Book Club Discussion ~ Seeing Julia
(There are spoilers in this discussion ~ please read the book first, before reading this section)
What is Julia referring to in terms of the after? How do her parents’ deaths, then Bobby’s, and now Evan’s, shape her view of the world? Considering all Julia’s losses over the past decade, do you think she’s fairly normal? Or, do you think her past losses define her in some way?
2. From Chapter Two with Julia thinking: “I’ve been here before. I’ve done this before. At sixteen, I buried my parents, at twenty-three, my fiancé, Bobby. And now, almost four years later, my husband, Evan. I’m here, again, in the after. Here’s what I know: death abducts the dying, but grief steals from those left behind. There is less of myself with every loss.”
What do you think Julia means by this last statement? Do you think it’s true that there’s less of her with every loss? Do you think she’s cynical about love? Or, do you think she outwardly projects this, while inward she still longs for it? Do you think she is emotionally broken from all that has happened to her?
3. From Chapter Two when she tells Jake: “I’m not starting over. Not this time.” I’m emboldened, suddenly anxious to share my secret. “It’s too much. Too hard. And for what? So I can lose it all again? I believed him. I believed him, when he said we could have a wonderful life together. I believed him. Look what happens when you believe them. He’s gone. They’re both gone. My life is over. I can’t do it again.”
Julia is referring to both Bobby and Evan in these lines. Do you believe her and think she is really set upon killing herself? Was that her intent? Or, did she really just make an error in judgment? What do you think Jake is thinking at this point? Is it possible that he is just as desperate as she is in trying to find his way? Why or why not?
4. In Chapter Three in the hospital, Stephanie asks Julia: “What about Reid? He needs you, Julia.” And Julia thinking: “I have not really considered my seven-month-old son, not since the day Evan died. The grief just took me. I have not been able to really look at Reid for fear I would glimpse too much of Evan’s face in his features and literally break down. My son serves as a constant reminder of all that I’ve lost. Grief has had its way with me, breaking me apart.” When Julia says to Stephanie, “I’m not…good for him.”
Do you think Julia really believes this? That she’s not good for Reid? Do you think Julia judges herself too harshly? If she does, why do you think she does that?
5. From Chapter Four: “There were these seagulls. Just calling, cooing, whatever the hell it is they do. These seagulls flew overhead in frenzied formation, diving, seemingly spying at the unexpected activity. They flew away, all at once, disturbed by the building crescendo of unfamiliar sounds, I guess. I kept wondering: why do they do that? Are they frightened? God damn birds.”
What do you think Julia is really describing here? The voyeurs at the scene? Herself? How do you think Julia feels about death? What are her views? How does it affect her? Is she fearful? Accepting? Defeated?
6. Also from Chapter Four: “The thing was, I knew, even then, I was saying goodbye to happiness. I felt it seeping away from me. Gone forever. Just this feeling of suspended disbelief. Suspended disbelief. You know; the feeling you get, after you’ve cut yourself, a silly accident where the carving knife goes astray. You’re cutting tomatoes and then, you’ve cut yourself. It’s stupid, really. And, you stare down at your finger and before the pain starts, you watch the hint of blood ooze from sliced skin. Then, in the next instant, it’s everywhere. The horror…spurting blood that can’t be stopped… the horror takes hold. And then, the pain comes.”
Do you think Julia really thinks that her happiness is gone forever? Why or why not?
7. From Chapter Seven with Dr. Bradley Stevenson: “So, how did it make you feel that you could never be Elizabeth?”And Julia thinking: “I hesitate with my answer, knowing it could turn the tables on a lot of things we’ve discussed here. All the pretty, trussed-up stories I’ve put together for him so far could disappear.”
“Our marriage wasn’t perfect.” There. I said it. Just saying it out loud causes some sort of release inside. I breathe easier. “I wasn’t perfect and neither was he. We weren’t perfect together.”
Were you surprised to learn that their relationship (Evan and Julia’s) was less than perfect? Do you think this is a breakthrough moment for Julia to admit this? Do you think she is beginning to view the truth of her world? Of herself? Why do you think people often hide the truth about their relationships from everyone around them?
8. From Chapter Seven when Dr. Bradley Stevenson asks: “What did she look like?” His question stops me in my tracks. His perceptive ways are so eerie. I’m taken aback and unable to answer for a few minutes. Finally, I say, “Long dark hair, blue-violet eyes, slender, tall, she had a Liz Taylor in Black Beauty thing going on.” Reluctance sets in. Do I really want to put this together for him?
