Discussion Questions


 1)     Suzanne and Whit decided to bring Iris into their home. Was it the right decision for everyone in their family? For Iris?

 2)     “Giving too little, giving too much. Subtracting from here, adding there. Caring for your marriage, your children, your parents, your reputation, your future and, if you could manage it, your younger, more idealistic self. This complex bounded calculus was based on theories of love and motherhood, and equations of duty and self-worth. But Suzanne could not work out the solution…” What do you think of Suzanne’s thoughts here and what they say about motherhood and marriage? How does Suzanne work out this “life math”? How did her mother?

 3)     What strengths and knowledge did Iris gain from her unusual upbringing? What do you think of Iris’ parents’ decision to raise their children in the woods?

 4)     Suzanne’s terrifying experience in the African bush had repercussions extending to the present day. Why do you think it was such a powerful, pivotal event for her? Have you had such an experience in your life?

 5)     Suzanne’s mother, Tinsley, is needy and self-absorbed but Suzanne allows her in her life. Is this decision, on balance, the right one? How did you feel about Whit’s alignment with his in-laws? Was it a betrayal of his marriage or his right as an independent person?

 6)     How did you think about Ash at the beginning of the story? How did your understanding of him evolve?

 7)     Suzanne believes she has done everything she could for her children and yet feels like a failure as a parent. Is this the inevitable consequence of having teenagers or are Suzanne and Whit simply poor parents?

 8)     How did you feel about Suzanne’s decision to pursue her dreams? If she had been able to pursue that path earlier, how do you think it would have affected her life with Whit and their children?

 9)     Brynn and Reid are very different people, to put it mildly, but family dynamics can often cause siblings to fill disparate niches. How much of a role did their parents play in how Reid and Brynn behaved and in how they saw themselves? What do you imagine the future will hold for Brynn and Reid?

 10)  Iris was attached to the natural world in a way few people are in our society. Were you envious of this? Does the idea of doing without modern conveniences appeal to you in any way?

 11) Did you think Suzanne and Whit would stay together? Did you want them to?

 12) The story is filled with botanical imagery and themes. Can you connect these to the overall narrative, especially Suzanne’s transformation? What was the significance of the name “Iris” and its mythological root as a messenger from the gods?

 13) The title of the book originates from the Melville epigraph but is connected to the story, particularly here, in Suzanne’s thoughts: “We can opt to reject the boundary, the shell behind which we operate our lives, separate from the world, the world of dirt and leaf and sky in which we evolved, the true place which holds our essential nature. We can step out from behind the glass, and live.” What do you think this means? Does it idea of stepping out from behind the glass and away from the mirror have particular significance for women? How might this connect to Brynn’s interest in photography at the close of the story?