Bradstreet Gate

A Novel
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A tour de force about three friends affected by a campus murder, for readers of Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, and Jeffrey Eugenides

Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. Moreover, a charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime. Though his guilt or innocence remains uncertain, the unsettling questions raised by the case force the three friends to take a deeper look at their tangled relationship. Their bond has been defined by the secrets they’ve kept from one another—Charlie’s love and Alice’s envy, Georgia’s mysterious affair—and over the course of the next decade, as they grapple with the challenges of adulthood and witness the unraveling of a teacher's once-charmed life, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven.

A relentless, incisive, and keenly intelligent novel about promise, disappointment, and the often tenuous bonds of friendship, Bradstreet Gate is the auspicious debut of a tremendously talented new writer.

Praise

A TIME Magazine Ultimate Summer Read Pick


An Amazon Best Book of the Month


A Barnes and Noble Best Book of the Month

"You can’t help but make comparisons to Donna Tartt’s 1992 classic The Secret History while reading Bradstreet Gate…Keenly observed.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Un-put-downable.”—Good Housekeeping

"[Bradstreet Gate] addresses weighty questions such as: What is the possibility of two unattached people, who might be right for each other, to overcome the consequences of a betrayal by one of them? ... It is clear from the novel: None of that is easy."—Washington Post

“Like so many successful crime stories, a slow build is necessary for a worthwhile payoff — and Bradstreet Gate delivers both.”—NY Daily News

“A unique experience, and the pleasure in it stems from Kirman’s ability to keep a reader guessing long after the final page is turned.”—The Free Lance-Star

"Bradstreet Gate draws its readers in with a bang and holds on with a death grip.... Robin Kirman’s impressive debut novel will turn you introspective and leave you looking back at the roads you took, wondering if you chose well."—Bookreporter.com

"Robin Kirman has given us a wonderfully written, engaging debut that strips away the notion of Ivy League perfection, reminding us that in the end, we are all flawed."—Everyday Ebook

“Kirman is a gorgeous storyteller…There is no need to compare [her] to other writers of note. She is a remarkable talent with the ability to animate her characters, integrate them into a complicated plot, and leave the reader struggling with moral ambiguities and emotional fissures that define human behavior at its best and worst.”—Curled Up With a Good Book

"A complex and sophisticated character study"—Shelf Awareness

"Though correlations to Donna Tartt's classic The Secret History seem inevitable, Kirman's complex, serpentine yarn has teeth of its own, and it will find a welcome home in many beach bags this summer."—Publishers Weekly

“A sophisticated character portrait...A gripping read that shows the dark side of ambition."Booklist 

"Kirman’s psychological study of the lingering effects of tragedy on her characters over time engages from start to finish."BookPage

"A scandal with a shiny tabloid surface — murder on an elite college campus — haunts the friends and enemies of the victim and her accused, as they struggle to adjust to adulthood outside the university gates. Robin Kirman captures the moral hazards of assessing guilt and determining punishment in her intelligent, compulsively readable debut.”– Jonathan Dee, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Privileges

“I dare you to put Bradstreet Gate down once you’ve started it. Smart, sly, and compulsively readable, Robin Kirman’s brilliant debut not only heralds the start of an auspicious career, it shows that Kirman -- whose writing calls to mind Donna Tartt -- has already arrived.”– Molly Antopol, National Book Award longlisted author of The UnAmericans

"Bradstreet Gate is an unputdownable page-turner. With confident wit and sterling prose, Robin Kirman delivers an inspired takedown of the poisonous Ivy League. Inside the privileged world of Bradstreet Gate, youthful friendships are threatened by the seductive power of adult desires. As Kirman's characters question their loyalties, we are left to wonder who among them is worth loving, who is worth suffering for and who will ultimately survive the fallout from a brutal scandal.Bradstreet Gate is a deeply satisfying read and Robin Kirman is a writer of true promise."– Amber Dermont, New York Times bestselling author of The Starboard Sea

