1. What tone does the opening scene of the book set for the rest of the story, in both establishing the atmosphere and its main themes and characters?
2. How did the interweaving of Celine’s backstory with that of Paul’s and his family’s create tension and momentum as you read?
3. Discuss the different, and even opposite, sides of Celine’s and Pete’s personalities—their hard-edged, more masculine sides and their softer, artistic, and sensitive sides. How do their careers allow both of those sides to prosper, and what does their unique relationship suggest about what they love about each other?
4. How does the couple balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses to make for an effective partnership at home and in work? Does either of them seem more dominant in either space?
5. How does Celine’s complicated experience with motherhood motivate her work as a private investigator? Did you feel that that blurring of professional and personal lines enhanced or hindered her relationship with her clients—especially with Gabriela?
6. Celine imagines that for Gabriela home is a “space within the relative safety of her own skin.” Celine may share this sensibility to some degree. Which of her actions, tendencies, and memories in the book are most reflective of this very private and self-protective mindset?
7. How does an urban versus a rural setting bring out different sides of different characters, especially Celine’s? Can you track a progression of what kinds of places they settle in depending on their moods and mindsets, or is their mood more affected by where they are at any given time?
8. What service does Celine offer her clients on a more psychological level, beyond her unearthing of the facts of certain mysteries in their lives? Do you think she absorbs their secrets and suffering, and, if so, how does that motivate her to continue to the next case, even at the age of sixty-eight?
9. How does Hank take up the work of emotional excavation and investigation on his mother, perhaps work she’s unable to do herself? What does this suggest about our abilities to confront our own pasts with clear eyes?
10. What do all of the characters’ secrets, revealed to us gradually throughout the book, have in common? How do the characters differ in the steps they have to take to discover their own truths?
11. Although Celine’s role as a mother is a paramount focus of the book, what did you also take away from reading about the complicated role of fathers in their children’s lives? Do you think that Celine or Hank has more in common with Gabriela in this sense?
12. When Celine considers Paul’s circumstances for disappearing and leaving Gabriela, she displays a great deal of compassion—something that’s key to why she’s a good investigator. How do you think she’s been able to channel that in spite of all that she experienced as a child?
13. The book makes the case that the world feels different after the 9/11 attacks, and also uses the grandeur of nature to indicate the smallness of humanity. Did you feel at the end of the book that ultimately humanity’s preservation was worth the effort despite these perspectives? What do those scales of comparison illustrate about how we understand our own power in the universe? Which characters are most accepting of that balance in the novel?
14. What sacrifices does Celine make for her clients, especially for Paul in regard to his involvement in the Chilean coup? Do you think they’re grateful for what she does?
15. Think about your own family and how you have dealt, individually and collectively, with secrets and difficult times. How would things have been different for your family if the losses Paul and Gabriela faced transpired for you? Could you empathize with either or both of them?