1. How would you describe the relationship between Mary Keane and Pauline? What is Mary’s attraction to Pauline? Why does Pauline like to be around Mary? How are the two women alike? How do they differ?
2. How devoutly religious are the various members of the Keane family? How do they interact with the church? Does this change over time?
3. The author abruptly jumps from Mary’s dating George to her marriage to John without providing any information about what happens to George and how John came into her life. Why do you think the author does this? Why introduce George at all if he is of little significance? Why does she not explain Mary’s courtship with John?
4. Why do you think Annie, the oldest girl in the Keane family, goes to bed with a total stranger, whom she describes in negative terms the first time she sees him? Why does she settle for less than her dreams? In what ways are her approaches to life negative?
5. What are the chances that Clare (the youngest daughter) and Gregory will make successful parents? Do you think they are in love? Do you think Gregory went into this marriage willingly? Why do you think Clare kept her pregnancy a secret for so long, too long to do anything about it? If Annie, Clare’s older sister, had been around, do you think Clare would have gone through with the pregnancy? Why or why not?
6. Why do you think John Keane was so attached to the young soldier who was killed in World War II that he named his firstborn son, Jacob, after him? What did John see in the young soldier? Why was he so affected by his death? Do you think that in naming his son Jacob, John cursed him?
7. Compare the Keanes’ second oldest son, Michael, with Damien, the older man who owned the bar. What do you think Damien represents? How does his character differ from Michael’s? Do they treat women the same? Would you guess they have similar life philosophies?
8. Discuss McDermott’s writing style. Do you think she is a good storyteller? Does she keep you wanting to turn the page to see what happens next? Does her writing create strong images in your mind? Is she easy to read? Does she present strong characters that you care about?
9. Discuss the characters in this story. Who is your favorite and why? What traits of this character do you identify with? Which of the characters do you think will find the most success? Which one bores you? Which one, if he or she were real, might become a friend? Which one is the weakest?
10. What roles do the minor characters play? Why do you think the author includes such people as Susan (who had the abortion), the neighbor Mr. Persichetti, and Professor Wallace and her husband David in London? How do they move the story forward? What themes or issues do they broaden?