"A deftly-plotted, unputdownable exploration into ambition's darker side."–Courtney Maum, author of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You

"Robin Kirman's eye for detail is as thrilling as her gifts for plot and suspense.  An exciting debut from a prodigious talent."– Elisa Albert, author of After Birth

"In a novel as compelling as it is complex, as sexy as it is smart, Robin Kirman strikes straight at life's most important questions—of guilt and forgiveness, the responsibility we have to others—and brings to life one of fiction’s great characters, a man whose peculiar allure is so precisely drawn that I found myself drawn to him as powerfully as the students whose lives he forever alters, as powerfully as I was to this stunning book that is sure to leave you altered, too.”—Josh Weil, author of The Great Glass Sea

“A spectacular debut. With the murder at its center that spills into the most cloistered corners of scholastic life, I was reminded of Donna Tartt's The Secret History--but with the swiftly moving, intricate plot of Gone Girl. Like many of the characters in this wonderful novel, I struggled with myself: I wanted both to race through its pages and to linger over every lush sentence and trenchant insight. Bradstreet Gate is entrancing, and it announces the arrival of a tremendous new literary talent.” –Alena Graedon, author of The Word Exchange

“If John Le Carré and Edith Wharton had a 21st Century literary lovechild, it might look something like this dazzling novel. With the pacing of a thriller, and lit up with insight into manners, class and the messy workings of the social world of the privileged, Bradstreet Gate is a compelling and hugely confident debut. While an unsolved campus murder marks the coming to maturity of the three central characters, the true mystery Robin Kirman explores is that of other people--even those closest to us-- and their fundamental unknowableness. I raced through these pages, but once I was done, I couldn't stop thinking about them." –Maggie Pouncey, author of Perfect Reader

“Searing…The way Bradstreet Gate dances between its various characters’ fears, ambitions, struggles and shameful secrets is stunning. Young love, friendship, rivalry, lust for excitement, illicit sex and power—and how very thin the line is between love and hate—have never been drawn so compellingly. Kirman illuminates beautifully how decent intentions and buried desires can lead us astray, painting with devastating detail a painfully uneven friendship, rendering heartbreak convincingly. And yet there is pathos here. The friendships these Ivy Leaguers form contain real empathy and electric attraction, as well as envy and resentment.  Kirman masterfully illustrates how it is our failure to fully understand one another’s fears and failings that can ultimately rupture even the tightest of bonds.”–Rebecca Curtis, author of Twenty Grand: And Other Tales of Love and Money 

Excerpt

She could sense the officers’ thrill at her arrival: heads were raised, pens lowered, even the phones seemed to have stopped ringing as Georgia crossed the station floor, beaded boots jangling, between the rows of interlocking cubicles where men in plainclothes sat in front of leaning stacks of files.

An older officer stepped forward to greet her: early fifties, graying, with fleshy, pockmarked cheeks; a high potbelly strained the buttons of his short-sleeved, collared shirt. Joe Lombardi, he reminded her; they’d spoken on the phone that morning, when he’d called to ask her to come in.

She followed him to a room set off from the main office: dusty blinds blocked the view inside; the desk was cluttered with papers, dirty coffee mugs, and take-out containers. Lombardi pulled out a chair for her, apologizing for the state of the place and for his own appearance: he was unshaven; his clothes were wrinkled.

“No one’s slept much lately. I’m guessing you haven’t either.”

He wanted to get her on his side; she could see that, even before he offered his sympathy for what she must be going through: a girl in her position ought to be preparing for exams, looking forward to graduation. “We’re all very grateful you’ve agreed to talk.”

As long as her statements remained private, Georgia made clear at the outset, while Lombardi was still so mindful of his gratitude. Since Tuesday, Storrow had been featured in every local paper and news program. “You must have a form of some kind. For confidentiality?”

