Discussion Guide: The Letters
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1. What is the effect of reading a novel that unfolds as a series of letters? What do the characters reveal about themselves, and what do they hide, while writing letters? How are Sam’s and Hadley’s perceptions of the past different?

2. Discuss the two approaches Sam and Hadley take toward their son’s death. What sustains each of them? What are their greatest obstacles to healing?

3. What is the true purpose of Sam’s journey? What does he hope to gain by revisiting this terrain?

4. What makes the novel’s landscapes appropriate for Hadley and Sam’s emotional journeys?

5. Hadley rediscovers her need for solitude and a space for creating art. What other aspects of their own personalities were Sam and Hadley able to find in the wake of their son’s death?

6. How did your impressions of Paul change throughout the novel? What characteristics of his mother and father did he possess?

7. How do the book’s illustrations enhance your reading of The Letters? What moods and details are captured in these images?

8. In his letter from November 16, Sam describes Martha’s belief that everyone is part snake, needing to shed their skin in order to grow. How does this apply to Sam and Hadley? At what points in your life have you needed to “shed your skin”?

9. What does interest in other partners (Martha and Daniel) indicate about Sam and Hadley’s longings and needs? What keeps them from finding these comforting experiences in each other?

10. How did you react to the revelations about Julie? What did Paul’s parents teach him about love and relationships?

11. What is the role of faith in Hadley’s life? What does it take for her to believe in miracles, even the ones that do not come true on her terms? How does Sam’s approach to spirituality evolve throughout The Letters?

12. Would you have trusted Eileen Kilkenny? Why would Hadley, but not Sam? Would you have been able to forgive Mrs. Kilkenny, or at least to rationalize what she did?

13. What does Hadley discover about herself, and about Paul, at the monastery? What new life emerges there, from loss and heartbreak?

14. What themes of healing appear in this novel and in Luanne Rice’s previous works? What is special about her approach to hope in the face of tragedy?