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  • Written by Michelle Richmond
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  • Written by Michelle Richmond
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Written by Michelle RichmondAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michelle Richmond

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On Sale: June 24, 2008
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33781-2
Published by : Delacorte Press Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

All her life Ellie Enderlin had been known as Lila’s sister—until the day Lila, a top math student at Stanford, was murdered, and the shape of their family changed forever. Twenty years later, Ellie is a professional coffee buyer who has never put down roots. When, in a chance meeting, she comes into possession of the notebook that Lila carried everywhere, Ellie returns home to finally discover the truth about her sister’s death—a search that will lead her to Lila’s secret lover, to the motives and fate of a man who profited from their family’s grief, and ultimately to the deepest secrets even sisters keep from each other. From the bestselling author of The Year of Fog (“Highly recommended [for fans of] authors like Jodi Picoult and Jacquelyn Mitchard.”—Library Journal [starred review]), this is a riveting family drama about loss, love, and the way hope redefines our lives—a novel at once heartbreaking, provocative, and impossible to put down.

Excerpt

Chapter One


 When I found him at last, I had long ago given up the search. It was late at night, and I was dining alone in a small cafe in Diriomo, Nicaragua. It was a place I had come to cherish during my annual visits to the village, the kind of establishment where one could order a plate of beans and a cup of coffee any time of the day or night.

I had spent the evening wandering the dark, empty streets. July days in Diriomo were scorching; come nightfall, the buildings seemed to radiate heat, so that the air possessed a baked, dusty scent. Eventually I came to the familiar intersection. Going left would lead to my hotel, with its hard bed and uncooperative ceiling fan. Straight ahead was a baseball diamond where I had once seen a local kid beat a rat to death with an old wooden bat. To the right was a wide road giving way to a crooked alleyway, at the end of which the cafe beckoned.

Some time past midnight, I stood on the doorstep, ringing the little copper bell. Maria appeared, dressed in a long blue skirt, white blouse, and no shoes, looking as though she'd been expecting me.

"Did I wake you?"

"No," she said. "Welcome."

It was a ritual greeting between us. I had no way of knowing whether Maria was actually asleep on those nights, or whether she was sitting patiently in her kitchen, waiting for customers.

"What are you serving tonight?" I asked. This was also ritual, for we both knew that the menu never changed, no matter the time or season.

"Nacatamal," she said. "Esta usted sola?"

"S’, se–ora, I am alone." My answer, like the menu, had remained unaltered for years. And yet she asked it, each time, with a kind of naked hope, as if she believed that one day my luck might change.

The cafe was empty and dark, somehow cool despite the heat outside. She pointed to a small table where a candle burned in a jar. I thanked her and sat down. I could hear her preparing coffee in the kitchen, which was separated from the dining area by a narrow doorway in which hung a curtain of red fabric. I watched the patterns made by the candlelight on the far wall. The images seemed too lovely and symmetrical to be random—a bird, a sailboat, a star, followed by a series of rectangular bars of light. It was a feeling I often had in that town, and one of the reasons I kept returning when my work as a coffee buyer brought me to Nicaragua—a feeling that even the simplest natural acts were somehow ordered, as if some unnamed discipline reigned over both the animate and inanimate. I rarely felt this way at home in San Francisco. It was no wonder the locals referred to Diriomo as pueblo brujo—bewitched village.

Maria had just set my plate on the table when the bell clanged outside. Together we looked toward the door, as if something miraculous might materialize. In all the times I had taken a midnight meal among the porcelain dolls and carnivorous plants in Maria's cafe, I'd rarely met another customer.

Maria went to the door and opened it a crack. For a moment my table was flooded with moonlight.

"Buenas noches, Maria," a man's voice said.

"Buenas noches."

The door closed, plunging the room once again into near darkness.

The man passed by my table. His face was turned away, but in the pale light from the kitchen I observed that he carried himself in the way very tall men often do, shoulders slumped in a sort of apology for taking up so much space. He wore a baseball cap pulled low on the forehead. A hardback book was tucked under one arm. He went to a table in the corner, the one farthest from my own. When he sat down, his back to me, the wooden chair creaked so violently I thought it might break.