“Form?” Lombardi settled in behind the papers piled on his desk. “I don’t believe we have anything like that. But you have my word. Theresa will vouch for me.” He motioned to a woman standing at the open door; her round, dimpled face looked gentle.

“You thirsty, hungry?” the woman asked her. “If you need anything, just let me know.”

What she needed was assurance that her name wouldn’t appear in the headlines the next day. Already she suspected she’d made a mistake by showing up here without a lawyer. “I really think I’d like more than a spoken promise.”

Lombardi hunched forward, trying for an honest look, doing something complicated with his brows. “You’re not the issue, Miss Calvin-- no one cares about your affair, whatever went on with that guy.”

Maybe not, though if what she had to say were so inconsequential, she imagined she’d be telling it to one of the more junior officers jammed into cubicles outside. And surely Lombardi wouldn’t be taking so much time to reassure her if he believed her statements would accomplish what she hoped: to clear Storrow of suspicion.

Lombardi nodded to the kind-looking woman, who left the room, shutting the door behind her.

He paused to open a desk drawer and pull out a tape recorder. “Probably you think Storrow wouldn’t approve.”

She disliked this reference to approval and what it implied: a young girl in thrall to an older man. “Why wouldn’t he? I don’t have anything negative to say.”

Lombardi smiled. “Good. I’ve been wondering when someone would stick up for that guy.”

Of course this officer must be trying to unnerve her, Georgia thought: she couldn’t really be the only person to come to Storrow’s defense. Though it was true that on the news the night before, among all those students interviewed, no one had shouted at the cameras that what was happening was crazy, that the man they knew as a committed housemaster and professor could not possibly have done this awful thing. Instead she’d watched them, kids she’d seen around campus, in lecture halls and parties, relating their impressions of Storrow as “frosty” and “strange.”

Where were the students who’d flocked to Storrow’s classes or to the meals he’d hosted at the master’s residence? Where was Charlie? If anyone ought to be on Storrow’s side, Charlie should. Silently she’d observed the influence the professor had been having on her friend: the gingham plaid that Charlie decked himself out in now, those gestures he’d adopted--whistling as he walked, the rousing claps, and those Storrowisms--that there’s the max . . . bone up, spoon up, tie up . . . what’s the skinny? Such fidelity to the man’s style should imply a deeper loyalty--enough to withstand even news of Storrow’s affair with her.

They’d lied to Charlie, yes; but that didn’t make Storrow a monster any more than it made her one.

Lombardi turned on the tape recorder and announced the date: “Friday, May ninth, nineteen ninety-seven.” For the record, he asked Georgia to provide her name and address.

“Mather House, 10 Cowperthwaite Street.”

“Any roommates?”

“I have a single.” Though she supposed she ought to mention Alice: “A friend had been staying with me recently. Alice Kovac. But you’ve already spoken with her, haven’t you?”

Lombardi faced her, deadpan: clearly information was meant to flow only one way.

“She must be the one who tipped you off about me.”

“Why? She was aware of your relationship with Storrow?”

“I never told her what he was.”

“Your boyfriend, you mean.”

Boyfriend. Language adopted for her sake: the sort of naive designation Lombardi would expect from a young girl. “Nothing so conventional. Given our respective positions.”

“Student and master?” Lombardi’s lips twitched.

“Storrow was not my master, no.”

She studied the officer from across the desk. Not much older than Storrow, she guessed, but his face was bloated and creased; his breathing was heavy and he smelled of stale coffee and rank sweat, whereas Storrow--you could tell even from the pictures they’d run in the Globe--smelled of aftershave and fresh linen and strong health. A man who was meticulous in his habits and hygiene, who treated himself with care that suggested both optimism and self-importance. If Storrow could inspire jealousy even in his most privileged students, what sort of ire would he arouse in a man like this?

Lombardi was studying her, too. Her hair was wild--she’d neglected to brush it--and she wore the same cutoffs and peasant blouse she’d worn the past two days. Despite the recent strain, still she looked like herself, like what she was: the precocious, overindulged daughter of an artist.

