1. One True Thing begins with Ellen in jail. What do
you think about the book beginning this way? Did it affect the way
you read the rest of the story, knowing (to some extent) how it
would end? Looking back, do you think that scene in jail ultimately
adds or detracts from the mystery of the story? How?
2. What was your ﬁrst impression of Ellen? What did
you think of her when you ﬁnished the novel? It's clear
that she changes over the course of her mother's illness and in the
wake of her death, but in what speciﬁc ways?
3. Kate Gulden seems to be the archetypal "perfect mother." Was
she? How were her relationships with her sons, Jeff and Brian,
different from her relationship with Ellen?
4. What did you think of George Gulden at the beginning of the
book? Were you surprised as you learned more about his relationship
with his wife and children? How did your opinion of him change, and
5. Ellen reﬂects, "No one knows what goes on inside a
marriage. I read that once; the aphorism ended 'except for the two
people who are in it.' But I suspect that even that is not the
truth, that even two people married to each other for many many
years may have only passing similarities in their perceptions and
their expectations" (p. 106). What do you think of this statement?
How does it apply to George and Kate Gulden?
6. Describe Ellen's relationship with Jonathan. Why does she
remain interested in a man who does not treat her well? How does
Ellen's relationship with Jonathan compare and contrast to her
relationship with her father? Were you surprised by Jonathan's
betrayal? Why do you think he turned on Ellen?
7. In reference to her father, Ellen says: "He divided women
into groups . . . the intellectual twins, the woman of the mind and
the one of the heart . . . I had the misfortune to be designated
the heartless one, my mother the mindless one. It was a disservice
to us both but, on balance, I think she got the better deal" (p.
281). Discuss the meanings, and implications, of these
8. Discuss the reactions to Kate's cancer diagnosis, and the
progression of the disease, both within the Gulden family (Kate,
Ellen, George, Brian and Jeff) and in their small town (the
Minnies, etc). Were you surprised by any of the reactions? How and
9. Against Ellen's wishes, Dr. Cohn sends Nurse Teresa Guerrero
to help care for Kate. How does Teresa ﬁt in with the
Gulden family? Do you agree with Ellen, when she thinks that Teresa
helped her as much, if not more, than she helped Kate? How?
10. When Kate died, what did you think happened? Were you
surprised to learn about the morphine overdose? Before you learned
the truth, did you think it was Ellen, George, or Kate who had
administered the lethal dose? Did you ever think it could have been
11. Mrs. Forburg, Ellen's former English teacher, bails Ellen
out of jail and lets her stay at her home during the indictment
media frenzy. Why does Mrs. Forburg take such a risk?
12. Were you surprised by the grand jury's decision? If you
thought Ellen would or would not be indicted, explain why. Do you
think the jury's decision was realistic?
13. At the end of the novel, Ellen sees her father for the
ﬁrst time in eight years. About the death of her mother,
she says, "Someday I will tell my father. Someday soon, I imagine,
although there is great temptation to leave the man I once thought
the smartest person on earth in utter ignorance" (p. 287). Do you
think Ellen will tell her father what happened? Why or why not?
Would you, if you were in her shoes?