Grave Endings

Reader's Guide

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What do Madonna, Brittney Spears, and I have in common?

Not our singing careers, although as a teen I fantasized about being a Broadway star. And definitely not our wardrobes. I'm more PTA than MTV.

What we do share is a fascination with the Kabbalistic red thread that allegedly protects against envy, the thread (snipped from a skein that has been blessed after being wrapped seven times around Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem) that is typically worn around the wrist, and has been made fashionable by Madonna and Brittney and other celebrities.

I've heard stories about the thread's mystical powers. I tied one around the slats of the crib my six children used. I tied segments around their wrists (and mine, and my husband's) at our sons' bar mitzvahs. Then, eight years ago, we had our own story. Minutes before our second son walked down the aisle, all of us in the wedding party tied red threads around our wrists. Somehow, my oldest son's fiancée wasn't aware she'd lost hers. Immediately after the ceremony, she fell and sprained her ankle.

Was that coincidence? Or in losing the thread, had she lost its protection?

I decided the red thread would make an interesting motif for a novel. And the more I read about the thread and its recent popularity-it's available on websites and, apparently, at your local Target--I wondered whether people were buying spiritual protection…or spiritual snake oil.

I also wanted to explore Molly's excitement and uncertainty about her impending marriage to her rabbi-fiancé; her guilt and anguish regarding her best friend Aggie's murder six years ago; her seesawing emotions when, two weeks before the wedding, she's confronted by evidence that the police believe has finally led them to Aggie's killer; her determination, despite her family's concern, and her fiance's, to find Aggie's killer.

Ultimately, I wanted to write a story that examines shades of guilt and innocence, and the healing power of redemption.

1. Discuss the title, GRAVE ENDINGS, as it applies to the characters in the novel.

2. Molly is Orthodox-she is strict about keeping kosher and keeping the Sabbath-but she has qualms about being a rabbi's wife. She isn't thrilled with the idea of covering her hair, which she will do for Zack, or lengthening her skirts and sleeves, which fall short or Orthodox rules of modesty. And she isn't always "modest" in expressing her opinions. Do you see Molly as a rabbi's wife-in terms of her temperament and her appearance? Do you feel it is unrealistic for someone to take on the nuances of a lifestyle that will be filled with daily challenges? Does "love conquer all"?

3. Do you think Molly's family and Zack have valid concerns about her preoccupation with the investigation into Aggie's murder? Could Molly have handled things better? Should she have postponed investigating the murder?

4. None of the major Kabbalists wore red threads. Despite that fact, thousands of people today still wear the thread to ward off the malignant power of envy. Why do you think that's so? What are your views about the red thread? Is there danger in believing in its power or in other amulets?

5. One of the motifs of Grave Endings is our responsibility toward others. Are we our brothers' and sisters' keepers? And if so, to what extent? What happens when responsibility toward others conflicts with our own needs or desires? Our safety? Discuss these concepts in relation to the characters in the novel, including Randy Creeley, Iris, Barbara Anik, William Bramer, Aggie, and Molly. Do you think Molly feels absolved of responsibility at the end of the novel, or does she still have lingering feelings of "What if?"

6. Do you think Roland Creeley erred in lying to his children and telling them their mother had died? Do you fault Alice Creeley for not telling her husband that his first wife had stopped by to observe the children? Are there times that withholding information is ultimately more important than sharing it? How do we decide?

7. We see Randy Creeley's mother through the eyes of various characters: her first husband; the woman who replaced her; her children; and Molly. How do they view her? How do you view her? Is she a sad woman who couldn't handle motherhood and fled from responsibility, or is she a self-absorbed narcissist who has rationalized her behavior? Do you think she loved her children? Do you think she is grieved by Randy's death? Does society offer viable choices for women who recognize that they have made a mistake in taking on motherhood?

8. Molly reflects that Aggie didn't confide in her about her plan to obtain the tape because she feared that Molly would have tried to stop her. Does Molly withhold information from others for the same reason? Is the concept of "not confiding" a convention of mysteries?

9. Who is the real Aggie? Do you think she was romantically attracted to Randy, or was that his perception? Do you think she broke off their friendship because she didn't want to hurt her parents?

10. Molly is shocked and hurt when she learns that Aggie didn't tell her everything. Do we have the right to expect our close friends to share everything with us? Are there boundaries to friendship?

11. Follow the trail of the red thread that Molly gave Aggie. In a sense, did it provide protection?

12. Do you fault Iris for not coming forth when Aggie was murdered? Can you understand why Randy didn't tell the police what he knew about Aggie's murder?

13. Anthony Horton is a self-made, resilient man who sincerely tried to help others. How do you reconcile the philanthropist who founded Rachel's Tent with the man who killed Randy Creeley? Do we sometimes justify our actions and look at the "greater" good?

14. How did your perception of and attitude towards Randy Creeley change throughout the book? Do his final actions redeem him? Are we judged by the totality of our lives or defined by certain acts?

15. Other characters in the book attempt to either reinvent themselves or redeem themselves. Are they successful?

16. Grave Endings deals with the subject of what is predestined-- or "bashert," as Bubbie G would say. At the same time it raises the concept of free will. Do you see a conflict between the two? Do you think a person's life is like a video, as Molly's father suggests?


Grave Endings , published by the Ballantine Publishing Group, is available in hardcover ($24.95, ISBN: 0-345-46810-4) at your local bookstore, and online at Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and Borders. Grave Endings is also available from Brilliance Audiobooks and in large print from Thorndike.



On sale October 25


In paperback



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