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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


1. How do the structure and multiple points of view in the story enhance the atmosphere of anxiety and apprehension? Discuss the exquisite way in which the author builds tension, by accelerating and slowing down the pace of the narrative.

2. Rachel is virtually a fatherless child. How does that fact affect the way she relates to Ron?

3. What has Mika’s presence taught Rachel about men? Is he a father figure? What are his feelings toward Rachel?

4. How do Ron and Nancy’s motives for keeping Rachel differ? How much does Nancy understand Ron? How does her desperation to avoid being alone contribute to her behavior. Discuss Nancy’s reaction to the situation.

5. What role does ‘beauty’ play in the novel?

6. Discuss Rachel’s relationship with her mother. Is Celia a bad mother? Did she neglect or fail to protect her daughter? How has being a single mother produced a nine-year old girl who is a curious mixture of maturity and innocence? Why does Celia feel a selfishness regarding her love for her daughter?

7. Discuss the title – ‘Helpless’ – and to what and who it refers in the novel. Note Nancy’s description of ‘helpless fury’ (p. 133).

8. How much does Rachel understand about the danger of her situation? Does that change as the days pass? When Rachel leaves the house while Ron is distracted, why doesn’t she go for help?

9. What is the significance of the day Ron chooses to kidnap Rachel (his birthday, the anniversary of his mother’s death…)

10. Most of the characters are victims of some abuse. How has this brought them together? Many of them feel guilty; discuss each one and what the source of that guilt might be.

11. Ron thinks of his act as an ‘immaculate abduction.’ Discuss this term. At what point and why does Ron begin to feel he wants to take credit and let the public know what he has accomplished?

12. What are the final choices made by each character and how does that affect the outcome of the novel. Was this the expected resolution? How else might Gowdy have concluded her novel?

by Barbara Gowdy

  • Publication Date: March 20, 2007
  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books
  • ISBN-10: 0805082883
  • ISBN-13: 9780805082883