Maria took a match out of her apron pocket, struck it against the wall, and dipped the flame into a crimson jar on the man's table. Only after she had retreated into the kitchen to fetch his coffee did he turn around and glance at me from beneath the brim of his hat. In the flickering red candlelight only his slightly jutting chin was visible, the rest of his face receding into shadows.

"Hello," I said.

"Good evening."

"You're American," I said, surprised. Foreigners were scarce in Diriomo. Encountering a fellow American at this particular cafe in the middle of the night was utterly strange.

"I am," he said.

He gave a polite wave of the hand before leaning over the table and peering into his book. He held the candle above the page, and I considered warning him it was bad for his eyes to read in the darkness. He seemed like the kind of man who needed to be told these things, the kind of man who ought to have someone taking care of him. Soon Maria brought him coffee. Something about the way he lifted his cup, the way he turned the pages of his book, even the way he tilted his head toward Maria in silent thanks when she brought him a napkin and a bowl of sugar cubes, struck me as familiar. I watched him closely, wondering if the feeling that I knew him was simply an illusion brought about by my having been traveling alone for too long. The longer I sat there, however, the more I became convinced that it was not the vague familiarity of one countryman to another, but something more personal.

While he drank his coffee and read his book, seemingly oblivious to me, I tried to recall the context in which I might have known him. I sensed, more than knew, that it had been a long time ago, and that there had been some degree of intimacy between us; this sensation of intimacy coupled with my inability to remember was completely unsettling. The thought crossed my mind that I might have slept with him. There had been a period following my sister's death when I slept with many men. This was a long time ago, though, so long that now it almost seemed like a different life.

Maria brought my food. I waited for the steaming plantain leaves to cool before peeling them away, picking up the nacatamal, and biting in. Back home, I had tried several times to replicate Maria's combination of pork, rice, potatoes, mint leaves, raisins, and spices, but it never came out right. When I tried to tease the recipe out of her, she just laughed and pretended not to understand my request.

"You should try these," I said to the man between bites.

"Oh, I know Maria's nacatamal," he said, glancing my way once again. "Delicious, but I already ate."

What could he be doing here so late at night, I wondered, if he had already had his supper? In Diriomo, men did not sit alone in cafes reading books, even American men. A few minutes later, when I took my wallet out to pay, he closed his book and stared at the cover for a few seconds, as if to gather courage, before standing and walking over to my table. Maria watched us shamelessly from the doorway of the kitchen. The red curtain was pulled aside, filling the room with soft light. For a moment it occurred to me that perhaps Maria had set this whole thing up for my benefit, perhaps she was trying to pull off a bit of matchmaking.

The man removed his baseball cap and held it in both hands. His shaggy hair grazed the low ceiling, gathering static. "Pardon me," he said. Now I could see his face completely—the large dark eyes and wide mouth, the high cheekbones and prominent chin, covered with stubble—and I knew at once who he was.

I had not seen him in eighteen years. There had been a period of several months in college when I thought of him constantly. I had watched for his name in the paper, had performed drive-bys of his ground-floor flat in Russian Hill, had taken lunch at a certain small Italian restaurant in North Beach that he frequented, despite the fact that the menu stretched my student budget beyond its limits. At that time I suspected that if I shadowed him without ceasing I could begin to understand something—maybe not the thing he had done, but the mechanism by which he had been able to do it. That mechanism, I was certain, was a psychological abnormality; some moral tuning fork that was present in others was absent in him.

Then, one afternoon in August of 1991, he vanished. That day I walked into the restaurant in North Beach at half past noon, as I had been doing every week for three months. Immediately my eyes went to a table in the corner, above which hung a miniature oil painting of the Cathedral Duomo of Milan. It was where he always sat, a table that seemed to be reserved specifically for him. He always arrived on Monday at a quarter past noon, and after sitting down would place a notebook on the table to the right of his bread plate. He rarely bothered to glance up at his surroundings as he scribbled furiously in the notebook with a mechanical pencil. He would pause only to order spaghetti with prawns in marinara sauce, which he ate quickly, followed by an espresso, which he drank slowly. The whole time, he worked, scribbling with his right hand and eating with his left. But that day in August, he wasn't there. Immediately I sensed something had changed. I dipped my bread in olive oil and waited. By the time the waiter brought my salad, I knew he wasn't coming. At one-fifteen I called in sick to the University of San Francisco library, where I held a work-study position, and took the bus to Russian Hill. There was a For Rent sign in front of his flat, and the shutters were open. Through the large windows I could see the place was stripped clean, all of the furniture gone. It occurred to me that I might never see him again.

