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Book Club Questions
- The book’s title, YOU MAY SEE A STRANGER, resonates in a number of ways. It might refer to Miranda as a stranger to herself, or relatively unknown to others in her life. It might refer to her inability to know others, or the general inability to know anyone, really. It might also refer to you, the reader, as a literal stranger, seeing Miranda’s life as an outsider but with unusual access to her thoughts. What are your thoughts on the title, what it means to you, and its effect on your understanding of the book?
- In the first story, “Driver’s Education,” Mr. White, the teacher, emphasizes judgment as something that develops over time. He tells the students that they’ll have to listen to him until they’re capable/mature enough to develop good judgment. But “judgment” has other meanings as well. What kinds of judgment are on display throughout these stories? What happens to Miranda’s judgment as she matures—both her “sense” and the way she judges others?
- Most of these stories are set in Washington, DC. There are some real places mentioned, while others are fictional. In some stories, like “Dubrovnik 1989” and “Bad Side In,” the setting is specifically identified, and the events in those stories are directly related to the fact that they take place in DC. Many people think of Washington, DC, as a place focused on politics and government, full of ambitious people, but these stories present a different picture of the city’s residents. What role does the setting play in these stories? How does the setting affect your view of Miranda? What are your views about Washington, DC, and the people who live there, from what you know or have heard? What effect, if any, did these stories have on the way you think about DC and its residents?
- The story “Bad Side In” attempts to capture the sense of unease and anxiety in the wake of terrorist attacks, and during a frightening murder spree. How do Miranda’s anxiety and her worry for her children seem in line with the common concerns of the time? If these events occurred now, with the increased incidence of mass shootings and other types of attacks, how do you think her reaction might be different?
- Miranda has a complicated relationship with her sister, and that relationship has an impact on her life in different ways at different times. How does Miranda’s relationship with her sister alter her course or life decisions over time? How does your opinion of Miranda shift based on her attitude toward her sister or the events that occur midway through the book?
- Marriage is tough, but Miranda’s marriage seems complicated from the start. Do you get the sense that she made the wrong decision, or perhaps the right decision but for the wrong reasons? Why? What do you predict will happen with Miranda and Devin after the end of this book?
- Miranda often makes bad decisions and can’t help looking back with regret or longing at the “bad” boys she’s left behind. Do we all repeat our mistakes, like history? If Miranda were your friend, how would you advise her at these various crossroads? What do you think about her decisions?
- How are music and movies used in the book? What does Miranda seem to learn from movies? Is her “education” flawed? Why?
- Discuss the theme of loss as it applies to loss of people, of love, of innocence, and any other types of loss that occur in the book. What other themes run throughout many of these stories?
- Discuss the various instances of deception and self-deception portrayed in these stories.
- How does the cover image of the woman turning away reflect events or themes in these stories?
- There are at least three occasions when birds appear in the book. What meaning might you attach to the birds in each story, and what might they indicate about Miranda’s life?
- The stories in the book begin with Miranda at age 15 and cover a span of almost 40 years. There are time gaps between some of the stories, and yet taken together, they are novelistic in nature. What are your thoughts on the choices made by the author regarding where and when to touch down in Miranda’s life? What do you predict might be next for Miranda, as she ages?
- What if the author had decided instead to write a novel covering the same time-span in Miranda’s life? What would be the advantages? The disadvantages? How do the connections among the stories make for a deeper portrait than you might get if you read them separately?
- Some of these stories may have more weight than others in helping readers understand Miranda and the choices she makes. Which stories stood out for you in that way? Why?
- Miranda takes a lot of controversial actions in the course of these stories. Was there any point at which you lost sympathy with her? Why? Did your reaction change as you read on? Why?
- Miranda carried the memory of certain traumas and heart-rending decisions with her for many years. Did the events in the last story, “Just Sex,” help to explain some of Miranda’s earlier behavior? Did you see her character, or the character in that story who reappears from earlier in the book, any differently after reading that story? Why, or why not?
- If you were to go back and re-read the first story, “Driver’s Education,” after reading the final story, knowing what is to come for Miranda—what in that first story would resonate differently? What further understanding would you have of Miranda’s life? What predictions are made in the first story, and which ones come true? Are there any that don’t come true? Why?