1. Who is the narrator of the novel? How does he know Mary and Eden’s story? How does Ackerman’s decision to narrate from this point of view deepen the reader’s understanding of Mary and Eden’s lives?
2. Examine the symbolism of the cockroaches. How does Eden understand their presence? What do they represent to him?
3. How would you describe Eden’s level of consciousness? What does he register about his reality? To what extent is his perception of reality distorted? Is there anything he is sure of? Are the nurses correct in their assessment of Eden’s level of consciousness?
4. Consider the theme of pain as it is depicted in the novel. Which characters experience pain, and what type of pain do they experience? Do you understand Eden’s pain to be greater than the pain of the other characters? Why or why not?
5. Explore Mary and Eden’s relationship. How did they meet? What were the early months of their relationship like? When and why does a rift form in their marriage?
6. Examine Gabe’s character. Who is he? Why does he take an active interest in Eden? How does Eden feel about him?
7. What is SERE school? How was Eden’s experience at SERE school similar to his experience in the hospital?
8. Explore the theme of time as it is depicted in the novel. How do the different characters perceive the passage of time? What are the characters waiting for? Can you identify any key symbols of time or waiting?
9. Why do you think Mary pursues the narrator? Is she remorseful about what happens between them, or does she stand by her decision?
10. Explore Mary’s feelings about Eden’s fate. Does she think it’s best for Eden to die, or does she want to prolong his life? Does her opinion on this matter change over the course of the novel? Consider, as you answer this question, the themes of abandonment and betrayal.
11. Examine Eden’s dream in which he reunites with the narrator. Where does this reunion take place? How would you characterize their attitude toward one another? What does Eden mean by his assertion, “You know it’s easiest on us” (137)? Do you agree with him?
12. The novel concludes with the final lines of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. How does this quotation inform your interpretation of the novel and its resolution?