The Light We Lost


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It had me at star-crossed lovers.  I am such a romantic at heart.  I'm deeply intrigued by the what if I'd made a different choice scenario.  I feel like our last few book selections were sort of duds until the January (In the Midst of Winter).  I really enjoyed the Isabel Allende novel and came into The Light We Lost with great expectations.  It did not disappoint.  Never have I wanted so much and so often to flip to the end and find out what the deal was that was so foreshadowed and hinted at but... I exercised self-control.  (If only all that exercise had burned some calories...)  In the end, I had pretty much figured out what the situation was, but I still felt the emotions along with Lucy.

All references are to the eBook.

The novel follows two characters (Gabe and Lucy) who met on 9/11 at Columbia University (in Manhattan) (pg. 3).  As you start reading, you realize that Lucy is talking to Gabe, not the reader.  She's sharing a series of memories with him and filling him in on the parts of her life that he missed.  On page 3 she says "thirteen years later" in reference to how long it's been since she first met him in a Shakespeare class.  It is a one-sided conversation and I was coming up with all sorts of theories as to the circumstances surrounding the narration.  We know that it is because of his photo-journalism that he got "to here, to this moment". (pg. 26, loc. 361)

We learn that Lucy and Gabe grew up in different environments.  Gabe had an abusive father (pg. 28, loc. 373) and, eventually, a single-mother who dies while he is in his late 20's or early 30's.  Early in the story, there is a theme of Gabe trying hard not to become like his father.  The foreshadowing indicates that Gabe "ended up battling both his [father's] demons and [his] own".  (pg. 29, loc. 386)  But then the theme goes away for the majority of the book.  Lucy grew up in a traditional family with one brother and two parents.  She marries Darren who also grew up in a traditional family.

There is a lot of foreshadowing throughout the novel.  This results in some odd tenses at times.  It feels like Lucy is just narrating her life and then she'll say something like, "I don't know why I met you that day, but I do know that because I did, you would have been a part of my personal history forever." (pg. 17, loc. 272)  

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:  4

Religion:  2

Gruesome:  1

Suspense:  4

Morality:  2

Traditional:  3

Sex - As a good way to get over an ex. (pg. 25, loc. 351)  A young couple has a pretty steamy sex life, including in restaurant bathrooms. (pg. 27, loc. 366)  Descriptive masturbation.  (pg. 32, loc. 420)  Oral sex in a taxi. (pg. 53, loc. 657)  Details of a couple's intimacy. (pg. 62, loc. 744)  Details of a couple's first intimate encounter. (pg. 104, loc. 1149)  A couple christens their new apartment by having "sex on every surface imaginable".  (Ch. 42, pg. 155, loc. 1719)  Make-up sex. (Ch. 44, pg. 162, loc. 1784)  Two sex scenes within a matter of fictional hours/pages. (Ch. 69, pg. 280, loc. 3082)

Religion - Discussions about karma, fate and destiny. (p. 55, loc. 677)

Gruesome - Fecal Incident Levels (Ch. 52, pg. 200, loc. 2184)

Suspense - not nail-biting, keep you awake at night kind of suspense but suspense as in being eager to find out how things are resolved.

Morality - 
An unmarried couple used a condom. (pg. 104, loc. 1155) An affair.

Traditional - Kate said she wouldn't live with anyone unless they were engaged. (Ch. 38, pg. 135, loc. 1495)  Brief mention that Kate's sister "had a string of romances with men and with women". (Ch. 38, pg. 138. loc. 1527)

My personal crusade:  On Lucy's bucket list she included "Get a rescue pet."  This has become a trendy thing to say and/or do.  If you rescue an animal from a shelter and it becomes your pet it is a pet you adopted from a shelter.  Many people say specifically a "rescue dog".  A rescue dog is a canine who has been specially trained to go into fallen buildings after earthquakes or other tragedies and sniff out humans.  That is truly a special animal.  Many animal shelters are no-kill shelters so you are not actually "rescuing" it - it wasn't on death row, you just adopted it.  What's next, will every adopted child suddenly become a rescue-child?

