READING GROUP GUIDE Summary
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A senior editor at a top women's magazine, Sarah Larkin's life is turned upside down when one August morning the police call to tell her that her husband of ten years has vanished. A noted sculptor, Todd Larkin went swimming at midnight off the coast of Florida and was not seen again. Sarah is sent spinning into a world of uncertainty, hope, and fear. At first, it seems inconceivable that the police will not find him, dead or alive. She wonders what to tell her six-year-old daughter, Eliza. Theories abound: Was it accidental? Did he leave to start a new life someplace else? Was it suicide? Foul play? Sarah, with the help of the police, coast guard, and a private eye, tries to discover what happened.
Set in the high-powered world of magazines, the novel is filled with details that only a true insider with access at a senior level could know. Sarah moves through that competitive, often outlandish landscape, trying to balance its demands with motherhood as she struggles with the mystery of her husband's disappearance.
In the end, Waiting to Surface
is the story of coming to terms with loss, learning to live in a world without answers, and trying to treasure love once more. Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Although the story is based on real-life events, the author writes the book in the third person. Why do you think she chose to do this? What does this voice allow her to do as a storyteller?
2. Discuss how the author uses pacing throughout the story. When does she speed up her narrative and when does she slow down? What effect does this have on the plot and character development?
3. Shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, acceptance, and hope make up what many psychiatrists call the stages of grief. Discuss if and how Sarah goes through these stages. Which lasts the longest? How do the circumstances of her loss affect her expression of grief?
4. The author writes, "People offer up fragments of themselves to friends, spouses, lovers, leaving each person to create the remaining whole according to what they have in hand" (p. 37). Do you think this is true? Discuss the different pieces of Todd that Sarah discovers throughout the book. What can we piece together about Sarah?
5. At one point Sarah remembers an argument she once had with Todd (p. 48). "'This is who I am,' he lashed out. 'You knew that when you married me.' 'Things change,' Sarah said. 'We have a child.'" Is one of them right and one of them wrong? Talk about Sarah's and Todd's individual propensity toward change and how it affects them, as both people and parents, and their relationship.
6. Harry DeVeres, a friend of Todd, calls Sarah and talks about how he tried to help Todd with his alcoholism (p. 107). How does Todd's death connect, reconnect, or disconnect the many people who are in his life? What is the most important connection that Sarah makes through Todd's death?
7. The author scatters many of Sarah's memories of Todd throughout the story, some good and some bad. Is there any pattern to the memories?
8. On page 124 a body washes to shore at Lake Kissemmee, forty miles north of Loudon Beach. What is Sarah's reaction? How might the book have been different if the body had indeed been Todd's?
9. Discuss Eliza's character. Does she go through the same stages of grief as her mother? How do her moods change as the story progresses? Is Dr. Gerard effective in helping her deal with the stress of losing her father?
10. Sarah is a senior editor for a prominent woman's magazine. How does the shock of Todd's disappearance affect her professionally? Is work a solace for her or something that causes her more anguish and grief?
11. Discuss the politics at Sarah's office. How do they affect her developing career and how she copes with Todd's disappearance?
12. The police and coast guard both play integral roles in the investigation. Which policeman is more trustworthy, Karl Medford or Detective Brook? As a reader, does how you view each of them change as the story progresses?
13. "He drowned," Sarah says to a group of other mothers at school (p. 171). Is this the moment when Sarah first publicly acknowledges that Todd has truly died? When is the moment when she privately realizes that Todd is, for certain, not coming back?
14. "Sarah was allowed to kiss Eliza again, and slowly she began to respond, not always, not fully, but often enough to offer hope" (p. 224). Discuss the concept of love and the concept of anger as they appear in the book. Do they ever intersect? Did Eliza's young concept of love or of anger change?
15. What are the defining characteristics of Todd and of Tim? How are they alike? How are they different? Who is a better fit for Sarah? Why?
16. Waiting To Surface
provides readers with a character who suffers extreme emotional turmoil over the course of the book. How does Sarah change from the beginning of the story to the end? Or doesn't she? Enhance Your Reading Group
1. Visit the Museum of Modern Art (http://www.moma.org) or a Chelsea art gallery (http://chelseaartgalleries.com) to see sculpture like that Todd might have made, or go to http://websearch.about.com/od/dailywebsearchtips/qt/dnt0608.htm to find a listing of websites for museums nationwide.
2. To visit or learn more about the Florida coastline, visit http://www.visitflorida.com.
3. The National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA) is a division of Nation's Missing Children Organization, Inc. (NMCO), a nonprofit organization working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs. Information about the agency can be found online at http://www.theyaremissed.org/ncma/.