Chapter Two



A story has no beginning or end," my sophomore English professor used to say. "Arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead." It was a motto that Andrew Thorpe managed to work into every session of class, no matter what book we were discussing. One could almost anticipate the moment he was going to say it, as the statement was always preceded by a lengthy pause, a lifting of his eyebrows, a quick intake of breath.

I would choose a Wednesday in December 1989. Again and again, poring over the details, I would choose that day, and it would become the touchstone from which all other events unfurled, the moment by which I judged the two parts of my life: the years with Lila, and those without her.

On that morning I was in the kitchen, listening to Jimmy Cliff on the radio and waiting for the coffee to brew. Our parents had already left for work. Lila came downstairs, dressed in a ruffled black blouse, green corduroy skirt, and Converse high-tops. Her eyes were red, and I was startled to realize she'd been crying. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen Lila cry.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's just been a stressful week." She gave a little wave of her hand as if to dismiss the whole thing outright. She was wearing a ring I'd never seen before, a delicate gold band with a small black stone.

"Dance with me," I said, attempting to cheer her up. I grabbed her hand and tried to twirl her around, but she pulled away.

The coffeemaker beeped. I turned down the radio and poured her a cup. "Is this about him?" I asked.

"About who?"

"It is, isn't it? Come on. Talk to me."

She was looking out the kitchen window, at a small limb that had fallen onto our deck the previous week during a rainstorm. Only later, as I replayed the events of those days, would it seem strange that none of us had bothered to remove the fallen limb from the deck.

"How long has that been there?" Lila asked.

"A while."

"We should take care of it."

"We should."

But neither of us made a move toward the kitchen door.

"Tell me his name," I said finally. "I know guys on the basketball team. I'll have his face rearranged." I was only half joking.

Lila didn't respond; it was as if she hadn't heard me at all. I had learned long before not to be offended by her silences. Once, when I accused her of ignoring me, she had explained, "It's like I'm wandering through a house, and I happen to step into another room, and the door shuts behind me. I get involved in what's going on in that room, and everything else sort of vanishes."

I reached across the counter and touched her hand to summon her back. "Nice ring. Is it opal?"

She slid her hand into her pocket. "It's just a trinket."

"Where did you get it?"

She shrugged. "I don't remember."

Lila never bought jewelry for herself. The ring must have been a gift from him, whoever he was. The very thought of a romantic entanglement was new to Lila. She hadn't had more than half a dozen dates in high school and college combined. Throughout those years, my mother was fond of saying that boys didn't know how to appreciate a girl of such exceptional intelligence, but I suspected my mother had it all wrong. Boys were interested in Lila; she simply had no use for them. During my freshman year of high school, when Lila was a senior, I'd seen the way guys looked at her. I was the one they talked to, the one they invited to parties and asked on dates, the fun and freewheeling sister who could be counted on to organize group outings and play elaborate pranks on the teachers, but Lila was far from invisible. With her long dark hair, her general aloofness, her weird sense of humor, her passion for math, she was, I imagined, intimidating to boys in a way I would never be. When she walked down the hallway, alone and deep in thought, clad in the eccentric clothes she made on my mom's old Singer sewing machine, she must have seemed completely inapproachable. Although boys didn't talk to her, it was clear to me that they saw her. I was well-liked, but Lila had mystery.

Even after she had graduated from UC Berkeley and started the Ph.D. program in pure mathematics at Stanford, Lila was perfectly content living in her old bedroom, eating dinner with the family most nights, watching rented movies with Mom and Dad on weekends while I was out with my friends. Lately, though, she had begun going out several evenings each week, coming home after midnight with a smile on her face. When I tried to get her to tell me who she was with, she would say, "Just a friend."
Michelle Richmond|Author Q&A

About Michelle Richmond

Michelle Richmond - No One You Know

Photo © Misty Richmond

Michelle Richmond is the author of The Year of Fog, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Michelle lives with her husband and son in San Francisco, where she is at work on her next novel.