About 20 years ago a man that I looked up to as a father-figure passed away unexpectedly.  Soon after that I was in church and the pastor said that in times of grief we need to be glad for the pain because it means that we knew the person at all.  Lucy explains in a letter that she felt a special kind of love for Gabe and says she was "lucky to have experienced those feelings at all."  (Ch. 80, pg. 321, loc. 3514)  It's the same sentiment that I discovered all those years ago and have come across so rarely in the intervening years.  For that small note of concordance, this book will hold a special place in my heart.

Discussion Questions

Lucy wonders "whether it's destiny or decision that has kept us connected all these years".  (pg 4, loc 122) What keeps you connected to people over the years?

Recount your own 9/11 experiences.

Gabe doesn't want a life, "creating what sells".  (pg. 11/12, loc. 201)  If you don't create what sells, can you earn a living?  Even customer service sells.  Was it different because he took pictures of life, not something he intentionally created?  Did he wind up being true to his goal?

Lucy wants to make sure her life is well spent.  "Leaving the world a little bit better than it was when you found it." (pg. 14, loc. 227)  Did she spend her life well?  What makes a life well spent?

When Gabe sees Lucy on her 23rd birthday, he tells her, "I think about that fork in the road, what would have happened if we'd taken it.  Two roads diverged." (p. 24, loc. 339)  What life forks have you crossed?

Gabe's mom transformed their house into a kaleidoscope. (p. 35, loc. 459)  Has anyone every done something magical for you?  Or have you done something for someone else?

When Lucy and Gabe were at a party and she found him in the library with Rachel, he easily distracted Lucy from her annoyance.  She comments that she "wouldn't put up with that now, and ... shouldn't have put up with it them. (pg. 41, loc. 519)  What things did you put up with when you were college-aged that you wouldn't put up with now?

Lucy said that after her older brother was born, her mother became defined by her relationships - Jay's mom, Don's wife.  (pg. 46, loc. 583)  She believed her mother had many other qualities, and wondered if she meant to lose herself.  (pg. 46, loc. 586)  What defines you?  Are you okay with those definitions?

"Sometimes we make decisions that seem right at the time, but later, looking back, were clearly a mistake.  Some decisions are right even in hindsight." (p. 47, loc. 588)  What have been your most memorable mistakes or successful decisions?

"The problem with living in the now is it means, by definition, you're not making plans for the future.  And the probability that the world will end tomorrow or you'll be hit by a truck is incredibly slim."  (p.. 48, loc. 598)  Which way do you lean - living in the now or planning for tomorrow?

Lucy keeps one of Gabe's pictures wrapped under her bed.  She knows she's held onto it way too long. (P. 49. loc. 616).  Do you have anything that you've held onto too long, especially from a previous relationship?

Gabe prefers full celebrations of birthdays.  Do you prefer grand gestures or low key birthday celebrations?  (pg. 53, loc. 657)

For her birthday, Gabe gives Lucy an outfit from her favorite store, where she shopped "only when they were having their seventy-percent-off sales".  (p. 54, loc. 663)  Where do you normally shop and where do you like to shop when there are big sales?

Finish Gabe and Lucy's conversation on pg. 55 (loc. 677):  'Do you believe in karma?' you asked.  "Like Hindu karma? Or like, if I steal someone's taxicab, I'll be cursed to suffer the same fate?" I asked back.  You smiled.  "There's definitely cab karma in this city, but that's not quite what I'm talking about.  It's not Hindu karma either.  I guess it's not really karma at all.  It's more like...do you think we get to love each other like this - so much, so strongly - because my dad was an asshole?  Is it my reward for living through that?  Getting this?"  You gestured at both of our naked bodies. "Or does having this now mean that I'll suffer later to make up for it?  Do we all get a finite amount of goodness in this world?"  Lucy believes, "people can end their lives having gotten all that they wanted out of it." (pg. 56, loc. 690)  Do you agree?

Lucy talks about her deep love for Gabe on pg. 63, loc. 751.  How do you finish the sentence, "I never knew how much I could love another human being until..."

When Lucy reflects on her awards ceremony she tells Gabe, "Sometimes I'll walk by someone and catch that same scent, and it'll throw me back to that day, even now.  Has that ever happened to you?  Have you ever been rocketed back in time by a scent?"  (pg. 65, loc. 764)  Later she says, "Scientists say that scent is one of the strongest memory triggers we have."  (Ch. 37, pg. 133, loc. 1477)  What about you, what scents bring back strong memories?

