1. The phrase "natural order" is used more than once in the
narrative, by different characters, with different meanings.
Discuss the layered meanings of the title.
2. The novel begins with John's obituary. Did it accurately
convey the circumstances around his death, and life? Considering it
must have been penned by Joyce herself, what does it reveal about
her response at the time? How did this opening affect your
experience of reading the rest of the book?
3. "A mother always knows when something isn't right with her
son," says Mrs. Pender to Joyce, before admitting that she failed
Freddy, or that he failed her, "I'm just not sure which of us
failed the other first." (p. 71) What do you think of these
statements? Discuss Mrs. Pender's influence on Joyce through the
4. Contemplating the vanishing deer habitat around her house,
Joyce says "I think about that deer often. I wonder what will
happen to it once the dump trucks and bulldozers and chainsaws move
in. Who will protect it? Where will it go?" (p. 49) Later, Joyce
looks for the deer, knowing she won't see it (p. 72) and thinks
about the deer as an old woman too. (p. 153) What triggers her
thoughts about the deer? What does it really represent in her
5. As tragic as some of the events are in this novel, there are
also many funny moments and observations. Do you have a
6. "That's the problem with getting old. Time bends and shifts.
Memories spring up, uprooted." (p. 10) Discuss Joyce's grasp of
time. How did the shifting chronology of her narrative affect your
experience of the unfolding plot?
7. "The real moment of that first death, the true one, took
place in a bedroom with a crying boy and a mother walking out." (p.
215) Discuss the moment John comes out to Joyce, and her response.
Is her behaviour understandable? Is it forgivable? Of all the
mistakes she makes as a mother, which do you think is the
8. Discuss the impact of the many secrets throughout the
9. "Everything I ever did in life, I did wrong. Everything I
touched, I destroyed." (p. 11) Do you think that Joyce is being
fair to herself? Why/why not? Does she find redemption?
10. Discuss the final scene of the book. What is happening?
11. "Sometimes, I'm not sure if my life happened the way I
remember it, and there's no one left to verify the facts." (p. 10)
Do you consider Joyce to be a trustworthy narrator? How might the
story have been different if told through the eyes of another
12. "Things either happened before or after John's death. The
world was cleaved in two." (p. 327) Have you had an experience that
marked your own life like that?