“I’m curious, Miss Calvin. You mentioned your relations with Storrow weren’t normal--”

“--Conventional was the word I think I used. And I don’t consider that a bad thing.”

“Nothing that bothered you?”

“Nope.”

“Come on now.” Lombardi smirked. “With women, there’s always something.”

There were no pictures on his desk, no smiling children or pretty wife. Possibly officers didn’t risk displaying personal items, but she couldn’t imagine, anyway, that such a man had acquired more in his romantic life than an embittered ex or two and maybe an angry, dispersed litter.

“Any difficulties we had were a result of circumstances.”

“That you had to keep your affair hidden.”

“Yes.”

“And would you say Storrow was good at it? Hiding and pretending?”

“Apparently not good enough.”

Lombardi laughed; his pen tapped, skipping, against the desk. “Good enough to hide something from you?”

“He wasn’t sleeping with Julie Patel, if that’s what you’re getting at. She was his student: plain and simple.”

“Maybe not so simple.”

He was referring, she supposed, to the one weak motive ascribed to Storrow: Julie Patel had complained about him, repeatedly and publicly, taking offense at statements he’d made during his lectures. “Whatever their argument, he didn’t get into that with me. But you’ve got Julie wrong if you think she’d sleep with her professor.”

“So you knew Julie Patel then?”

“Not really. We were classmates, obviously. Sophmore year I started volunteering with her program, but it didn’t work out.” She’d had the chance to observe Julie closely only once: her practical, contained manner--hair done in a girlish braid and those dowdy clothes that didn’t quite conceal the womanly body beneath them. For half an hour, one single afternoon, they’d sat alone in a room in Phillips Brooks House, the student community service organization, so that Julie could explain Georgia’s unfitness for work with troubled kids: How you dress, even your laugh--I’m not saying it’s inappropriate in general; I’m not making a judgment or anything. “We were different types, is my point. So nothing that went on in my case would be relevant.”

“That may be. But I can’t be sure until I know what went on in your case.”

Lombardi’s voice was low, falsely solemn, as if he meant to conceal from her the pleasure he was taking in this meeting, his readiness to hear from her a tale of abuse and depravity, to confirm the narrative already being composed round the clock, inside these rooms, among these officers, and with assistance from the press, to bring down a man whom his men instinctively disliked, just because Storrow had a striking resume behind him and a bright career ahead of him and because he’d enjoyed the attentions of a young woman like her.

Lombardi and the rest might pretend they were above such temptations, but she didn’t buy it. How many of the officers here would have resisted her the way Storrow had initially?

“He never pressured me. He actively tried to avoid me, if you really want to know.” The tape recorder sat beside her, reels turning.

How odd it was: for four months she’d kept her secret, though she’d wanted, often, to confess, to share even one small, salacious detail. There were times she’d told herself the story of her affair, narrating it in her head, merely for the satisfaction of recounting the tale. But in all her fantasies--of telling Alice, or Charlie, or her father, or even a complete stranger--never had she pictured a first audience like this man across the desk.

One unseasonably warm October afternoon, she’d gone for a late-morning run along the Charles River with Alice; the pair of them had returned to campus starving and without cash, so Alice had suggested they stop at the Adams House dining hall to pocket whatever she could gather for their lunch. Alice had been a resident of Adams sophomore year, but had since moved out and skipped the meal plan. Georgia proposed they double back to her dining hall at Mather House, but Alice had no qualms about stealing, least of all from a university as well endowed as Harvard.

The pair easily followed a group in through C-entry and Georgia waited, stretching her legs, inside the dark, wood-paneled hall, while Alice went ahead to the dining room. Just as Alice was returning, booty hidden in her bag, a man entered behind them: midforties, with a wiry, athletic build. His hair was red and brushed back off a high forehead; his skin was softly freckled, his features refined: a long jaw and sharp chin, fine light brows above green eyes. He was carrying a squash racquet and dressed in tennis whites--pressed shorts and a gleaming polo. Like a vision of Harvard past he came striding between the slouching jocks in sweats and the alternative scenesters sporting stringy hair and Salvation Army flannel.