Gabe feels like his father when he wanted to push aside Lucy's dream and just focus on his own.  Because of that, he thinks she'd be better off without him. (pg. 74, loc. 864)  Was she?  If she had agreed to go with Gabe and follow his dream, would the story still have ended the same way? (pg. 74, loc. 872)

Lucy says of Darren, "He thought I was fully and completely his.  But he's never had all of me."  (Ch. 37, pg. 134, loc. 1489)  In the '90s there was a book published called "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris, with the premise being that people should only date in groups, as friends, until they are certain they are ready to get married.  Otherwise, they risk losing a piece of their heart with every relationship they have so that when they finally meet their spouse they don't have a whole heart to give them.  How do Lucy, Gabe and Darren exemplify this concept?  Would the theory have worked for Lucy?

Do you have a favorite line from your courtship? (pg. 88, loc. 1006)

Alexis suggests, "It take a guy to get over a guy." (pg. 94, loc. 1054)  Ironically Gabe used Lucy to get over Steph.  Do you agree with this philosophy?

Have you ever taken dance classes like Lucy and Darren? (Ch. 32, pg. 108, loc. 1193)  Share your experience.

Lucy feels like New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day and the Fourth of July are holidays that often feel like let-downs. (Ch. 33, pg. 110, loc. 1214)  What holidays consistently fall short of your expectations?

Lucy and Darren like to complete items from a bucket list. (Ch. 35, pg. 120, loc. 1330)  Do you have a bucket list?  Share some of your items.

Lucy says: There are people we come across during our lives who, after they drift out of our worlds, drift out for good.  Even if we see them again, it's a quick, meaningless hi and how are you?  There are other people, though, with whom things pick up right where the relationship left off, whenever we run into them.  The level of comfort -- it feels like no time has passed. (Ch. 37, pg. 130, loc. 1440)  Who is someone you pick right up with?  

While shopping, Kate and Lucy discuss happiness and wonder "what's the maximum happiness you can achieve with someone?" (Ch. 38, pg. 139, loc. 1552)  What's your maximum happiness number?

Lucy "figured there were two kinds of people in the world - some who loved giving gifts and others who loved receiving them".  (Ch. 40, pg. 145, loc. 1604)  Which type are you?

Until Darren got sick, Lucy was supposed to go with him to Colorado to celebrate Christmas with his family. (Ch 40, pg. 145, loc. 1606)  Where was your first courtship trip?

When Lucy calls out to Gabe in her dream, Darren asks her why she was saying "gave" and asks her what did she give.  (ch. 41, pg. 151, loc. 1677)  Did he not know Gabe's name, or was he trying to avoid awkwardness or give her a chance to be honest?

When Gabe asks about Lucy's boyfriend he calls him the wrong name and Lucy wonders if it is on purpose. (Ch. 43, pg. 159, loc. 1756)  Is it?

It rains on Lucy and Darren's wedding day. (Ch. 46, pg. 173, loc. 1905).  Lucy says, "People say rain on a wedding day is good luck.  I think someone somewhere just made that up so brides won't feel so bad when they woke up to a gloomy, overcast sky the day they were getting married."  What are your beliefs about rain on a wedding day?  What was the weather like on your wedding day?  

Lucy's mom reminds her that "there's a difference between infatuation and love". (Ch. 47, pg. 181, loc. 1992)  What was it between Lucy and Gabe - love or infatuation?

Lucy wondered if her brother would recognize her on the street, "out of context". (Ch. 49, pg. 186, loc. 2035)  Tell of a time when you didn't recognize someone out of context.

Lucy feels like "ninety-nine percent of surprises should be avoided at all cost."  (ch. 51, pg. 195, loc. 2129)  Do you like surprises or do you handle it better, like Lucy, if you can prepare for it?

