Sometimes it's fun to talk about it...
1. On the first few pages of the novel, we learn that Faith Bass Darling is fighting a losing battle with Alzheimer’s but has not told anyone. After receiving a midnight message from the Almighty, she decides to put her house in order. Even Faith is skeptical of the message, but decides it’s “rather prudent to obey.” What would you think if you got such an inspiration? Would you be like Faith and follow the instructions? Or would you be like Father George, who, when Faith asks him whether he believes God talked to her, answers, “No. But I’d like to,” and choose to disregard the command?
2. Humor plays a big part in the telling of this tale. Do you see it as a funny story? If not, what is the role of humor in the book? And, for that matter, in dealing with life?
3. The role of memory is a theme often touched on in the novel. Faith asks: “Without our memories, who are we? Doesn’t the soul have a memory? If not, what’s all this living for?” What do you think? Would you still be “you” if you didn’t have your memories, or do your memories make you the “you” you are now? How can our past experiences shape what we do later in life and inform our future decisions? Do we ever actually change completely as the years go by, or do we always hold on to our true selves because our memories have formed who we are?
4. The novel also asks, “Do our possessions possess us?” Several of the main characters grapple with this question. Who do you think struggles with it the most, and what conclusions does this character come to? Faith and Claude, for instance, both put their faith in material possessions. We all know the famous biblical reference to the camel going through the eye of a needle, warning of the dangers of material wealth, so what is it about our possessions that makes us happy?
5. Faith and Claude’s daughter, Claudia, is convinced that her family’s possessions could very well keep her from ever being happy. Can a person feel weighed down by material goods? Why or why not?
6. The novel opens with the short provenance of an antique elephant clock that went from the French Revolution to a yard sale in Texas. Have you ever thought about the antiques or heirlooms or any passed-down possessions that you own and the lives they had before they “knew” you? Think of such objects now. How can they make history come alive and give you a personal attachment to the past?
7. If you could buy a priceless antique lamp for $1—but knowing that the person conducting the sale was not of her right mind—would you or wouldn’t you? Why is this such an ethical problem for Bobbie? Have you ever been faced with an opportunity that has caused you to judge your own moral character?
8. Racism also plays a significant role in the story. Do you think the novel effectively portrays the modern learning curve of the average small town and its inhabitants? If so, in what way? If not, why not?
9. Every main character—Faith, Claudia, Bobbie, John Jasper, Father George—confronts his or her own demons on this single day at the end of the millennium. What are they? What is it about New Year’s Eve that elicits introspection?
10. Claudia struggles with family obligations, guilt over her family’s tragedy, and a childhood mansion haunted with memories. She has made a mess of her life trying to run from all of these. Was she justified in leaving? When she returns, does she make peace? Or is it just the hope of peace?
11. What is it about mother-daughter relationships that makes them so fraught? Is it inevitable that they are more complicated than other family relationships? One could argue that Faith was unsupportive and critical of Claudia—and the same could be said of Claudia toward Faith. At the end of the novel, is there real rapprochement and forgiveness, or are they simply tired of fighting?
12. Claudia pointedly rejects the countless antiques and heirlooms that have long been valued in her family—except for the ring. Why does it have such a special place in her heart? Do you possess an object of comparable importance? What does our relationship with our most prized possession say about our personality? Is gauging someone by what he/she values most a suitable way to assess character?