“Like you,” he says. Pandora’s Box opens. Chocolate anyone? An abundance of heartbreak. Rare happiness. Plenty of self-destruction. Take your pick. Julia’s got everything in here.
This is a big revelation for the reader about Julia. Why do you think she is finally opening up about her life? Do you think she’s angry, on some level, that it’s never worked out for her? With Bobby? With Evan? How do you think she handles it?
9. From Chapter Seven right at the end: “I can’t believe I kissed him,” I say in a low voice. “I’d just lost Evan ten days before. Drank enough alcohol and took enough pain killers to escape the grief for awhile. And, he was there and he made me…feel something. Alive again, I guess. Kimmy knows. She said it shows I’m living that I want to go on.” I turn around to face him. “What do you think it shows?”
Why do you think Julia confesses the whole Jake scene to Dr. Bradley Stevenson? Would you tell someone about something so intimate and morally questionable? Do you think it helps Julia comes to terms with it? What do you think of the psychiatrist’s response to her?
“No one controls the power of love,” he says.
“I didn’t say I was attracted to him. And, I certainly didn’t say I love him. I don’t even know him.”
“Love has nothing to do with knowing someone. And, everything to do with need.”
Do you think he’s right? Does his view of the world help Julia see hers differently?
10. From Chapter Eleven with Julia thinking: “I revel in the structure’s permanence and its ability to withstand the elements of wind, water, and salt air. What a treasure. I sense this kindred spirit, this connection, to this place already. My smile is involuntary. This unexpected joy courses through me in just being here.”
What do you think Julia recognizes in Jake’s beach house? About her life? About him? Why do you think she has such a strong reaction to his place? What does it represent for her?
11. From Chapter Sixteen with Brad saying: “Kimmy and I want to ensure you’re okay with it,” Brad says. “Because if you’re not, I’m stepping aside.” Our handsome doctor takes a needed breath. I think he’s been holding it. “So, Julia, are you okay with it?”
It has become a very big word, indeed. I study Brad. Dr. Hallmark Card seems a little disheartened now. Where’s all that grand philosophical schtick about love, attraction, wants, and needs?
“Well, you pretty much know all my double down secrets, so there’s really no problem there,” I say slowly. “The only thing I would say is Kimmy personifies all that is miraculous about this world, but since you’re a wizard yourself you should be able to handle and appreciate her brand of magic.” Then, I smile, this benevolent smile. “As long as you understand, we’re kind of a package deal, I’m cool with it.”
What do you think Kimberley’s friendship means to Julia? Brad’s? What do you think Kimberley represents for Julia? A mother? A sister? Is Kimberley’s brand of magic really as simple as her ability to embrace the world with ease and acceptance? Is this what Julia admires? Or, is it more than that?
12. From Chapter Seventeen with Julia thinking: “Death is…so permanent. It alters everything. This relentless wrecking ball comes at me from every angle in a different way than the day before. My island gets farther away. This glimpse of him, only I can see, gets smaller with each passing day. The more I go looking for him, the more I discover him missing. I can’t tell anyone. Permanent fear settles in. How do I explain the profoundness of his love? And it’s long absence from me now?”
What do you think Julia is most afraid of? Forgetting Evan? Not forgetting him? Both? What else? What do you think she is referring to with: “The more I go looking for him, the more I discover him missing. I can’t tell anyone?” Do you think most people hide their grief this way?
13. From Chapter Nineteen with Julia thinking: “And, it comes out of nowhere without intended provocation on my part and hits me at full speed, like a meteor hitting the Earth causing instant destruction. It eliminates the life I thought I knew. Instantaneous. This poison star.
“We were together for a while,” Savannah says. “Over a year ago, now. Yes, the spring before. March. He took me to the place in Malibu. Have you ever been there? It’s amazing.”
Were you surprised by this chain of events? Why do you think Savannah is so cruel? Why does she take the risk in telling Julia? Do you think anyone can be this cruel if the circumstances present themselves?
14. From Chapter Twenty-one: “There’s a pool. We’re high up in the hills of Malibu away from the beach now at this gorgeous house. The Pacific is so vast. It’s big from up here. I step into the pool. I just step in. The water is warm and I swim a while. Now, I shiver in my clothes staring at the sunset and the vast Pacific. It’s so vast. Endless. I look for the guy who has the too white smile, but he’s left me. Of course. Of course, he’s left me. Everyone does.”
Do you think Julia really believes this? That everyone always leaves her? Do you think she has a right to feel this way, given her history and what’s happened to her?
