1: What did you think the story was going to be about before you read it? Must a title have relevance to the proceedings?
2: Think about each of the characters in the story and how you felt about them. Did you relate to one more than the others?
3: In the first half of the story, Sadie finds herself facing a dilemma posed by the conflict between what she would like to do, and what is expected of her. Do you think she made the right choice in the end? What would you have done?
4: The story is generally told in a realist mode, but uses elements of the fantastical in order to advance the plot. Did you even get that?
5: You may have observed several grammatical or typographical errors within the text. Disregard them.
6a: Why does Ludovic say the things he does to Sadie? Does he not understand that it is too late for them, now?
6b: Is the comma in the second part of that last question necessary? How long do you think the question setter agonised over whether or not to include it? Do the smallest things drive you half-crazy too?
7: Do you think the author allowed their personal views to influence the telling of the story? Is it more important that a narrative be passionate, or impartial?
8a: Many of the characters in the story use phrases and terminology that not so long ago would have been exclusive to the purview of a therapist or other practitioner of psychology. Do you think that they fully understand the meaning of such words and are they being used correctly? If not, what might this mean in terms of the validity of language that is not used with the full comprehension of the speaker?
8b: Do you think the author is aware of the disconnect between meaning and usage? Is their employment of any such examples in the story intentional, or an unconscious symptom that they too are just as prone to the disconnect as anyone?
8c: What does this say about our willingness to absorb and co-opt half-understood concepts in order to better make sense of our lives?
9: Are any of the characters in the story morally justifiable? Are you? What does that even mean?
10a: The passage where Laurel cries for several hours is rendered in real time. Be honest: did you skip this bit?
10b: What are your thoughts on the montage-technique in literature? Discuss this with the person next to you and compare answers with the group.
11: The character of Cornelius makes a frank admission towards the end of the story with the full-knowledge that it might cost him emotionally. Have you ever done anything to open yourself up to another person despite the consequences?
12a: Who was ultimately responsible for the events that preceded the closing scenes of the story?
13: Why was Sadie’s mother so ashamed of her? Have you ever denied anyone close to you? Think about your actions and take a moment to reflect on how this has impacted on you as a person.
14: Consider three ways in which the story could have been vastly improved (alteration of character names is not permitted). Discuss with the person next to you.
15a: The story ends on a cliffhanger but with no indication that there might be a follow-up. Would you have preferred there to have been a “To Be Continued” or “The End” legend below the text so that you knew for certain?
15b i): Did you find this lack of certainty frustrating? If so, how long did your frustration last? Do you think it likely you will still be feeling that way in a day? A week? A month? How much of what we read do we really take away with us?
15b ii): Does this render much of what you read in the long-term pointless or irrelevant and does the act of reading – to you – have any value beyond the entertaining and the immediate?
15c: Is there an argument to be made that our desire for knowledge, our instinctive curiosity as a species and need or craving to know the outcome of things, has stymied – or at least distorted – our enjoyment of certain aspects of fiction in all its forms, to the extent that closure and finality is of far more import than the proceedings, and so possibly also that the tidying-up of a narrative is now of more value than any message conveyed, or attempted to be conveyed, in the narrative itself?
16: Have you noticed the conflation of the techniques of ‘epiphany’ and ‘twist-in-the-tale’ in contemporary story-telling? Are these not just lazy ways of bringing proceedings to a neat conclusion?
17: How likely was Sadie’s own revelation in light of the actual work she put in to achieve it? Has the prevalence of the epiphany as a means-to-an-end in fiction given the lie to the effectiveness of certain forms of talking therapies and thus set many prospective candidates for such treatment up for a fall?
18a: Did you, at any point in reading the story, feel that a significant truth had been revealed to you via a sequence of actions set in motion by fictitious characters, as arranged by the author?
18b: Do you yourself seek or expect such inward revelations in your own personal and day-to-day life? Why is this?
19: When previous questions invited you to discuss matters with the person next to you and thence the group, did you listen to what was said? That is, did you take everything on board, fully and with consideration, accounting for both worth and validity, or did you nod and smile and make non-committal noises?
20: How did this make you feel?
(This space has deliberately been left blank for you to make notes)
JL Bogenschneider has had work featured most recently in the?Flash Journal of Short Fiction, The Fractured Nuance, Story Magazine and Ambit.