1. Tess’s mother haunts Tess, and trying to come to terms with her mother’s inexplicable suicide is an important motivator of Tess’s desire to understand her family’s past. How did Joanne Parnell’s childhood trauma affect her character, and as a result Tess’s own development? Does it help Tess to find out the truth of her mother’s life and death?
2. Many characters shift between sympathetic and unsympathetic as Tess explores the past from different viewpoints. What do you believe are the true motives behind the fateful decisions of Josephine Chastant, Benjamin Cabrera, Solange Beauvoir, Thérèse Cabrera, Elaine Donovan, Bea Cabrera and Guy Cabrera?
3. Old sins cast long shadows, yet many past crimes and cruelties have gone unpunished. Even if never legally prosecuted or publicly shamed, did some characters pay for their misdeeds in other ways?
4. What were Sam Beauvoir’s true feelings about the Beauvoirs’ relationship with the Cabreras?
5. Tess is attracted to several young men she meets in New Orleans, while still carrying a torch for her ex-boyfriend. Of the romantic potentials (Mac, Jon, Remy, Tony, and Joel) which, if any, do you think would be a good match for Tess? Why? Consider both the self-effacing Tess who comes to New Orleans and the more confident young woman at the end of the book.
6. Who, or what, was the driving passion in Phil Dreux’s life?
7. Many of the characters are flawed, but the society in which they lived also played a part in their mistakes. What are the inequities of race, gender and social background that result in tragedy in the story?
8. Tess relies on her girlfriends for support and downplays her own allure and strength of character as the novel begins. How do you think she has changed at the end?
9. How did Tess try to bring justice to the many victims of her family’s past? Did she succeed?
10. The New Orleans location plays a pivotal role in the book. Could the same story be placed elsewhere? Which themes are universal and which draw specifically on the Southern or New Orleans background?
Copyright 2013. Katherine Sharma. All rights reserved.