Discussion Guide: The Bachelor

1. The novel is narrated by an unnamed bachelor. What role does this play in allowing you to immerse yourself in his story? Does it distance you from him in any way?

2. Our protagonist finds himself captivated by the reality dating show The Bachelor, saying, “The thing about it is these are real people, they’re not actors, and I really think they start to develop—some of them—actual emotions toward the Bachelor, and vice versa. And yeah, those emotions get confused with the emotions that come from being on TV and living in this world full of pools and helicopters, but I actually think that some of the women might be falling in love. I really do.” What do you make of his earnestness? How does his opinion of The Bachelor align with your own, whether or not you’ve watched the show?

3. When walking with Sadie, the narrator thinks, “I feigned surprise at her show of concern but actually I was grateful: I’d been hoping, almost expecting, I realized now, she’d give me a chance to open up to her.” How does his relationship with Sadie evolve? How do they help each other?  

4. Would you have accepted an invite like Dave’s to watch his home? Why do you think our narrator said yes?

5. Over the course of the book, the narrator meets and talks about many different, complicated women: Ashwini, Laura, Maria, Jess, Sadie. However, he seems to rarely have closure in these relationships. What do these interactions tell us about his character? Did you find these relationships realistic?

6. Does the narrator love Sadie? Do you think he truly loved any of the women with whom he’s had these relationships?

7. “I felt a bottomless sadness for her that was also a sadness for myself, almost as if the sad events she’d narrated had somehow also happened to me,” the narrator says. “And it was true—wasn’t it? . . . That her story involved me in some crucial way. It had to. If it didn’t, she wouldn’t have told it to me, or I wouldn’t have been affected by it, or maybe it would just seem incomprehensible, lacking interest and meaning.” Do you agree with what the narrator is saying about the role we play in other people’s stories? Or is this passage just a sign of the narrator’s narcissism or solipsism?

8. From Iowa to California, Palmer paints vivid and vastly different scenery throughout the book. How does the change in surroundings influence our narrator? Do you find yourself changing when you’re in different settings? If so, how?

9. How does Sadie’s childhood story impact our understanding of her as a character? The narrator digests her story of her mother and immediately tells his own “idyllic” tale of childhood. How does this moment speak to their relationship?

10. The narrator says of his relationship with Sadie, “If she hadn’t insisted on our imminent decline, I doubt I would’ve fought so hard against it; if she hadn’t deemed a long-term relationship with me impossible, I never would’ve thought to imagine a future for us.” Have you ever experienced this situation in a relationship, where the other person’s interest or lack of interest influences yours in the opposite way? Why do you think humans tend to do this? Why do we often want something more when we’re told we can’t have it?

11. Describing The Bachelor, the narrator says, “But his conviction that he would fall in love, I sensed, had always been tied to the felt imperative that he must, that he couldn’t afford not to fall in love. He couldn’t allow a repeat of his first season’s failure: it would spoil this season’s redemption story line, not to mention leaving him just as alone as when the show began. And that was the Bachelor’s greatest fear: ending up alone.” Do you think our protagonist shares this fear? Why or why not? 

12. How does the show The Bachelor act as a canvas for the narrator to project his own insecurities and questions about love and marriage? Similarly, what does the narrator take from the poems and life of John Berryman?

13. How did the interwoven stories from Berryman’s life and an actual season of The Bachelor affect your reading experience? How did they add texture to the novel? Did you enjoy this approach?

14. At his birthday dinner, the narrator thinks, “And no doubt under the influence of the wine and my birthday Negroni and my parents’ story, I felt a connection with Fitzgerald’s dreamer and all the American dreamers he stood for—Wounded Warriors, each of us; Bachelors, Berrymans, Henrys. Dad wasn’t destiny. Destiny was destiny. Dad was Dad, and I loved him. I was the confluence of a million forces, not quite all of them beyond my bending.” Do you believe that the character has changed by the end of the novel? Why or why not?

15. Why do you think Palmer chose to close the novel with the narrator thinking about The Bachelor? Do you think this final quote—“‘You’re the one, Em. You’re it. You’re my once-in-a-lifetime. I’m asking for you to please give me your forever.’”—is optimistic or pessimistic?