Author Q&A

A Conversation Between Michelle Richmond and Her Sisters 


Michelle Richmond grew up in Mobile, Alabama, as the middle child in a household of three sisters. Her sisters Monica Richmond Taylor (an accountant and mother in Birmingham, Alabama) and Misty Richmond (a photographer in San Francisco), took the time to chat with Michelle about writing, reading, and family. 

Misty: What was your inspiration for No One You Know? What about The Year of Fog? 

Michelle:
Part of what inspired No One You Know was the experience of being one of three sisters. After Lila’s death, Ellie realizes that there had been so much her sister kept private, even from her. The intimacies and complications of the sisterly bond were very compelling to me. I also knew from the start that I was interested in the fine line between fact and fiction, and the way stories shape our lives–the idea that the stories others tell about us can have enormous repercussions. 

The Year of Fog came out of a desire to write a story that was deeply immersed in the atmosphere and character of my adopted home, San Francisco–but which would rely on universal experiences: the love for a child, the complexities of coping with guilt, the nature of obsession. I also wanted to write a novel in which the big event–in this case, the disappearance of a child–occurs on the first page, and everything thereafter is an examination of what happens in the lives of those who are left behind. 

Monica: As I happen to know that math was one of your least favorite subjects in school, what prompted you to write a novel with a strong mathematical component? 

Michelle:
You’re so right about math being one of my least favorite subjects! I have nightmares to this day of walking into a university math class on the day of the final examinations, having never attended a single class. Writing about coffee was a way of indulging my passion; writing about math may have been a way of tackling my demons. I also thought it would be an interesting contrast between the sisters–Ellie, the coffee buyer, who experiences the world through her senses, and Lila, the math prodigy, who experienced the world through her intellect. I didn’t want math to overwhelm the novel, but I did want the flavor of mathematics to be part of the story. Ellie is as math-phobic as I am, but she is nonetheless able to appreciate some of the stories behind mathematics with a layperson’s eye. I’ve always been drawn to “found texts” in fiction, so it was great fun for me to have Ellie come across Lila’s math notebook from her days at Stanford. 

Monica: Having grown up in the South, do you actually consider yourself a Southern writer, or a writer who was anxious to get out of the South? 

Michelle:
I think there’s definitely a Southern flavor to my writing, that sense of the meandering story that, hopefully, takes the reader off on unexpected paths. You may remember all those long drives we’d take with the family in the station wagon when we were young. I think of a novel as being something like a long drive through country roads. I know the starting point, and I have a pretty good idea of where I want to end up, but I have no idea how I’ll get there, which side trips I’ll take, and what I’ll find along the way. The process of discovery is what makes writing enjoyable. 

Although The Year of Fog is set primarily in San Francisco, the narrator is, like me, a transplant from Alabama, and her Southern childhood is woven throughout the book. The new novel I’m working on features a protagonist from Mississippi who lives in San Francisco. My first novel, Dream of the Blue Room, is set partially in China and partially in a small Alabama town, and my story collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, is very much rooted in our Southern childhood. San Francisco is now my home, and it’s the place I love most in the world. But the South is the landscape of my childhood, the setting of all of my earliest memories and influences, and in that sense it will always be in my blood. 

Monica: Are many of your characters based on people you know? If so, do you take a good bit of license when writing them into your books? 

Michelle:
I rarely base a major character on someone I know, but friends and acquaintances naturally make their way into my novels in bits and pieces–a facial tic here, a habit or bit of background there–and occasionally appear as minor characters. In The Year of Fog, for example, a character named Wiggins tells a story about being bitten by a monkey; this story was actually told to me by my friend Wiggins. I have a friend from school who appears in every one of my books, usually with a banjo or in some similar manifestation. And naturally, my husband will tell you that all the best men–like Nick Elliott in The Year of Fog–are based on him. Recently, at my twenty-year high school reunion, I promised several people that their names would appear in my next novel. 

In No One You Know, there is one real person who appears as himself–Ben Fong-Torres. While his role in Ellie’s life is entirely fictionalized, I did try to describe him as accurately as possible, in the interests of doing justice to a very interesting real-life person. 

The book that probably contains the most autobiographical material is my story collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. Gracie, the sister whose voice holds all of the stories together, is very similar to me. Flannery O’Connor said that any writer can base a lifetime of work on what happened before she was five. Certainly, my own first book was in many ways an attempt to understand and distill the experiences of my youth and young adulthood. 

