On A Night Like This
by Ellen Sussman
Luke Bellingham gets a List of Lost Souls-the kids from his high school class who have dropped out of sight-and calls a girl who has haunted his memory for twenty-five years, a girl he barely knew...
On A Night Like This
Blair Clemens is a struggling single mother with a teenage daughter, a job as a chef, and a tragic secret that will test all of her emotional resources. Luke Bellingham has fulfilled his early promise and is one the country's most acclaimed screenwriters. Luke and Blair haven't laid eyes on each other for decades, but back in the 1960s, they went to the same West Coast high school.
Now, for a class reunion, Luke impulsively contacts a woman who has always intrigued him. And before she knows what hit her, Blair is faced with the decision of her lifetime: what to do when the right man comes along...but at the wrong time.
Introducing a brilliant new voice in American fiction, On A Night Like This shows us something extraordinary about dealing with the hardest things we ever have to face, finding strength we didn't know we had...and discovering that what really matters has no rules, time limits, or end.
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1. In the first scene of the novel, Blair's sexual partner confronts her about sex with strangers and says, "Is this what men do? And you do it better?" (4) How do you feel about Blair's answer, "I'm dying...It's easier this way"? Do you buy her answer that she chooses casual sex because she's dying? Why or why not?
2. What are some ways that Blair copes with her coming death-besides having sex with strangers? What do you think you'd do? How is she preparing her daughter for her death? How would you prepare your loved ones?
3. Luke decides to track down Blair, a "Lost Soul" from his high school. At the time, he thinks, "He never knew Blair. She was a real Lost Soul...No, maybe she was the only one who wasn't lost." (43) What do you think he means? As an adult, is Blair a "Lost Soul?" Or is Luke? Or are both of them? By nature of their youth, would you call most high school students "Lost Souls"? How do most of us stop being "Lost Souls"?
4. Have you gone to a high school reunion? Were there any shockers? Is it more likely that people meet or disappoint our expectations? Have Luke and Blair fulfilled, surpassed, or missed their potential?
5. What's wrong with Luke's marriage? How do you feel about the way his wife left him? In your own experience, do you know of any dramatic ways a wife has left a husband (or vice versa)? Why do you think breakups tend to be accompanied by emotional fireworks and irrational behaviors?
6. What is the dog Sweetpea's role in the story? Why does the author include her? Would the story work without her?
7. Take a look at Blair's relationship with her daughter, Amanda. Do you believe the mother-daughter bond is perhaps life's closest relationship? How would you describe Amanda's reaction to her mother's illness? How else might a teenager react to a parent's serious illness?
8. Why do you think Luke and Blair are so attracted to each other? Is it a relationship that was "meant to be"-or one made more attractive by the impossibility of it lasting?
9. Who is betrayed in this novel and how? Do you believe betrayal is a major theme in the story? Do you think the author is saying that human beings inevitably hurt each other emotionally? Why or why not?
10. Is Blair right to mistrust Luke? How can he gain her trust? Would you believe him capable of attempted rape?
11. Luke says he loves Blair and that he's never been in love before. He says what he had with his wife was "Something else. Something completely different." (234) What was it? Luke also says love doesn't disappear if it's the "real thing" (238). How would you describe "real love" between a man and a woman? Do Blair and Luke have it?
12. Is this novel basically a love story? Besides finding a love relationship, what else is the novel about?
13. Do Blair, Luke, and Amanda change over the course of the story? If so, how is each one different at the end than he or she was at the beginning?
14. One reviewer wrote, "Sussman's San Francisco is moody, lovely and tattered around the edges, like the heroines of her magical debut." Can a place be a character in a novel? If it can, is San Francisco a character in this one?
15. Did the book make you cry? If so, do you feel a good or great book should touch your heart? Or should it make you think? Or does it have to do both?
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"The novel's elegant denouement and Sussman's fluid treatment of tough moments make this a keeper for fans of high-caliber weepies."
"Take a deceived man who thinks he doesn't want to live, and introduce him to a woman who thinks that if she has enough sex she might not have to die, add a good kid and a great dog, a wicked humor, and a clean prose style and you have a novel that's hard not to read in one sitting."
Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness
"On A Night Like This is thoughtful, graceful and poignant, full of tenderness and toughness, blessed by a powerful sense of place, balancing the redemption of love against the terror of illness."
"Ellen Sussman eloquently takes on the twists and turns of real people in complex relationships—mother/daughter, lovers, friends—in this page-turning novel. I couldn't put the book down."
Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River