1. Why do you think Bloom chose to tell the stories of Lionel and Julia and William and Clare through a collection of interlocking stories? Does this device allow Bloom to reveal something that a single story or the novel form would not? Can you read the stories individually, or must they be read only as a collection?
2. What do the titles of these stories tell us about what is going on below the surface? For example, what does “The Old Impossible” suggest about William and Clare’s love? Or “Night Vision” about Lionel and Julia’s relationship?
3. In these stories, Bloom explores love in many forms— old friendships, marriage, parenthood. What are some of the other types of love relationships found in these stories? Which ones are unexpected? Which are forbidden or secret?
4. Which characters transgress the boundaries of their relationships with other characters? How do these transgressions change the nature of the relationship? Which actions damage a relationship forever? Which relationships cannot be repaired? What price do they pay for their transgressions?
5. Many of Bloom’s characters play multiple roles— mother, sister, daughter, wife, lover. Do these roles, such as husband or wife, provide safety? If so, what happens when these labels are undermined? Explore the many roles assumed by William and Clare at the beginning of their relationship— not only with each other but also with the other characters. How do these roles change by the end of “Compassion and Mercy”?
6. Does love change over time? What is the nature of love in the second half of life? How does love toward the end change our understanding of its beginning? In “Between Here and Here,” the daughter undergoes a transformation in her understanding of her father as he ages. How do you understand his change in behavior and her feelings toward him? How do Lionel’s feelings about Julia evolve as she ages?
7. Many love stories explore only the mysteries and wonders of love, but Bloom goes further and often writes about love’s darker side. What are some of the casualties of love in these stories? What happens when love ends, either by choice or, which it always does, death?
8. Many of the most important scenes in these stories happen around the dinner table as the characters share a meal or a drink. What role does food play in each of the stories? How do we understand William and Clare sharing nectarines in “The Old Impossible”? Or Lionel teaching Buster to eat a peach in “Fort Useless and Fort Ridiculous”? How does the family Thanksgiving tradition evolve over the Lionel and Julia stories, and what does this reveal about the family?
9. What are some of the secrets kept in these stories? How do secrets affect love? How do they define the love relationships?
10. In the story “Where the God of Love Hangs Out,” Ray and Ellie remind each other that they vowed to love each other “for better or for worse.” Do you agree that love must be able to contain both? What were some of the “for betters” in these stories? What were some of the “for worses”?
11. In Bloom’s stories, it is the small acts of everyday love and intimacy that mean the most between two people. What are some examples from this collection?