“Jasmine, Pam, Shawn . . . afternoon . . . afternoon.” He spoke slowly, with a slight twang, addressing each student he passed by name. “Alice, nice surprise seeing you here.”

As soon as he’d moved out of earshot, Alice turned to Georgia, cursing at the closeness of the call: “I was sure he was going to fucking search me.”

The man (Sterling or Stern, something like that) was the new interim housemaster of Adams: a lecturer in both the Law School and the History Department, he was someone who’d aroused enough speculation that even Alice, who never set foot in Adams, except to pinch a fat-free yogurt or green apple, had heard talk about him among the students: West Point, JAG Corps--rule freak of the first rank.

They’d left it there, though Georgia remained curious: the man had struck her as both bizarre and somehow familiar. Was it possible she’d seen him before? Though if she had, hard to believe she’d have forgotten.

It was only after she and Alice had dispensed with their light lunch and parted ways that Georgia managed to place Storrow at last. He’d made less of an impression stripped of his preppy outfits, striking red hair tucked inside a swimming cap, merely one among the thin crowd of swimmers she’d seen often at the Malkin Athletic Center.

“The practice pool,” she told Lombardi, “was where I first noticed him.”

He was attractive: lean and handsome, in an anodyne way, though his body looked ghostly white inside the water and she found those pale brows of his unnerving; they made his gaze seem both blank and much too bold.

Each morning he stepped in from the changing room, goggles dangling from his grasp, dressed in flip-flops, white swimming cap, and matching white trunks. He kept to himself, likely choosing early hours, as Georgia did, to avoid the crowds. For forty minutes Storrow performed laps, crawl then butterfly, always the same routine. A man of routine generally, it seemed: he was there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at exactly eight a.m.

“Did it occur to you,” Lombardi asked, “that his swimming when you did might not have been coincidental?”

“There were five or six others always there at the same time. Habits form, it’s like that.”

Not really true: she had wondered, feeling Storrow’s eyes on her, whether their schedules had conjoined purely by accident. If she hadn’t shared the same inkling as Lombardi, she’d probably never have been as forward with Storrow as she’d been.

“And when did he first approach you?”

“He didn’t. I spoke first. Standard chitchat. Compliments on swimming. We didn’t say much.” There wasn’t opportunity for long conversation while dripping at the side of the pool. During their most sustained exchange, they’d spoken about racing and she’d explained her lack of interest: when something is pure pleasure, why would you want to rush it? “Small provocations. To test his courage, I guess.”

“And what was the result?”

“He disappeared.”

Several weeks before Christmas, Storrow had stopped showing up at the pool: she hadn’t given it much thought--too preoccupied with finals, and arrangements for winter break.

“So when did you next see him?”

“Just before vacation.” He’d simply shown up again one morning, already in the water when she entered to do her laps. On the walk back to the locker room, she’d heard whistling behind her.

“He followed you?”

“Only to wish me a good holiday. And then I guess it must have come up that neither of us was going home. I mentioned I was staying with an old friend in New York.” A solitary New York Christmas was preferable, she’d decided, to one in Mexico with her dad and whichever latest girlfriend was hanging off him. Her mother’s invitation was no more tempting: two weeks at home with stepdad William, where she’d be subject to constant questions about her plans--or lack of plans--following graduation.

“So you led Storrow to believe you’d be on your own--and available,” Lombardi said.

