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 years.
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 mind?
5. As tragic as some of the events are in this novel, there are also many funny moments and observations. Do you have a favourite?
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 worst?
8. Discuss the impact of the many secrets throughout the novel.
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 character?
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?