1. After six years of working as a companion for the elderly, what had “lost its power to shock Ella the way that it had” (3)? How had she learned to deal with the grief that accompanies the work of caregiving? What did Ella learn “the benefits of” (6) early on? What does she say is one of “the few rewards of the job” (7)? What “was almost unbearable” and “seemed like a gift” (7) at the same time within the experience of caregiving? What does Ella begin to “feel, rather than know” (7) the longer she works as a caregiver?
2. What makes Jill different from most of Ella’s other clients? How does Ella feel about Jill and her husband compared to other families she has worked for? What does she think might have been possible if the circumstances had been ordinary? Do you agree with her?
3. What kind of work does Ella recognize that caregiving “inherently” is (10)? What are some of her biggest fears about this line of work? What does she believe is “the worst of it” (12) in her work caring for Sharon? What does she think that they have in common? What insight does her work with Sharon cause Ella to have about the way that she cares for herself and considers “her own physical form” (13)? Why does Ella feel that she “failed in the only part of the job that mattered” (13)?
4. When Ella attends the warehouse party, what makes her feel powerful in her interactions with Isaac? While she admits that she “wasn’t attracted to Isaac” (18), what is it that she admits being attracted to? How does Ella meet Alix and how do their interactions make her feel in contrast to this? What becomes her “favorite of almost all activities,” and what questions does this ultimately lead her to consider “with a jolt of discomfort” (21)?
5. What purpose does Ella believe the tea parties with Bryn and Jill serve? What “both surprised and did not surprise Ella” (31) about these encounters? What does she believe is the greatest unstated benefit to employing her” (31)? What is Ella “feeling herself toward” in these instances, and what benefit does she believe that this has for her clients?
6. What faulty assumption does Bryn make about Ella’s relationship and partner? Why doesn’t Ella correct Bryn when he first makes this mistake of the times thereafter? What concerns does she have about telling Bryn the truth? How does Bryn ultimately discover his mistake? Were Ella’s fear warranted?
7. As Ella assesses her interactions with Jill, it causes her to consider her own relationship to religion and the spiritual. What “two seemingly incongruous forces” (132) does Ella believe shaped her views in this realm? Despite this, what does she carry in her memory “almost shamefully” (132), and why does she choose to keep these experiences private? What does Ella do for Jill that she thinks is an exercise “in futility, or faith” (133)? What are some of the “disparate mystical components” that Ella believes she weaves together into “a spell” (135) to help her clients? Although she exercises a kind of faith in this way, why does Ella still “[mistrust] this meager, private comfort” (134)?
8. What “provoked Ella to explore nearly every conceivable connection” (135) with Jill? What does she feel is “the very worst in the boquet of suffering and loss brain damage carried” (135), and how does Ella try to connect with Jill? Which does she believe was “the most obvious, and seemingly the most futile” (135) method? What does Ella ultimately believe is the only way that she can “occupy the same isolating place of being” (135) as Jill?
9. What comes to mind first when Ella learns that a care facility can take Jill in a few weeks and why is this feeling a relief to her? What does she believe this will mean for Bryn and Jill, and what does she assume Bryn must be thinking and feeling at this time? What does the coming change mean for Ella personally?
10. When Ella begins to experience nighttime panic, what does she feel that these episodes are truly about? What fears and concerns had begun to keep her up at night? What does she feel can be done about this?
11. In Chapter 24, how does Ella’s relationship with Bryn in its most tense moments begin to challenge her notions of attraction, devotion, and desire? How is this tempered by the disappointments with men and masculinity she has felt in the past? What does she feel is “the greater betrayal” (153) between them?
12. Although Bryn confirms some of the feelings that Ella has around masculinity and traditional gender roles and its disappointments, how does he also challenge these notions in a positive way? How does Bryn’s relationship with Jill overturn traditional notions of gender roles and the traditionally “pink collar work” of caregiving, for instance?
13. Several weeks after Jill moves to the care facility, what questions does Ella begin to have about her experiences and interactions with Jill ad Bryn? What does she believe that she did wrong and what regrets does she have? Do you think that her self-assessment is accurate? Why or why not?
14. Why does Ella decide to visit Bryn? What does she feel brought her back to him? What does Ella express to him when they do reunite and how does Bryn respond to this? What do you think Ella means when she thinks that she has a “last offering of real closeness, of real self” (158)? Would you say that Ella offers Bryn her real self in this moment with him? Does she ultimately tell Bryn all that she intended or wanted to say to him?
15. What does Ella admit to Bryn that she was afraid of? What does she believe that she could have or should have done differently? Does Bryn agree? What kind of person do these regrets lead Ella to realize that she wants to be? What does she most want her actions to reflect? What does Ella believe that she is “asking [Bryn] to see” (160)?
16. In their final moments together, what is it that makes Ella feel it is impossible to say to Bryn “what she had truly come to say” (161)? Where else in the book do we see this affecting Ella’s interactions with Jill and with Bryn especially? Despite the restriction, how is Ella changed as a result of this experience?