Reader's Guide

1.  The first two chapters of the novel depict Georgia at a ten-year interval. In chapter one, Georgia imagines the past year has done ‟the transformative work of a decade.” Do you agree that Georgia is much changed between the two chapters? In what respects?  How is her reaction to Nat Krauss’s questioning like or unlike hers to Officer Lombardi’s?  Why do you suppose the author chose to begin the novel this way: with the reporter’s arrival, and the unpleasant reminder of a murder ten years in the past?

2. Before Georgia confesses the history of her affair with Storrow (or part of it) to Officer Lombardi, she has never shared those events with anyone before. How does the act of describing her relationship seem to alter her ideas about it? When Georgia is afraid that Lombardi will form a different impression of her and Storrow than she intends, what do you imagine she fears he might think? In your view, is her affair with Storrow merely unconventional, as she claims, or something worse? Why do you think Georgia becomes sexually involved with a man she often seems to dislike?

3. In chapters 1 and 2, Georgia maintains that much of the suspicion aimed at Storrow has to do with others’ envious and negative feelings toward him—with who the man is, rather than with what he has or has not done. As you read forward, consider what it is that Storrow represents to those around him and what it is about him that elicits such strong reactions.  What do the differing reactions to Storrow reveal about the novel’s main characters (Georgia, Charlie, Alice, Julie)? How do their feelings for him reflect upon their histories, their relationships with other men in their lives, their ideas about authority, and their fears and fantasies? Who, in your view, seems to understand Storrow most truly or fully?

4. From a very early age, Charlie Flournoy thinks of himself as having been born on the margins of power. How does this understanding inform the choices he makes as a young man? What in Charlie’s background accounts for the most potent fantasies of his youth: about Harvard generally and about Georgia and Storrow in particular?  Do you find Charlie’s romantic view unique to him or representative of a larger cultural fascination with the campus and its most glamorous inhabitants?
Reading forward, consider which of these fantasies is destroyed or transformed by revelations about Georgia’s affair and Julie’s murder, and what part of them survives into Charlie’s post-collegiate life.

5. ‟Master language, master fate.” Alice’s childhood imparts upon her a lesson about the power of language. In what ways does the young Alice attempt to use language, and the written word, as a means of attaining control over others’ fates and hers?  What are the consequences of her behavior?  Do you find Alice’s choice to reveal Georgia’s affair as reprehensible as most of her classmates do?  In what ways might Alice’s example stand for the larger treatment of the murder in the media?  Or as a point of comparison for the author’s decisions about how to tell the story?

As you continue reading to the end, consider how Alice’s view about the role and responsibilities of the writer changes in the course of the novel.

6. Why do you think the author chose to have Alice and Georgia meet in a class on ‟the female icon in contemporary art” and have their first argument, and first real connection, take place over a discussion of a woman’s self-portraits? What does it mean that Alice first sees Georgia in a photograph and thinks of her, from afar, as an object of fantasy?  When Georgia imagines Alice’s attachment to her is often painful because it’s so strong, do you think she is right to believe this or naive?  How would you describe their bond, and would you define it as a friendship or not?

7. In chapter 5, Alice and Georgia are speaking about friendship and sexual attraction when Alice experiences ‟a fierce and clarifying anger” —what do you think this anger is about?  When, at the end of the chapter, Alice blames Georgia for her breakdown, why do you think she does this?  What do you believe to be the cause of Alice’s mental collapse during school? How are the causes the same or different than they are during her violent episode and breakdown in New York?
When Alice chooses to expose Georgia’s affair, do you think she acts out of this anger or for another reason?

8. The protagonists’ final months at Harvard are marked by a series of betrayals.  Do you feel that these actions speak to a fundamental disloyalty among the friends, or to the faults of youth, or to the force of events out of their control? As you read on, consider why it is that Georgia, Charlie, and Alice remain in contact in the intermittent and ambivalent ways they do.  Why do you suppose they still need one another and need to escape one another, too?  What would you say about the strength or weaknesses of their connections when they set off from Harvard and, later, by the novel’s end?