Monica and Misty: How closely do you believe the sisters in your books resemble your actual sisters? 

Michelle:
My characters are very different from my actual sisters, although you, Monica, being an accountant, are certainly the mathematician in our family! I think it’s probably also true that you possessed a kind of mystery in high school that I felt I never had, and you also have always been very good at making your own clothes–which I flub every time I try–but I imagine the similarities between you and Lila end there. And of course, Misty, I borrowed a lot from your knowledge when I made Abby (in The Year of Fog) a photographer. The character of Abby is nothing like you, but she does use a Holga– years ago, when the novel was just a seed in my mind, you gave me one. 

Misty: Before you began writing full-time, you had a lot of jobs. I remember visiting you one summer at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and you had a temp job in the warehouse of an auto parts supplier, pulling spark plugs and fan belts from the shelves. What other jobs have you had? 

Michelle:
For about eight years I taught creative writing in the Bay Area. But before I began teaching, I worked as a waitress, a tanning salon attendant (which must rank pretty high in the “worst jobs known to recent college graduates” department), an advertising copywriter, and an account manager at a major PR firm in New York City. I spent a few months pounding the pavement in New York, selling credit processing services, which was laughable and somewhat disastrous, given my above-mentioned math deficiency. The best job I ever had, perhaps, was as the private English tutor for the president of a Chinese trading company. I was hired to work in the company’s U.S. office at the Empire State Building, but within two weeks of accepting the position I was on a plane to Beijing. Because my employer had very little time to be tutored, I spent most of my time wandering solo around China by bus and by train. My first novel, Dream of the Blue Room, came out of that eye-opening experience. 

Misty: Speaking of work, how do you choose your main characters’ professions? 

Michelle:
I’m always interested in how people make their way in the world, and how their work shapes their lives. The Year of Fog is a book about memory, about how our memories can sometimes betray us and sometimes save us. The book opens with a scene on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, in which Abby loses Emma, her fiancé’s little girl. Abby, who has always trusted her own vision, is forced to embark upon a search based almost entirely upon instinct. My hope was that her inability to make sense of the tragedy of Emma’s disappearance, her inability to compose and control events as she might her photography, added intensity to her inner struggle. 

When I began writing No One You Know, I knew that Ellie should have a profession that reflected her nature: She’s a very sensory-oriented person who loves to wander around the globe. I’ve been obsessed with coffee for a long time; I drink it every morning, religiously, and I love the ritual of clearing the cobwebs in my brain before I begin my day. I had visited coffee farms in Central America a few years before, and I had that experience in the back of my mind as I wrote. Making Ellie a coffee buyer gave me a chance to explore coffee’s origins and to delve into some of the interesting stories behind the coffee culture. It also gave me an excuse to attend tastings, tour a coffee warehouse, and discover some wonderful cafes. 

Monica: When we were growing up, I was always the one with my nose in a book. Who are your favorite authors? 

Michelle:
Yes, I remember how we’d be driving along these zigzag mountain roads on family vacations, and I’d be battling motion sickness while you were completely absorbed in your book! Now, I’m a constant reader. Authors who immediately come to mind are Jorge Luis Borges, Bohumil Hrabal, Vladimir Nabokov, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, Ismael Kadare, Grace Paley, Richard Yates, Ian McEwan, E. B. White, Jane Bowles, George Orwell, Gustav Flaubert, Italo Calvino, Paul Auster, Jose Saramago, Milan Kundera, Lars Gustafsson, and Flannery O’Connor. I spend a lot of time reading to my son, and I’ve discovered a number of children’s book authors in the past few years, including Ian Falconer, whose Olivia books are absolutely delightful. 

Monica: How do you find time to write with an energetic four-year-old? 

Michelle:
I used to have the luxury of spending a week writing and rewriting a page or two. That doesn’t happen anymore. I think that having a child, while diverting my attention and absorbing my worry and affection, has also clarified my thinking. I used to be able to accomplish very little with two or three hours of writing time. Now, I can get into a subject the moment I sit down to write, and totally immerse myself in it until it’s time to kick into mommy gear. People joke about “mommy brain”–being scattered, confused, forgetful–but I believe that, by necessity, many mothers become more focused and more efficient than they were before they had children, because the hours that one has available to devote entirely to work are suddenly a tiny fraction of what they used to be. Of course, I still spend a lot of time being scattered and confused–just not while I’m writing! 

