I’ve had a few requests for book club discussion guides and decided to give it a shot. First, here’s a discussion guide for my newest novel, In Our Other Lives.
1) The novel’s main story is driven by the fact that, since the Patriot Act, Americans have had their personal lives under constant surveillance via the technology we surround ourselves with. After reading In Our Other Lives, do you feel differently about domestic spying? Does it matter when it’s the government who monitors you, as opposed to a corporation?
2) Do we have a right to privacy? How far should these rights go? Is national security more important than civil liberties? In the context of your answer, is Elisabeth Ahls better or worse off because of the impact (or lack thereof) of being spied on by her government?
3) Several characters, Nick Holland, in particular, are touched less by domestic spying, mostly because he has opted out of the consumerism of our modern society. Thinking about this, to what degree are we culpable for being spied on by opting in on technology we often don’t understand?
4) In your view, is the structure of the novel into “files” effective storytelling with a fractured narrative? Do the italic sections (the snippets of recorded surveillance) add to the narrative? Are they distracting?
5) Living the so-called Information Age, do you feel that the consciousness of the modern person has changed? What differences do you notice in how we consume news, politics, and do business that has changed from when you were younger? Do these trends change how you think about the world, or even how you think?
6) The book gives a few different views of religious extremism and invites readers to think about what aspects of religious expression they view as acceptable in different contexts. What significance is there for the divergent ways Elisabeth and Tyler end up as adults after both growing up in the same environment? In what ways to you identify with one Ahls sibling more than the other?
7) Did Tyler need “reformed” as a young man? Was he a threat to national security? Do you view his activity as religious extremism?
8) Along those lines, does the experience of Khan Khalili (the Pakistani PI) and how he gets by in Peshawar change how you see characters like Elisabeth and Nick and how they get by in their own culture? In this context, does the novel make you feel more or less free as a citizen?
9) The Safe Haven child adoption crisis is dramatized in the novel. How do you see this element working in the story? What connections are there between Elisabeth’s experience and that of Cary Junger, the father who gives up his children? What dissonance is there is a society that expends billions of dollars to systematically record the lives of its citizens, but still has a significant portion of its children fall through the cracks?