1. Raymond Spang was diagnosed as a schizophrenic before he escaped from the mental institution. In those days very little was known about treating mental illness. He was given experimental medications which were suddenly stopped because he escaped. Was he still responsible for his actions? How much of the blame for the tragedy lies with the hospital? How much, if any, lies with Gertrude?
2. Polly, Ruthie’s mother was more loyal to her husband than to Ruthie. Was she neglectful or just overwhelmed by too many children? How does motherhood in the ’50s and ’60s compare with that of today’s mothers?
3. As a child, Ward, Ruth’s rage filled father, was told to forget about the tragedy that befell his only cousins, aunt and uncle. Can you draw a clear line between this and his behavior towards Ruth? Was Ruth too forgiving? How does fatherhood in the ’50s and ’60s compare with that of today’s fathers?
4. Estrangement is a theme in this story. While Ruth felt compassion for her parents’ utter lack of self awareness, she ended up choosing estrangement from her siblings, and Sarai chose estrangement from her. Is estrangement always a bad thing?
5. As a ghost, Raymond wanders around until he makes sense of what happened to him. What do you think happens to us after we die?
6. As a child, Ruthie imagined saving someone from a poor country. Ironically, she tried to help Pratik but the built-in expectations from two wildly different cultures was insurmountable. If she had a supportive family, or if Pratik was more integrated in American culture, do you think the outcome would have been any better?
7. There is a lot of imagery woven into the story. What do you think the image of a river symbolizes? The tree? What other visual metaphors did you spot? As an artist, Ruth was in touch with her imagination. How did her experience as an artist empower her?
8. Ruth unwittingly encountered race as an issue in her life experiences. Do you agree with her idea that blending races will ultimately solve racial prejudices?
9. When Ruth’s family drove past the site of the murders, Ward told the children a lie about what happened there. If you were Ruth’s father, would you have told your children anything about it, or would you have told them the truth about the tragedy?
10. Do you believe we have a higher self or guidance that is accessible?