9. In chapter 11 Charlie asks: ‟If Julie was the soul of Harvard, what, then, was Storrow?” In which ways are the two characters, Julie Patel and Rufus Storrow, representative of an evolving idea of Harvard?  How might this fact, if true, be connected to their conflict? Does the tension between them (real and/or imagined) reflect upon changes in society in general?

10. Charlie, Alice, and Georgia are all in some way affected by the events of 9/11. Consider their various responses, and how, in each case, this reflects upon their natures.

11. During Georgia’s meeting with Storrow in Mumbai, he speaks of his time in India as a kind of penance.  Do you believe this to be true in his case? Or in Georgia’s? In what ways might Georgia’s move to India be motivated by guilt, and in what ways consistent with tendencies of her character displayed before the murder?  How does Georgia’s time in India, including her conversation with Storrow, affect her sense about the past or alter her future course?  How does Mumbai mirror or contrast the society she’s left behind?

12. Before her second breakdown, Alice tells her ex-boyfriend Nick: ‟What if you and all these other assholes and this whole bullshit spectacle have been arranged merely for the purpose of my redemption.”  As you follow Alice’s progress through the latter sections of the book, consider whether you believe the events of the novel function in this way: Is Alice on a journey toward salvation, or is she merely scrambling to survive her disabilities? When Alice visits the Patels, why do you imagine she goes? Is it an act of remorse or selfish impulse? What of her decision to help establish a foundation in Julie’s name?

13. When Charlie encounters Storrow in D.C., he concludes that the man is trying to reinvent himself according to a more updated model.  What do you make of the particular changes Storrow is effecting: his new physical appearance, his Indian family, his cynicism about Charlie’s government partners?  What understanding about the causes of his downfall, or his chances to rise again, do they seem to suggest?  How does the ‟reincarnated” Storrow change your perceptions of the man as presented earlier, and how, if at all, does Storrow’s later behavior affect your sense about his innocence or guilt?

14. In chapter 24, Alice returns to the idea that language is power, and, in the context of her own servitude to the Friedlanders, concludes that language has less force than money.  Is this a reversal of her earlier beliefs or a consistent view? What ideas about power do the other main characters possess and how do they compare to hers?  Who do you believe possesses power in the story—of what sort, and how lastingly? What ideas about the nature of power, in general, does the novel suggest?

15. On the ferry ride to the memorial ceremony, Charlie reflects upon memory and the passage of time.  Ten years after the murder, how have each of the characters attempted to engage with, or escape, their pasts?  Who seems to you to have achieved the broadest or sharpest understanding of the events of the book, and who seems best poised to move forward living happily and well?  Is it fair to say that any of the characters have been redeemed, or are their positions at the end of the story, morally and practically, still fundamentally unsettled?

16. Storrow is a deliberately evasive character: in many ways the least graspable in the novel. What in Storrow’s various stories about himself seems most suspect to you, and where do you feel he speaks or reveals the truth?  Does hearing of his history in Flynn’s report make him more comprehensible or alter your feelings about him?  What of the revelations Alice offers of their encounters at Harvard? Or the final account of Storrow’s disappearance? How do you make sense of the many questions surrounding Storrow by the novel’s end?

17. If, as Alice imagines in the final chapter, Charlie and Georgia are to make a try at a romantic relationship at last, why do you imagine this happens now? What stood in the way of their loving each other before, and what, if anything has changed to improve their prospects? Do you agree with Charlie’s assessment that what he loves can’t be Georgia but the reminder she offers him of his younger self?  Or do you take their reunion to be a hopeful statement about the possibility of forgiveness and of second chances?

18. The ending of the book leaves the question of Storrow’s role in the murder unresolved: How does this ambiguity reflect on other themes and questions raised in the novel? What meaning does Julie Patel’s death take on for you, given that the reader never discovers precisely what happened?  What might be some of the reasons for choosing to end the novel as the author does: from Alice’s perspective, and with reference to legal and divine judgment and the uncertainty of innocence?