Note: Some of the following book club discussion questions contain major spoilers.
1. Jack drives Celeste home after he discovers Michael and Celeste drunk and fooling around in the family room of their home. Did this show poor judgment on his part, or was it a natural response once he realized his son couldn’t drive Celeste home? Is there any reason he should have feared being alone in the car with her? Have you ever been in a similar situation? (For example, a husband and wife deciding who should drive the babysitter home . . .) If so, how did you handle it?
2. Jack makes three decisions at the very start of the novel that ultimately come back to haunt him: he lets Celeste sober up before arriving at her house; he decides not to tell her father about the drinking and about Michael and Celeste’s sexual activities, and he lies to Claire on Michael’s behalf when she asks why they’re up so late. Why does Jack make each of these decisions? Without the benefit of hindsight, were they reasonable decisions? Logical, even?
3. The novel takes place four and a half years after Jack cheated on Claire, and at the start of the story, he believes she has forgiven him. Claire, on the other hand, “thinks” she has. Later, their views reverse: Jack believes she hasn’t forgiven him and never will; Claire argues that she has. Do you think Claire has forgiven him? Why or why not?
4. Why does Claire agree to Jack helping Jenny? Is there more to her reasoning than she lets on to Jack?
5. Does Jenny do the right thing by coming back to tell Jack “her secret” before he finds out from someone else? When Jack eventually learns what the secret is, he tells Jenny he understands why she made the decisions she did. Do you agree? Were her decisions the best ones she could have made at the time, given the circumstances? Why or why not?
6. Even if Jack was not legally required to report Jenny’s return to town, should he have done so anyway? Why or why not?
7. Why is it so important to Jack for Claire to tell him she believes he didn’t molest Celeste? Do you think she believed all along that he was innocent? Or do you think she doubted him? If you were married to Jack, would you have believed him?
8. Jack thinks Celeste’s journal entry is evidence that someone molested her, but because he knows a jury will believe the evidence points to him, he steals the page out of the journal. What would you do if you were charged with a crime you didn’t commit, but came across evidence that would almost certainly lead authorities to believe you were guilty?
9. Jack’s brother Mark suggests that it might be better for all involved if Jack and Claire split up. Is he right? At what point does someone stop trying to save a marriage, and how does one know when he or she has reached that point?
10. What do you think Claire would have preferred—that Jack’s one-night-stand with Jenny was a meaningless fling? Or that it happened because he was in love with her (as Claire concluded)? In situations of infidelity, which do you think is worse? Why? Is one more forgivable than the other?
11. Jenny’s brother Brian thinks Jack “deserves” to know Jenny’s secret. Do you agree? Why or why not? Near the end, Jenny says to Jack, “I hope you’re able to put yourself in my shoes and realize I didn’t know what else to do.” Did she have other, better options? Do you believe the choice she made when she first discovered the “secret” was reasonable, given the circumstances?
12. Jack thinks Claire’s withholding of the information to exonerate Jenny is a larger crime than his infidelity. Do you agree? Why or why not? Is Jack’s view on this issue influenced by his profession?
13. Why does Jack disregard the restraining order and terms of his bail to go after Celeste?
14. After Jack and Claire split up, do you think Jack would have eventually gone to Jenny even if Earl hadn’t arranged a meeting? Why or why not?
15. For a couple to recover from a betrayal such as Jack’s, which is more important, trust or forgiveness? Why? Discuss other instances in the novel where trust and forgiveness were at issue.