal fussiness, which Gus had once stopped by imitating a hen’s cluck?ing back at her. The response of an orderly, careful friend when they called to ask him to join them at a bar: “You mean . . . now?” When one or both of them were visiting, Leslie would stay up late playing Yahtzee or Monopoly, watching Johnny Carson, drinking, laughing.

Lying in the gray fading light of the hotel room now, she was remembering going for a walk with Gus in a snowstorm around midnight one night over a Christmas holiday. They had been talking in the living room and seen the flakes suddenly thicken dramatically in the lighted air outside the windows. “Let’s go,” he said, and without hesitation she pulled on her boots, her parka, her mittens, and stepped outside with him. She could feel it again now, she could call it up so clearly, the sense she had then of being enclosed in a private world with her brother—the flakes a kind of particulate blur, the ground beneath them turning quickly white, the rest of the world silenced and remote. I am so happy, she had thought. And part of that was the dearness to her of Gus, and the sense of how precious she was to him. When she had come in later and gone upstairs to her bedroom—her and Pierce’s bedroom—it felt musty, closed in, the noise of Pierce’s slow breathing in sleep somehow oppressive.

All of this, she saw now—and actually knew even then—borne of loss. Made possible by their parents’ moving off separately into their lives, by Pierce’s retreat from her during these years, by her own feelings of failure and the resultant wish to live once again with a sense of possibility. Or near a sense of possibility, at any rate. Near Gus.

“Possibility.” She whispered the word aloud into the twilit air of the hotel room. And smiled, looking up at the shadowed ceiling, at the steady pass of headlights across it. “Possibility.” What a funny, crotchety-sounding word for something so humanly necessary.

But was it necessary? She turned on her side in bed. Weren’t there people, everywhere, who lived without it? Who didn’t imagine anything other than what was?

She thought not. She thought everyone needed it—some sense that things would be better, might be better, soon. Or one day. She thought of immigrants, the way they worked two or three jobs to make something different possible for their children. It seemed one always wanted better for one’s children. That was surely one version of it—possibility. Perhaps one wanted better for oneself, too. Perhaps even for one’s religious group: the world converted to Christianity. The caliphate restored, spread. One hundred virgins waiting for you.

She sat up. Her mouth tasted sour, fuzzy. She fumbled for the switch to the lamp on the bedside table. When it came on, the ?win?dow snapped to black, and here it was, the lushly carpeted room—the heavy, striped curtains at the window, the solid, dark, expensive-yet-undistinguished furniture, furniture such as no one would ever have in a real home.

She got up and went into the vast marbled bathroom. She brushed her teeth. Afterward she took a long look at herself in the mirror over the double sink, and then at her image reflected, multiplied smaller and smaller, in the full-length mirror hung on the opened bathroom door behind her. She turned this way and that.

The image she was used to, the one that faced her over the sink and the countertop, seemed much as it had for years. Different in some ways, of course—her hair was almost all white now, and she was heavier, certainly—yet still recognizably herself. But in the unfamiliar angles, the reversed versions she could see reflected again and again in the doorway mirror, she recognized what she didn’t usually have to confront—that she was getting old. Her face was set and sagging. The flesh of her neck and arms looked tired, crepey. Her hips were shapeless. Worst was that she was increasingly looking like her mother—her mouth drawn down sourly into an inverted U, the flesh at her jowls pouched. This bothered her more than anything.

She thought of her mother, of taking care of her in her old age. When she’d gone to visit her, to take her for a walk or a drive or out to lunch, her mother would have dressed herself carefully, she would be wearing makeup, her eyes done heavily and with an unsteady hand that made her look, Leslie always thought, like the David Levine cartoon of the elderly Colette.

Clearly the point of all that effort was to look attractive, and, most of all, to look attractive for Leslie. She wanted to be pleasing to her daughter. She imagined that they’d reconciled, she assumed that Leslie’s thoughtful caring for her was a sign of that.

She was wrong. Leslie held every small kindness she performed for her mother against her. Every single generous act was a kind of dagger. A shiv, Leslie thought.

How mean she was, really! She didn’t have the courage to act on it, but she was. She didn’t like it in herself.

Now she went to the closet by the door to the hall and got her coat. She had to search the room’s surfaces for the plastic key card. It was on the bureau, under her purse. She would buy some flowers. A big bouquet for the room, to make it feel more theirs. Pierce would like that—she could picture his surprised face, opening in delight. And then it occurred to her that she should get something smaller, too, something she could easily take with her tonight—perhaps rosebuds, she thought. Rosebuds for Billy, for after the play.


From the Hardcover edition.
Sue Miller|Author Q&A

About Sue Miller

Sue Miller - The Lake Shore Limited

Photo © Elena Seibert

Sue Miller is the best-selling author of the novels The Lake Shore Limited, The Senator’s Wife, Lost in the Forest, The World Below, While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, and The Good Mother; the story collection Inventing the Abbotts; and the memoir The Story of My Father. She lives in Boston.

