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Innocents and Others Discussion Guide: Home

Dana Spiotta

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Discussion Questions

(From the publisher.)

1. The opening line of the book is “This is a love story.” Do you believe that line could be used to describe the whole novel? How does it set the stage, and how did your expectations shift with the twist in the opening scene?

2. We know that Meadow has been raised in privilege by indulgent parents: “[My father] encouraged me to believe that my particular possibilities had no limits, and one strategy he apparently had for conveying that idea was not giving me any limits, financial or otherwise” (page 15). How did these statements, made so early in our introduction to Meadow, influence your perception of her, and how did this perception change and develop as you read?

3. In her essay on how she came to be a filmmaker, Meadow says the following about the old theater in Gloversville, New York: “I knew that cinema had touched every small town in America. Cinema is everywhere. And to discover it in the most obscure places made me believe that it mattered. Its decay only meant there was room for me somehow” (page 15). How much do you think film has shaped American culture, and in what ways? How does this abandoned, decrepit theater reflect Meadow’s aesthetic or personality?

4. Confession is a major theme in this story. Discuss the ways it impacts the characters. What are your thoughts on confession? Is there a difference between a public act of confession and a private one? What happens when you hear and watch a person’s confession in a documentary film or in person?

5. Jelly does not reveal her true appearance to the men that she calls, nor does she share her real name or background. As the novel puts it, “Once imagining preceded the actual, there was no escaping disappointment, was there?” (page 152). But to what extent does she remain honest with her listeners, Jack especially? What does the novel say about identity if Jelly is most herself when she is just a voice on the line?

6. Jelly’s story and Meadow’s story don’t overlap until deep in the book, but both women are good at seducing other people. What connections and differences do you see between these two women and how they interact with the world?

7. At one point, Carrie says, “Unlike a marriage, which must be fulfilling and a goddamn mutual miracle, a friendship could be twisted and one-sided and make no sense at all, but if it had years and years behind it, the friendship could not be discarded” (page 229). Considering the huge differences between Meadow and Carrie as artists and people, what do you think allows them to stay friends with each other? How are the life-long friendships that you form when you are very young different from other kinds of friendships?

8. When Meadow first starts making films, she begins to regard her camera as a “magic machine that made people reveal themselves whether they liked it or not” (page 123). Consider the power of a camera: what happens to the people being filmed, the audience watching, and the people behind the camera?

9. The ending of the novel touches on all of the main characters and a minor one. Why do you think the author ended it this way?

10. Discuss the title Innocents and Others. How does it relate to the themes of the story? What ethical or moral issues come up in Meadow’s story? Jelly’s? Sarah’s?

11. Carrie says that comedies are important to her because “they are both in the culture and pointing at the culture. Mainstream and subversive” (page 208). Do you agree with Carrie? How does Carrie’s essay change how you viewed her and her relationship to Meadow?

12. The form and style of the writing vary throughout the book: Meadow’s first person essay, comments in an online forum, a script, and notebook entries, for example. How do you think these various formats changed how you read the book? Why do you think Spiotta chose to write her novel this way?

Suggestions for further reading