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Acts of Service Reader’s Guide

By Lillian Fishman

Acts of Service by Lillian Fishman


1. How would you describe Eve’s relationship with Romi? How would you describe her when she’s with Nathan and Olivia? In what ways do different characters bring out different parts of her?

2. “I think that first I have to get the thing I want, and maybe then I can figure out why I wanted it, or whether it’s good.” Discuss what Eve meansby this.

3. What does Eve see in Olivia? What does she see in Nathan? How do these perceptions change?

4. What do each of our three main characters—Eve, Nathan, and Olivia—truly want?

5. “I wanted to run away from him and I wanted to learn to say thank you in just the way he did, as though the phrase and the many people I spoke it to belonged to me.” How does Eve’s description encapsulate Nathan’s power and the way he interacts with the world? How would you describe Nathan?

6. Consider Nathan and Olivia’s workplace relationship, or the safety net of Eve’s father’s financial support. How does each character use the power he or she has? How do the power dynamics amongst the characters shift over time?

7. Eve says of Olivia and Nathan: “I felt acutely that if they liked me it would mean that I was a tasteful object—the best girl in the lobby lineup.” Discuss how other peoples’ opinions of us can be validating or a painful rejection. Why do you think this is? Have you ever met anyone who wasn’t swayed by other peoples’ opinions of them? What was that person like?

8. How does the concept of jealousy play out in the novel?

9. Do you feel like Nathan truly sees Eve? Why or why not? Why is it sometimes more meaningful when someone sees you the way you want tobe seen?

10. Eve often returns to an Eve Babitz quote: “Anytime I want, I can forsake this dinner party and jump into real life.” The idea of “real life” is a constant theme for her: She says, “I craved and feared whatever I imagined real life was,” and also asks herself, “Why did I imagine that what I saw between Nathan and Olivia was real life?” What do you think Eve’s picture of “real life” is? What is your definition of it? Has it changed over time?

11. Where do you think we should draw the line between intimacy and privacy in a relationship? Consider Olivia not wanting to discuss her art with Eve, or Nathan not disclosing some key details about his personal life. What pieces of their individual lives do they owe to Eve? What does she owe to them?

12. How does the deposition force Eve to consider her relationship with Nathan (and Olivia) in a different light? What conclusions does she come to?

13. What do you think Eve means in the last line of the book about Nathan, that “his was the greatest act of service I had ever received”? What do we learn about her experience from this line?
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