Lucy does not like flying so Darren suggests they take several small flights instead of a longer flight.  (Ch. 57, pg. 220, loc. 2416)  Some families refuse to send everyone on the same flight.  In Gaza, "a woman...explained that she didn't let any of her three children sleep in the same room at night, so that if a bomb hit one part of her house, it wouldn't kill all her children at once." (Ch. 71, pg. 284, loc. 3123)  What alternative  arrangements do you make for the safety of your family?

Should Gabe have told Lucy he used her photos in the exhibit? (Ch. 60, Pg. 231, loc. 2519)  Darren insists on going to the exhibit.  (Ch. 60, pg. 231, loc. 2519)  How would you respond if photos of your spouse were in an exhibit?

Lucy has "a backlog of New Yorker magazines" that she didn't have time to read once she had children. (Ch. 65, pg. 254, loc. 2794)  What did you resist giving up when you became a mom?

Lucy thinks keeping a routine is easier and that "even using that smidgen of extra brainpower to choose a toilet paper brand can turn things from 'manageable' to 'overwhelming'."  (Ch. 65 pg. 256, loc. 2818)  What do you want to change in your routine of life, even if it takes an extra smidgen of brainpower?

Sometimes Lucy is surprised at how unhelpful Darren was with the children and it made her wonder, "Is this really the person I married?" (Ch. 66, pg. 258, loc. 2831)  What makes you wonder about the man you married?

Lucy misunderstands a relationship her husband was involved in.  She said, "The way people interpret a situation often says more about them than it does about the situation....We see everything through the filter of our own desires and regrets, hopes and fears." (Ch. 67, pg. 262, loc. 2870 & 2872)  Was there ever a time you misinterpreted a situation because of your own filters?

Should Lucy have been concerned because Darren didn't include a last name in Linda's contact information? (Ch. 67, pg. 262, loc. 2877)  Look at your own phone, of your non-family contacts - do you have more with or without last names?  Did you think Darren was having an affair with Linda?

When Darren reveals his surprise to Lucy, she realizes she'd "chosen to focus on what was wrong instead of what was right". (Ch. 69, pg. 279, loc. 3075)  Can Lucy fix her problems simply by shifting her focus?

Lucy is reluctant to tell her friends about the affair because she worries that it would change the way they see her if they know what she is capable of.  (Ch. 70, pg. 281, loc. 3095)  Is Lucy wrong to doubt them?  Would you tell your friends?  Would you change your opinion of a friend if they told you about an affair?

Lucy says Gabe wanted her "because of" and Darren wanted her "in spite of".  (Ch. 70, pg. 283, loc. 3113)  Which is better?

Lucy felt better understood by Gabe but was willing to "surrender- that feeling forever" to avoid hurting her kids.  (Ch. 70, pg. 283, loc. 3114)  How much should a woman give up for her kids?

Lucy says, "There are so many moments that change a person's world.  Some are because of a decision that's made.  Others, I think, might be because of the universe, fate, God, a higher power, whatever you want to call it." (Ch. 74, pg. 291, loc. 3176)  Do you think different choices, or knowledge of events, would have changed the end for Lucy and Gabe?  Was fate keeping Lucy from having to choose between two men she loved? (Ch. 77, pg. 309, loc. 3371)

Lucy comments that "being a mother changed [her] call-screening habits.  The last thing [she] ever wanted to do was not pick up when one of [her] kids needed [her]."  (Ch. 74, pg. 292, loc. 3185)  What habits changed when you became a mom?

Lucy feels like she can't make life-ending medical decisions over the phone.  (Ch. 74, pg. 293, loc. 3201)  What is her moral obligation to the patient?

In the airport Lucy tries to remember the first time she saw Gabe. (Ch. 76, pg. 301, loc. 3287)  Do you remember the first time you saw your spouse?

In Ch. 78, pg. 312, loc. 3398 there is a reference to "All the Light We Cannot See".  That is an actual novel about people trying to be good to each other, despite life's difficulties.  What did you think the title meant and what does it mean in reference to this book on the fictional nightstand?

Lucy wonders "what would be worse - if it is [Gabe's] or if it isn't [Gabe's]. (Ch. 79, pg. 317, loc. 3460)  What do you think would be worse?  Were you satisfied with who the father was?

What happens after Lucy returns to the U.S.?

