1. This memoir transitions between the time leading up to Zoe’s mother, Margaret’s, death and vignettes of her childhood growing up. Did you like this narrative structure? How did it impact your understanding of the main characters?
2. This book is about life, as well as death—the flashbacks give glimpses of the young family, and Margaret’s grandchildren are full of energy and excitement. How did this contrast with Margaret’s desire to die?
3. The sisters, and their mother, all have different reactions to Jonathan’s alcoholism. Discuss their different ways of dealing with his problem. Are any effective?
4. Margaret does not seem to notice significant problems with those around her, such as her husband’s affairs and Zoe’s anorexia. Yet she is very picky about little things, such as appearances. Do you believe she was innocently naïve and unaware of those larger issues, or was she perhaps willfully blind?
5. Jack, Hannah, Katherine and Zoe express feeling that Margaret is being selfish in her wish to die and have them help her. Is that too much to expect from a loved one? Does she truly have the right to end her own life, even though it has such an impact on those around her? Is there anything she could have done to make it easier on her family?
6. Throughout her life, Zoe constantly craves others’ approval, especially her mother’s. She even goes so far as to neglect her own family and marriage to go to her mother whenever she calls. Why does she do this? Why do you think it means so much to her when her mother calls her a friend?
7. Mother/daughter relationships are the backbone of this story. Skim pages 80–84. Talk about each daughter’s relationship with her mother, and with the other daughters. Does Zoe really resent being pigeonholed, or do you think she finds comfort in her role in the family?
8. How does Zoe try to protect her own daughters from sibling rivalry? How much impact do you think a parent can have on the relationships among their children? Is there something Margaret could have done to help Katherine feel more included in the family?
9. Reread page 122, where Zoe talks with her friend Suzanne about her mother’s desire to die. She attributes her mother’s determination to “fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control.” Do you agree? What other reasons does Margaret give for wanting to end her life?
10. Why does Margaret keep pushing back the date of her death? Is she really as determined to die as she seems? At any point do you believe her death wish is “a weird bid for attention,” as Jack says (p. 146)?
11. Discuss the different ways characters exert control over one another, both passively and actively.
12. Margaret markedly lacks emotions in her book, The Sky’s the Limit. Why does she choose to leave out her own feelings, and relate only events and facts? Does this reveal something important about her character?
13. It seems everyone in this memoir hides behind a façade to disguise true feelings. Dress, social status and appearance are all very important. Discuss the ways in which the Carters hide things from outsiders, each other, and themselves.
14. Were you surprised at the ending? Was there ever a point when you thought Margaret might choose life?