Discussion Questions

1. At certain points in the memoir (p. 30, 166), Cathy’s childhood confidante, Roy, appears to her to offer guidance and a sympathetic ear. How do you interpret these moments—as a literary device or as a spiritual visitation?

2. Cathy McClure and her father, Jim, are dedicated to the task of protecting her mother from any emotional pain she could encounter from the outside world to the point that Cathy is expected to take on a much more adult role in the family than is normal for a teenager. This dynamic is explained at the end of the book (p. 333) with a shocking revelation about Cathy’s parents’ past. Were you surprised by this revelation? How had you explained the family dynamic and the mother’s behavior to yourself before you finished the book?

3. The “Donny Donnybrook” is Catherine Gildiner’s flippant way of referring to a traumatic incident in her early adolescence, when her father sharply criticizes her for flirting (p. 24). How do you think this incident colored the relationship between father and daughter? Do you think it influenced young Cathy’s decisions in the coming years, in ways she as a memoirist doesn’t specifically mention?

4. As parents, Jim and Janet McClure take a rather unusual approach—especially for the time—to raising their headstrong daughter. While Janet is blasé and undemanding, Jim does try to exert some control over Cathy, especially as she becomes a young woman. Which parent do you relate to more? Why?

5. After the Falls recounts life in a time that has become characterized by movies like Forrest Gump and American Graffiti, as well as TV shows like Mad Men and The Wonder Years. How does Gildiner’s portrayal of what it was like to grow up at that time compare to the pop–culture image? How does it compare to your own impressions or experience of the era?

6. Cathy’s teenage rebellion takes her on what she sees as a high road—vandalizing property in the name of civil rights—and a low one—stealing her father’s car to impress the popular crowd. Which of her antics surprised you the most? What did you get up to as a teen that embarrasses you as you think back?

7. On page 61 Gildiner writes, “Somehow, in some compartment of my brain, I equated witnessing these boys abusing Veronica with my own shame. I, too, had humiliated myself, and my father had had to witness it.” How do you interpret this statement? Do you see a connection between Veronica and Cathy (at the time of the “Donny Donnybrook”)?

8. Another surprise that fate had in store for young Cathy McClure was the truth about her first love—the dashing, sensitive poet Laurie Coal. Did you think this relationship was too good to be true? Or were you surprised by how it ended? What would you have done in Cathy’s place?

9. While dating Laurie, and fighting against racial prejudice, Cathy makes a few assumptions about her roommate, Baby, which turn out to be incorrect (p. 262). What do Cathy’s assumptions regarding Baby reveal about her own prejudices? Do you think her assumptions about Baby are comparable to the racial prejudice she was fighting?

10. Jim McClure’s illness robbed him of much of his identity and his relationship with his family. Do you agree with Cathy’s decisions in the years that followed: trying to explain his illness to him despite his memory loss, taking his car keys from him, and ultimately allowing him to go off life support? What about his wife Janet—how do you view her behavior in the face of Jim’s illness?