for book clubs
Approaching the Speed of Light
- Hidden begins and ends with David Warshinsky/Shaw, the character who most obviously hides in plain sight, living an entirely new life only blocks from his estranged family. Jed and Zoe also harbor secrets around which their lives are structured. Who do you think is the most "Hidden" in this story? What secrets do other members of the families hide, and what, if anything, ultimately reveals those truths? Is it a relief or a catastrophe when that happens?
- The family relationships in Hidden are rife with reversals of the relationships between parents and children, as seen in Libby's desire to protect her mother from her father's violence. What are the boundaries between parents and children in the Gates and Warshinsky families? Do you think that the qualities of these relationships are primarily a function of the era in which the book takes place, or are they more determined by the personalities of the characters? What obligations do you think children have to their parents, realistically? Who in Hidden fulfills some or most of those obligations, and what cost, if any, does that person pay?
- Sexuality and sexual desire play an enormous role in the lives of most of the adult characters in Hidden, sometimes with disastrous results. How does sex influence the choices that these characters make? What are the forms their urges take, and what are the different ways they find to express, tame, or otherwise cope with them? Do you think that sexuality exerts as powerful an influence on human behavior as it does in this story? How might these characters' struggles with sex and sexuality be different if the story took place today?
- Monty seems to be the serpent in the garden of the wealthy and privileged Gates family. But does he have another role in the arc of the story? Is he a truth-teller? A foil for other characters' arrogance? How do you feel about the punishment that Joseph and David ultimately mete out to him? Is it sufficient to his crimes?
- David vanishes from the world in which he grew up and transforms himself into a new person. Yet he never leaves the city of his birth and ultimately lives in splendor within walking distance of his discarded and impoverished past. What does this say about the stratification of New York in the 1920s? Does that stratification still exist in American cities and towns today? Where in the story do people of different classes and different cultures intersect? What happens when they do?
- Redemption is a major theme in Hidden. Many characters look to other family members to save them from unhappiness or painful experiences, to redeem their terrible losses or shattered dreams. Which characters seek redemption, and to whom do they look for it? Are human beings ultimately responsible for their own happiness? What responsibilities do family members have in securing happiness for one another?
- David and Jed are best friends, devoted to one another as to no one else. What binds them? How much of that bond is honest and altruistic and how much unacknowledged or selfish? How do you think the love between friends differs from the love between family members or partners? Despite their devotion, David and Jed ultimately cannot help one another deal with the most difficult issues in their lives. Why not? What are the responsibilities of friendship? What do you believe would have happened to this friendship if David had learned the truth about Jed while Jed was still alive?
- How are different religions portrayed in Hidden? Are Judaism, Christianity, and Christian Science helpful and strengthening to the characters who practice them, or are they oppressive or misleading? Does anyone disavow religion and, if so, why? Does religion function differently for the Gateses than for the Warshinskys? Are the various religions in the story portrayed in sufficient depth to allow you to understand their beliefs and precepts? Anti-Semitism is a subtext throughout the book. At what points does it come to the forefront of the story, and who displays it? What sort of a Jewish life, if any, do you think David will go on to have after the story's end?
- David's presence in the Gates family creates, as the author says, enormous ripples of consequence. How does David influence the lives of various family members? What roles does he play within the Gates family? Do you think that he, more than other characters, is a catalyst for change? What do you think would have happened to the Gateses if David had not become part of their lives? Do members of the Gates family find him easier to relate to precisely because he isn't a blood relative, and does David feel the same way about them? Which characters in the story do you think are most truly kin?
- Family expectations play a huge part in how both the Gateses and the Warshinskys raise their children. Do you think that parents' expectations can be helpful in guiding children? Are they ever helpful in Hidden? Who flouts family expectations most consistently, and, conversely, who suffers the most from the burden of those expectations? How do expectations differ in the two families, based on socio-economic class, culture, and religion?
- Hidden takes place at the dawn of feminism. Which female characters are feminists? In what ways do the women in the story try to obtain and assert power? Does their ability to do so change due to the burgeoning of the women's movement during the years in which the book takes place? How do you think that these women's lives would be different if they lived decades later? How many of the issues faced by the women in the story are still faced by women today?
- Though the book is filled with highly emotional characters and situations, the value of emotions is constantly in question in Hidden. What role does emotion play in the Warshinskys' family and community, and how does it differ for the Gateses? Who suppresses emotion most vigilantly, and why? Typically, women are said to be more in touch with and guided by emotional life than men are. Is this true in this book? Does class play a part in determining whether displaying or even feeling emotion is a virtue or a weakness? Which of the book's many emotional moments do you find most affecting?
- Hidden seems to wrangle with the character of Joseph Gates. Is he an admirable and decisive leader and mentor or a rigid, hidebound dictator with unflinching expectations of his family? Or is he both? How much esteem do you think he deserves, and why? Toward the end of the book, we discover that Joseph believes his grandson did the right thing by committing suicide to avoid disgracing the family with the revelation of his homosexuality. How does this affect your opinion of Joseph? What qualities set Joseph apart as a leader, and how do those qualities color his family life? How is David -- the heir Joseph believes is most like him and best able to continue his leadership - similar to Joseph, and how is he different?