Author Q&A

Q: The Lake Shore Limited takes its title from the famous train, but it is also the title of a play embedded within this novel—a play about a terrorist bombing of that train as it pulls into Union Station in Chicago, and a man waiting to hear whether his estranged wife is among the survivors. Billy Gertz, the woman who's written the play, has waited in just such a way on 9/11 to hear whether her lover, Gus, was on one of the planes used in that attack. Was there one event in particular that sparked the idea for The Lake Shore Limited?
A:
Yes. The spark came from a friend who had a relationship that would have ended sooner than it did had not her lover’s brother died on 9/11. While this situation is not like the one I created for Billy, my fictional playwright, the situation started me thinking about the far reach of such an event; and the variety of responses that play out around it, even at some distance. And the way in which the responses may be based in feelings that might be not the expected one—ie, the way in which sometimes we’re called on to enact something we don’t feel, and the discomfort and sense of alienation from ourselves that comes from that.

Q: Much of the book centers around the characters’ reactions to Billy’s play, "The Lake Shore Limited". How and why did you structure the book as, in essence, a play within a play?
A:
As I began to include some of the lines from the play and create scenes in rehearsal, it began to seem more important to me. It began to seem central to the book, actually. I began to see the book as at least in part a kind of speculation on how the experience of art can be transforming in life—for those who create it, as Billy and also Rafe, the actor, do; and for those who take it in and ponder it and ask about its connections to their own lives. And then, I suppose, I just got interested in the play, too—in writing it, at least the part you read in the book.

Q: Billy Gertz is a playwright. You, Sue Miller, are a fiction writer. There is seemingly much overlap between these two professions. At one point, Billy is having an argument with her lover, Gus. Gus is upset that Billy used a private moment between the two of them in one of her plays. Billy says, “I use me, Gus . . . . I use me up. I need all of me, and if you’re with me, that means I use you, too. I use everything. How could I not? And what I don’t use, I don’t use because it doesn’t work. Not because it’s sacred . . . . Nothing is sacred. That’s just the way it is.” Is this a conversation taken from your own life?
A:
I had originally thought of making Billy a director, a director who would be working on a play like The Lake Shore Limited. But then I began to think that I wanted the connection between what she was working on and her own experience with Gus to be more than coincidence, or accident, so I made her the playwright. And while I’ve never had exactly the conversation Billy has with Gus, I’ve often thought about what the limits are for writers in terms of what they use of their own lives, and others’. There are obviously great differences in the way writers work with the material they come by through living in families, having lovers and spouses, children, friends—even pets. I think I probably fall about in the middle in terms of making use of such material—not as close to the bone as some, not as distanced as others seem, anyway. In the end, though, we all call up what we know. Perhaps the greater difference then is in the degree of transformation of the material. And perhaps part of the reason I’ve never had the discussion Billy has with Gus with anyone in my own life is that I’ve transformed what I’ve used. The transformation is the point.

Q: Have you always been a fan of the theatre? Could you see yourself writing a play one day?
A:
I’ve always been interested in seeing and reading plays, though occasionally I’ve felt the way the character Pierce, in the book, does—that they’re too damned THEATRICAL. But the form interests me, as dialogue in my books has always interested me, and I could—can—imagine writing a play.

Q: The viewpoint in The Lake Shore Limited flips amongst four characters, two male (Rafe and Sam) and two female (Leslie and Billy) all of whom are at various ages and stages of their life. Why did you choose to cast the book in this way?
A:
I wanted the book to look at the way this play strikes a variety of people. I had Billy nearly from the start of thinking about the book, and Leslie came next, because I knew I wanted two versions, two understandings, of what the real story was about Billy and Gus, with the play mediating between them. But I wanted to broaden the impact of the play too—to have it speak not just to the people directly involved, but to others, with other stories. Rafe and his life came next, more or less in a rush of notemaking and writing. Sam’s was last, and most complicated to develop—though I knew from the start about his connection with Leslie.

Q: You so eloquently write about the interior lives of people who are trying to understand their feelings, their relationships, themselves. How do you create such three dimensional characters, each with their own vivid and complicated pasts?
A:
Now THIS is the kind of question I like, wrapped neatly in a compliment. And I think I’ve started an answer with my response to the last question. But let me also say that this is one of the most pleasurable aspects of writing for me—the construction of lives and histories. The process of imagining them so deeply as to feel I actually know these other people, these other stories. A way of escaping myself, I suppose.