15. From Chapter Twenty-Two with Julia thinking: “His looks and stance reflect Bobby’s from nine years ago. It’s as if I could just walk right over there and start my life over again. The appeal for doing this thunders away at me inside. I could just go over there and start this whole thing over again. It’s there. But, I don’t. His words, she needs me, plague me still. I just can’t do it anymore. The plan is to cut all connections to Evan, all of them. We have to stay focused on the plan.”
Why do you think Julia rejects Jake at this juncture? Is she broken beyond repair at this point? Or, is it something else? Is she afraid to repeat similar patterns? If Jake resembles Bobby so much, for example?
16. More from Chapter Twenty-Two with Julia saying to Kimberley: “I’m broken; my life turned tragic.” I shake my head and look over at her. “I had to hold on to something, a vague memory of a guy, who made me feel complete was just a fantasy of one of the last days of magic I had, before I got pushed into harsh reality and learned what the real world was like.”
“You’re not cynical. That’s what is so amazing about you. You should be, but you’re not. You’ll start over; you already are.”
Do you think Julia is cynical? Would you be?
17. From Chapter Twenty-Three with Julia thinking: “She just stands up in her perfect poison star form with her chic designer suit, smooths down her skirt with her flawless manicure, and rewards us with one of her most radiant smiles, Scarlet O’Hara style, as if she’s just having a set-back. It’s just been one of those days at Tara. She doesn’t even glance in Jake’s direction when she says, “Done.”
I take a shallow breath and hold it for a moment while she just watches me. “Well then, cut the lady a check, Christian,” I finally say. From the credenza, I grab the silver gift box with her black bikini swimsuit inside and slide it—jam it—across the conference table her way. I can’t even look at Jake. “You left this in Malibu,” I say. And I walk out.
Why do you think Julia risks alienating Jake with this scene with Savannah? What do you think she came back from L.A. with? Closure? What does the kite-flying with her dad represent? Do you think she finally understands what her dad was telling her about his relationship with her mother? Do you think Julia understands herself better from this experience in L.A. and the recalling of her past?
18. From Chapter Twenty-Six with Julia thinking: “The fear creeps back in, the persistent stalker. What is this? Where is it going? Where are we going? Can I survive this much happiness? Here’s the other side of despair for me: this incalculable bliss. Both overpower me in the same exact way. One seems to stay forever; the other is so fleeting I can never fully trust it will last and let myself believe in it. I grimace, recognizing this astonishing truth about me. Can I let myself be this happy? Forever? I stare at his fine profile. I’ve only allowed myself these glimpses of him all this time. I could reach out and touch him this very moment. He’s so close. He’s right here. But will he always be? This is what I’m most afraid of, allowing myself to love him and losing him. Too.”
Do you think Julia has the right to be this fearful? Do you understand why she feels this way? How do you combat the fears of loss? The fear of death? How could someone who has experienced so much loss ever completely give herself over to another person? Do you think she succeeds in doing this with Jake?
19. From Chapter Twenty-Six with Julia thinking: “I smile, uncertain. My mind races because there are so many things I should say. “I helped your parents because I could. I helped you with this mysterious place in Telluride because you’ve helped me through everything and I owed you that; Evan owed you that, most of all. But I didn’t really want to take anybody out, not even her. I wanted you to be free of her,” I pause and try to smile. “For me. For you, but mostly me. The truth is you deserve so much more.” I stop while my mind spins with all these profound thoughts. “I just want to be a great mom, spend some time on a beach, fly a kite, maybe visit a Texas prairie to hear that wind, and have a life. With you.”
This is Julia’s profound truth. Why do you think she finally trusts him enough to say what she really wants and feels? Do you think she acted in the right way to do what she did with the money in giving most of it away? Would you have done that with the money?
20. From Chapter Twenty-Seven with Julia thinking the following: “He gets this disenchanted look, stands up, and strides away from me across the living room, perfectly comfortable with his naked, munificent, beautiful, god-like body. A few minutes go by, before I realize he’s not coming right back. Soon, I hear the shower running. “Not so perfect,” I say to the empty room. “Julia, less than perfect. Jake, less than perfect, too.” I attempt to smile at the reminder of this recent life lesson.”
Do you think Jake is being selfish by reacting this way to her telling him Evan didn’t want more kids when Jake wants four? Do you think Julia handles Jake well in this situation? As a reader, is it a relief to know Jake is less than perfect and has some flaws of his own? Do you think they have some challenges ahead in their relationship? Or, do you think Julia has finally found the man and a family she can belong to? A normal life?