Reading Group Guide
By Peter Ferry
On his way home from work teaching high school English one evening, Pete Ferry witnesses a car accident that kills a beautiful woman named Lisa Kim. But was it an accident? Could Pete have prevented it? Why can’t he stop thinking about Lisa Kim? What begins as inexplicable curiosity soon evolves into obsession as his efforts to unravel the mystery of the dead girl’s hold over him grow increasingly strategic, ensnaring him in the lives of her friends and family even while he distances himself from his own loved ones. Did the accident actually happen, or is this just an elaborate tale he concocts to impart the power of story to his restless teenage charges? And what might his obsession with Lisa Kim mean to his relationship with his girlfriend, Lydia? With humor, tenderness, and suspense, author/narrator Peter Ferry takes readers on fascinating journeys, both geographical and psychological, and delves into the notion that the line between fact and fiction is often negotiable.
- The opening chapter of this book portrays a lecture Pete gives to his students about the power of stories. Given this introduction to the novel, do you think the difference between fact and fiction matters when it comes to how powerful a story is? What stories are told in this book? How does fact and fiction matter to the people involved?
- Identify the parts of the story that are “real” vs. what Pete makes up for his students (and for the novel he describes to Decarre at the very end). Can you also spot the points of real life intersecting with fiction throughout the novel? Discuss why the author made these choices and what effect they have on your reading experience.
- Pete tells us that he has “a thing about falling in love with women I see through glass.” (p.7) What do you think this means? What does it tell you about Pete? What and who else in the novel does he see through glass? Do you think the fact that he did not first see Lydia through glass ultimately has meaning for the failure of their relationship?
- On page 23, Pete explains that “problems are interesting and important and life without them is neither.” Identify some of the problems Pete struggles with in this novel. Who else’s problems are given attention, and how do they contribute to the progression of the story? Do you think the novel has an identifiable central problem? Why or why not?
- The novel contains several travel essays about Pete’s trips to exotic locations, including Mexico, Thailand, Canada, and Ireland. How do these interludes relate to the story of Lisa Kim, or don’t they? Why do you think the author included these pieces? Discuss how they contribute to or detract from your reading experience. Why do you think the final travel piece is written as a prediction of the future?
- It takes a long time (and help from a therapist) for Pete to connect his obsession with Lisa to his feelings of distance from Lydia. Do you think the occurrence of Lisa Kim’s death was just “perfect” timing at a critical juncture for Pete and Lydia or the perfect excuse for Pete to dissolve their relationship? What clues were there that Pete and Lydia’s relationship would not last through the end of the novel?
- Pete explains some writing techniques to his students on page 149: “For one thing, the double-plot story forces you to be aware of the narrative voice, forces you to think about the relationship between the narrator and the other characters for another, and it helps in story development, helps your story be dynamic and not static.” How does this explanation relate to the format of the novel? Do you think the story would have been significantly different if written in a third person POV, or if the author focused solely on the story of Lisa Kim instead of weaving in the story of Pete and Lydia’s relationship? Why or why not?
- What do you think it means that Pete is constantly falling in love with people in minute ways? Discuss the significance of the moment on page 206 when he finally realizes that he’s entered a phase of his life where not everything is a beginning and some things have to end.
- Pete’s first therapist, Gene Brooks, suggests to Pete that his problems with Lydia and his obsession with Lisa are really the same issue. What do you think he means by this? Do you agree or disagree?
10. Throughout the novel, Pete struggles with his ties to two women: Lydia, his girlfriend, and Lisa Kim, a dead woman he never knew. Compare and contrast these two women and their relationships with others, including Pete. Consider the discussion Pete has with his students on pages 207-212: what do you think he is in love with about Lydia? What is he in love with about Lisa?
11. On page 284, Peter cites Hemingway’s writing advice to his students: “What you leave out is more important than what you leave in.” What do people “leave out” in this novel? What does the author leave out? Discuss your opinions of why these decisions are made and how they affect the story.
12. Character Pete Ferry moonlights as a travel writer while he teaches high school English. A few of his travel pieces appear throughout the novel. Discuss the significance of the title, “Travel Writing.”