Q: How do you research the specifics of what you write about? For instance, how did you know the specifics of producing a play?
A:
With each book I do, there is usually at least a little research. Sometimes I can get there by reading, and I did do a lot of reading about 9/11 for this book, actually, and the experiences of people who lost family on that day as well as the history of how it happened, the timeline of the planes, the story of the telephone calls—even the book The Commission. A lot of that didn’t make it into the book, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to feel that I could begin to understand it.

As for the play, I sat in on the production of a play at the Aurora Theater in Berkeley in the spring of 2008, watching and making notes from the early stage of talk around a table about what the actors thought was intended, to the choreographing of a fight scene, to the final production. It was fascinating and not just helpful—necessary.

Q: You teach English at Smith College. What is the best advice you give to aspiring writers?
A:
Read.

Q: Tell us a little about your writing process—how you write, when etc?
A:
I make a lot of notes before I write. I want to know what I’m doing. Where I’m going. I want to feel that I’m working on a whole thing, the idea for which I have clear in my mind—the way perhaps an architect would know what he wanted to do without knowing every detail of it from the start; or a composer might know what he wanted a piece of music to do, the way he wanted it to move, without knowing all the themes in it.

I write in longhand for the first draft, typing it in when I feel ready to work on revision. Sometime that’s a small piece—a chapter—sometimes a longer chunk of the book. I type it in, pull it out and write all over it again in longhand, type it in again, pull it out, etc. etc.

I try to write in the morning, before I get enmeshed in the demands of daily life—though those are all easier now that I don’t have responsibility for a child. Towards the end of a book, I write longer days.

Q: What’s next for you?
A:
I’ve signed a contract with Knopf for a new novel I’ve described to them, so I’ll be working on that for a few years. I’d like to try, anyway, to write Billy’s play—"The Lake Shore Limited". And I have a two-year-old granddaughter I’d like to spend as much time with as I can.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“Exquisite. . . . Profound. . . . Moving. . . . Gorgeously drawn and told with stark honesty. . . . Sophisticated and thoughtful. . . . The theatrical performance serves as a surprisingly effective stage for Miller’s rueful reflection on what actors we all are—and how unfairly we convict ourselves for the impurity of our affection.”
The Washington Post
 
“Quintessential Miller, touching on the themes that have animated her fiction for the past quarter-century: the potency of sex; the failure of men and women to understand each other; the hunger for a different life.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“Richly layered . . . subtle, piquant, satisfying. Reading Sue Miller is like watching an invisible
painter create a lovely, affecting work in smooth, expert strokes.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Haunting. . . . Its power grows from Miller’s intimate understanding of her characters . . . of missed connections, lost opportunities, and closely held memories that mutate slowly over time. . . . Miller gives us a knowing meditation upon the acts of alchemy and theft that constitute an artist’s work: a meditation that sheds light on her own craft, so meticulously showcased in this novel.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“Deeply moving. . . . [A] great accomplishment. . . . What [Miller is] doing seems easy, the most natural of narratives. And yet, stepping back to consider how precisely she was able to get any one character from here to there is enough to show us the subtlety of her art.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“Miller seeks and impressively succeeds in finding what Wordsworth called ‘a plainer and more emphatic language’ to express ‘essential passions of the heart.’ Her art is to find those passions and that language in the streets and parks of the Boston she knows and writes about so well.”
Boston Globe
 
“An engaging, mature book. . . . Immensely satisfying, in concept, content and craftsmanship. . . . Miller is so skilled at the psychological deep-dive.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“Miller has written gripping novels that shrewdly tap the domestic zeitgeist. . . . [The Lake Shore Limited] continues the trend, exploring the fragility of love—and life—in the post-9/11 era. . . . Another graceful, poignant romance that resonates with the times.”
People
 
“Calmly perceptive. . . . Miller is a remarkably graceful writer who sweeps you up in her flow of words, in her ability to make a character seem like someone we know.”
The Seattle Times

“An ensemble novel about love, loss, and the discontents of middle age.”
Elle

“Miller never disappoints and always surprises.”
The Miami Herald
 
“Miller [is] among our foremost social anthropologists. . . . The reader can count on spending time with well-intentioned but flawed individuals who slip, hurt each other and are pummeled by the consequences, yet remain hopeful. . . . The characters are so real that it’s startling to close the book on them at the end.”
The Oregonian
 
“Miller takes the reader into cinematic, three-dimensional life where men and women live through realistically complicated challenges in the midst of ordinary lives. Through each character’s self-reflection, she seems to be asking how are we doing now, in this time, in this place? The conclusion is hopeful.”
Providence Journal
 
“With the surety of a master, Miller reveals the intersection of love and fate among [her] characters.”
Good Housekeeping

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Lake Shore Limited, bestselling author Sue Miller’s most satisfying and most ambitious novel yet.

