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Insideby Alix Ohlin
Reading Group Guide
1. In what ways does the novel unfold the significance of its title? In what ways is it about the inner life?
2. What threads run throughout the novel? In what multiple ways are all the major characters interconnected? What important experiences do they share?
3. Tug tells Grace: “There’s something weird about a person like you who’s so intent on helping a fuck-up,” to which Grace replies, “Maybe there’s something weird about a person like you, who thinks he doesn’t deserve anybody’s help” [p. 100]. Why is Grace so intent on helping Tug? Why is he so resistant to her help?
4. In what ways is this a novel about the desire to help others (or to rescue them) and the limits of this desire? Which other characters take on the role of helper? What are the consequences of their efforts?
5. Why does Anne run away from home? How is Hilary able to tell that she’s a runaway like herself?
6. After she is attacked in Edinburgh, Anne decides to keep the experience from her fellow actors and feels “the secret high that came from thinking none of them knew her at all” [p. 131]. Tug keeps his inner life “hidden behind a curtain, on a secret stage” [p. 165]. In what ways do the characters in Inside both reveal and conceal their inner lives? What does the novel ultimately suggest about one person’s ability to truly know another?
7. After Tug tells Grace about his traumatic experiences in Rwanda, the terrible violence and suffering he witnessed there, he says: “You can tell people your story, or any terrible story, and it doesn’t make any difference. Things just keep happening over and over again” [p. 186]. Is Tug right about this? Does telling one’s story have no healing effects?
8. What is the effect of the novel’s shifting back and forth between characters, time periods, and places?
9. Is Mitch right to blame himself for not helping Thomasie more? Why doesn’t he follow through on his offer to help? What more might he have done?
10. Like most of the characters in Inside, Anne is complicated, her motivations often mysterious. Why does she let the runaways stay in her apartment? Why does she give all her money to Hilary after her success as an actress? Why doesn’t she stop to talk to Grace when she passes her in the park?
11. After Tug reveals some of his previous life to Grace, she thinks: “There is a difference between the facts of a person and the truth of him” [p. 101]. What is the difference between the facts of Tug’s life and the truth of who he is?
12. Grace thinks about all her patients who wanted to be told what to do, and how they didn’t want to hear it when she said they had to be responsible for their own lives. “What was worse than having to take responsibility for everything you did or felt or said? For the way your actions radiated out to change not just your own life, but those of the people around you?” [p. 240]. Why is that such a daunting responsibility? In what ways do the actions, feelings, and speech of the characters radiate out to change others as well as themselves?
13. In what ways does Inside reflect, with remarkable accuracy, the emotional contours of contemporary life in what Tug calls the “comfortable nations”?
14. The last word of the novel echoes its title, as Anne invites Mitch “inside” (p. 258). What are the implications of the novel’s ending? Will Anne and Mitch get back together? If they do, how might their new relationship differ from their marriage?
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