Misty: What are you working on now? 

Michelle:
My next novel takes place during a single day in San Francisco. The story centers on two adult sisters, whose long estrangement has recently ended. The narrator is a doctor of internal medicine on the cusp of her fortieth birthday, whose life has just undergone a pretty significant upheaval. Because I rarely talk about my work with anyone while I’m writing, I’ll say no more, for fear of losing my literary mojo while the novel is still in progress! 

Praise

Praise

“Michelle Richmond’s encore to The Year of Fog is an equally addictive read.”—Denver Post

“Richmond sets out to create not a straight-up thriller, but a novel that explores love, family, work, guilt and the responsibility of the writer to his or her subject, all within the framework of a murder mystery.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Michelle Richmond never strikes a false note in No One You Know.... It's an intelligent, emotionally convincing tale about a family tragedy and the process of storytelling.”—Boston Globe

“As complex and beautiful as a mathematical proof, this gripping, thought-provoking novel will keep you thinking long after the last page has been turned.”—Family Circle

"Beautifully written"—Seattle Times

“Gripping”—People

"Heartrending and immediately readable"—San Francisco Examiner

“Another enjoyable blend of mystery and domestic fiction…. Quietly captivating.”—Publishers Weekly

“Richmond has a knack for creating accessible, grippingly authentic characters….No One You Know a tautly drawn tale.”—East Bay Express

“Richmond turns a family crisis into heartbreaking and compelling reading…. Riveting.” —Booklist, starred review

“Intelligent, emotionally convincing…Michelle Richmond never strikes a false note in No One You Know.”—Boston Globe

“Richmond’s fiction is made rich by the relationships between her characters and the carefully researched nuances of their lives.”—Birmingham magazine


From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. How did Ellie’s storytelling voice enhance your reading? How might the novel have unfolded if it had been told from Peter McConnell’s point of view, or even Lila’s?

 2. The title No One You Know captures the quest to find Lila’s killer, but it also describes the secrets Lila kept from Ellie. Discuss the relationship between the sisters. In what ways did they know each other well? In what ways were they different? In your family, do siblings tend to be close or distant? 

3. How did your opinion of Andrew Thorpe and Peter McConnell shift throughout the novel? When did you trust each of them the most and the least? 

4. Why was Lila drawn to mathematics? What did it mean to her? What life philosophies did it provide? How did she fit into a community of mostly male math scholars? 

5. What lay at the heart of Henry’s breakup with Ellie? How were Ellie’s other relationships affected by her sister, even when they were teenagers? 

6. Were Thorpe’s books inappropriate? What is the nature of true crime books? Do they sensationalize and fabricate, or can they reveal important truths? 

7. Chapter Ten describes the distinctions between conjecture and proof. How did these concepts, along with the quotation from Pascal at the beginning of the novel, echo throughout Lila’s story? What did the Goldbach Conjecture represent to Lila and Peter? How might the word “proof” carry a different meaning to a mathematician than to a “regular” person? 8. At the end of Chapter Twenty-nine, Ellie says that she had always thought of her sister as blameless. Was Lila blameless in her affair with Peter? 

9. Discuss Billy Boudreaux and his music. Ultimately, who was he, and how did he perceive himself? What were his greatest strengths and vulnerabilities? 

10. In what ways did the coffee trade give Ellie a soothing way to escape the tragedies of her life? Why was she so well suited for the cupping process? 

11. How do the landscapes of Central America and San Francisco affect the tone and mood of the novel? What aspects of Ellie’s personality are captured in both locales? 

 12. Which character did you most suspect of being Lila’s killer? When the truth about her death was revealed, how did you react? How was Ellie’s family affected by so many years of not knowing? Would her parents have stayed together if they had not been forced to live in the shadow of the unknown? 

13. What did you think of Thorpe’s advice about how to tell a good story? In what ways does Michelle Richmond defy Thorpe’s approach? What is meant by the novel’s closing lines, asserting that stories belong to listeners and authors in equal measure? 

14. Both this novel and Richmond’s The Year of Fog portray families coping with tragedy. How is San Francisco used as a character in each novel? How does Richmond use mystery and the unknown to portray a character’s strength and grace? 


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