About the Guide

“Miller’s take on post-9/11 America is fascinating and perfectly balanced with her writerly meditations on the destructiveness of trauma and loss, and the creation and experience of art.”—Publishers Weekly
 
Four unforgettable characters beckon you into this spellbinding new novel from Sue Miller, the author of 2008’s heralded bestseller The Senator’s Wife. First among them is Wilhelmina—Billy—Gertz, small as a child, fiercely independent, powerfully committed to her work as a playwright. The story itself centers on The Lake Shore Limited—a play Billy has written about an imagined terrorist bombing of that train as it pulls into Union Station in Chicago, and about a man waiting to hear the fate of his estranged wife, who is traveling on it. Billy had waited in just such a way on 9/11 to hear whether her lover, Gus, was on one of the planes used in the attack.

The novel moves from the snow-filled woods of Vermont to the rainy brick sidewalks of Boston as the lives of the other characters intersect and interweave with Billy’s: Leslie, Gus’s sister, still driven by grief years after her brother’s death; Rafe, the actor who rises to greatness in a performance inspired by a night of incandescent lovemaking; and Sam, a man irresistibly drawn to Billy after he sees the play that so clearly displays the terrible conflicts and ambivalence of her situation.

How Billy has come to create the play out of these emotions, how it is then created anew on the stage, how the performance itself touches and changes the other characters’ lives—these form the thread that binds them all together and drives the novel compulsively forward.

A powerful love story; a mesmerizing tale of entanglements, connections, and inconsolable losses; a marvelous reflection on the meaning of grace and the uses of sorrow, in life and in art: The Lake Shore Limited is Sue Miller at her dazzling best.

About the Author

Sue Miller is the author of the novels The Senator’s Wife, Lost in the Forest, The World Below, While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, and The Good Mother; the short story collection Inventing the Abbotts; and the memoir The Story of My Father. She lives in Boston.

Discussion Guides

1. Have you read any of Sue Miller’s other books? If so, does The Lake Shore Limited share any themes?

2. What do we learn from the first sentence of this novel? Now that you know the character Leslie, what does it mean to you?

3. Who did you assume was the main character when you first started reading? Did you change your mind?

4. Do you consider this to be a 9/11 novel? Why?

5. On page 8, Leslie wonders, “But was [possibility] necessary? . . . Weren’t there people, everywhere, who lived without it? Who didn’t imagine anything other than what was?” Ultimately, which of the characters are open to possibility, and which aren’t?

6. Discuss the marriages in the novel. What do they have in common? In what ways are they different? Which seems healthiest to you?

7. On page 50, Leslie realizes that “she had been asking [Pierce] whether he would come with her into what she thought of as this new life—and that he was telling her no.” How does Leslie react to this? Why?

8. In the play, Gabriel says to Anita, “It’s what we all feel. We want. Then we want more. It’s the human condition” (page 53). Is this true for Leslie, Rafe, Billy, and Sam?

9. What do you think Miller is trying to say about the creation of art and its reflection of real life?

10. The notion of playing a role is a recurrent theme in the novel. Who is most true to his or her authentic self? Who has mastered his or her role? Whose changes most drastically?

11. Why is the Henry James reference in the play (page 54) so important? What was Billy trying to say?

12. When Rafe asks Billy if the play is based on her own life, she insists it isn’t autobiographical (page 91). Is she intentionally lying, or is there something else going on here?

13. Why does sleeping with Billy affect Rafe’s performance in the play?

14. Both Rafe and Sam see themselves in Gabriel. Which man do you think is more like him? Why?

15. What does Gus represent to Billy? To Leslie? What role does grief play in the novel?

16. Over the course of the novel, various characters note that Billy looks like a child. What does this signify?

17. Why do Sam and Leslie stop at just a kiss (page 224)? What do you think would have happened if they had had an affair?

18. What is the purpose of the scene between Sam and Jerry (pages 247–254)? How does it affect Sam?

19. Why is Billy so frosty when Sam brings his son to see the play (page 265)?

20. On page 278, Leslie thinks, “But that’s what the play was about. . . . At least in part. The wish to imagine what life could be, how it could change, if you were unencumbered.” What do you think the play was about? Which of the four main characters most wishes for an unencumbered life?

21. Reread the alternate endings Billy considered for the play (page 300). Why do you think she chose to end the play the way she did?

22. On page 319, Miller writes, “Now as Sam sits in his living room, holding the Christmas letter from Emma, thinking of Melanie Gruber, he realizes that he’s called her up in part because he feels the same way about Billy, about the accident of Billy’s arrival in his life—exactly that surprised.” Why does he feel this way? How does it change him?

23. Discuss the ending. Was it satisfying? What do you imagine happens next?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Suggested Readings

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg; The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve; Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler; Two Truths and a Lie by Katrina Kittle; So Long at the Fair by Christina Schwarz; Three Junes by Julia Glass
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