In the credits, Santopolo thanks her parents "for never once acting like [her] dreams were disposable and for always encouraging [her] to go for it, whatever 'it' happened to be." (Ack. pg. 325, loc. 3542)  How was Lucy's life shaped by who did or didn't believe in her dreams?  How has yours been shaped by your dreams and those who supported you?  Whose dreams have you supported or not supported?

Theme Ideas

Play a game with pictures that are extremely zoomed in on normal objects and try and guess what they are "like modern art" (pg. 11, loc. 190) like Gabe did in college. 

Serve nachos like Lucy and Gabe ate for lunch on 9/11.  (tortilla chips, canned beans, grated cheese and sliced tomatoes - pg. 13, loc. 211)  Include salsa. (pg. 14, loc. 219)

Serve apple martinis like Lucy drank with her friends on her 23rd birthday.  (pg. 21, loc. 306)

Serve scrambled eggs, english muffins and coffee like when they had Lucy's apartment to themselves. (pg. 31, loc. 407)

Decorate with coffee table books of photographic art.

Serve waffles as a nod to the waffle maker that Gabe's mom sent him that she'd got on clearance and they made a point to use often. (pg. 50, loc. 619)

Decorate with stargazer lilies like Gabe sent a dozen to Lucy for her birthday. (p. 53, loc. 659)

Serve pasta with homemade pesto sauce and Melbec wine like Gabe prepared to celebrate getting his picture published. (p. 57, loc. 705)

Serve mozzarepas and crepes like Lucy and Gabe ate at the street fair. (pg. 75, loc. 879)

Serve martinis like Lucy drank with Alexis when trying to forget Gabe the summer after he left.
Serve mac and cheese like they ate because Gabe hated it. (pg. 82, loc. 951)

Serve a "coffee-and-chocolate pairing" like on Lucy and Darren's first date. (pg. 87, loc. 991)

Serve pretzels dipped in peanut butter like Darren would have used to drown his sorrows if Lucy had not invited him over. (pg. 102, loc. 1133)

Serve cosmos and apple martinis like the girls drank on their first Valentine's after college.  (Ch. 33, pg. 110, loc. 1216)  Serve truffle-grilled-cheese sandwiches (ch. 33, pg 111, loc. 1224) like Gabe made for Lucy on their Valentine's day, with a bottle of champagne in a small garbage pail full of ice (Ch. 33, pg. 111, loc. 1224).

Serve peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches - some with smooth peanut butter (for Lucy) and some with crunchy (for Darren) like Darren made for their bike ride. (Ch. 36, pg. 128, loc. 1416)

Serve "Bloomingdale's yogurt" like Kate and Lucy got when they went shopping for Kate's trip. (Ch. 38, pg. 136, loc. 1505)

Serve Cornish game hens with simmered sauce and champagne like Lucy and Darren cooked for their first dinner in their new apartment. (Ch. 42, pg. 155, loc. 1717)  Or serve pizza and wine like Lucy and Gabe's first dinner then their apartment. (ch. 42, pg. 155, loc. 1719)

Serve creme brulee and Vin Santo like Lucy and Darren had when they went to Paris. (Ch. 44, pg. 165, loc. 1824)

Serve spaghetti carbonara like Darren and Lucy made when he got back from the bachelor party in Montreal. (Ch. 45, pg. 172, loc. 1900)

Decorate with a bouquet of sunflowers like Lucy carried on her wedding day. (Ch. 46, pg. 174, loc. 1914)

Serve raki like Lucy and Darren discovered on their honeymoon and drank when they were discussing Lucy's photos in the exhibit.  (Ch. 60, pg. 232, loc. 2537)

Serve cubed food, especially chicken cubes since Liam preferred cubed meat.  (Ch. 67, pg. 262, loc. 2878)

Serve "fried mozzarella bites and a plate of mini Cuban sandwiches" like Lucy and Gabe ordered when they reunited. (Ch. 68, pg. 270, loc. 2960)

Serve pizza like Darren suggested after they surprised Lucy with the house.  (Ch. 69, pg. 280, loc. 3087)

Serve coffee, chi, and pretzels, like the items Lucy found in Gabe's apartment. (Ch. 78, pg. 313, loc. 3409)

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