1. Smallwood describes Dorothy’s miscarriage viscerally, with all the blood, gore, and tears it entails. Why do you think she chose to present it this way? How was it different than (or similar to) the way you’ve seen miscarriages spoken or written about in the past?

2. Describe Dorothy’s relationship with her mother and her feelings about her mother’s relationship with Rachel. What does Dorothy need from her mother that she’s not getting? What does Dorothy’s mother need from her?

3. “Dorothy was beyond wants,” Smallwood writes. “She had wanted for so long—wanted tenure, wanted success, wanted stability, wanted recognition—and was only just coming to the realization that abandoning want was the only form of sanity available to her.” Do you think moving “beyond wants” is the same thing as giving up? Why or why not? By the end of the book, how has Dorothy come to terms with some of her various wants? Has she given any up? Have any gotten stronger?

4. Why do you think Dorothy has two therapists? How does this reflect her indecision in other aspects of her life?  

5. Why does Dorothy ask for a printout of her sonogram? Why do you think we sometimes need physical or photographic evidence of something? Is this a modern phenomenon, or do you think people have always been like this?

6. “Dorothy was at an age where choices had revealed themselves as errors,” Smallwood writes. “For Rachel, life’s tragedies still had a premature, anticipated quality; they were romantic.” Discuss this idea. Do you feel more like a Dorothy or a Rachel in this regard?

7. Later, when dining with Elyse, Dorothy thinks that “divorce was also a kind of glory. It announced that you had loved and been consumed in the flame, that you had lived; it made you serious and deep.” Discuss the possibility that Dorothy romanticizes Elyse’s divorce in the same way that she accuses Rachel of romanticizing life’s tragedies. Why are we so tempted to see other peoples’ lives as great dramas? Do you think people ever outgrow this?

8. Describe and dissect Dorothy’s relationship with Judith. How does it compare to her relationship with her other academic colleagues? How does it compare to her relationship with her mother? What does Judith represent for Dorothy?

9. Earlier in the novel, Smallwood writes that Dorothy “had never really learned to lie, but she aspired to; liars had such a strong sense of self.” Later, she successfully lies to Gaby about her miscarriage. Did you see this lie as progress for Dorothy’s character, or as a regression? Why do you think she lied?

10. “She didn’t want to lie,” Smallwood writes, “but she didn’t want to have to give her everything just because she was her friend.” Do you think we have an obligation to share our lives with our friends? Do you think you can have a full friendship with someone while hiding certain truths? What aspects of our lives should we be allowed to keep to ourselves?
Christine Smallwood’s fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, n+1, and Vice. Her reviews, essays, and cultural reporting have been published in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Bookforum, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine, where she is a contributing writer. She has also written the “New B...
Title:The Life Of The Mind: A Novel
Product dimensions:240 pages, 8.52 X 5.77 X 0.84 in
Shipping dimensions:240 pages, 8.52 X 5.77 X 0.84 in
Published:March 2, 2021
Publisher:Random House Publishing Group
Appropriate for ages:All ages
ISBN - 13:9780593229897

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