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Interactive Book Club / Discussion Questions / Book Reviews

Discussion Questions

  1. In the early part of the novel, Zoe seems to be a puzzle to her colleagues and a mystery to her husband. Yet she responds with unexpected openness to Michael, the Mountain Man. Is she, like him, searching for Utopia? Has she, like him, believed in something and then been disappointed?

  2. Zoe identifies autoimmune disease at the cellular level as "a case of mistaken identity, identifying the self as the other, as if it were some unknown pathogen to be fended off." Do you accept what Let Me See seems to suggest, that autoimmune disorder is an apt metaphor for contemporary culture? Explain.

  3. Although she tries hard, Iris cannot get a satisfactory answer to her question, “Why didn’t you tell the police at the roadblock about the man you met?” How serious an offense was Zoe’s refusal to disclose this information? What do you think her real motivation was?

  4. Anna slips in and out of the story, taking care of the family in myriad ways. What purpose does Anna serve for the author?

  5. After her near-death experience in Slumber Falls, Zoe fights her way to the surface, the sound of air exploding from her lungs “like the sound of giving birth.” In what way has Zoe experienced a rebirth?

  6. How are Zoe's problem with addiction to prescription drugs and her seeming refusal to take the problem seriously played out in her rushing headlong to get involved in the struggles portrayed in the story?

  7. In the midst of all the upheavals in her life, the fact that Zoe's husband has been having an affair with her best friend seems to take a back seat. What accounts for Zoe’s willingness to readily forgive them both, and how does this fit with your notion of how you would react to such a situation.

  8. Consider the importance of Travis. Is he a fully realized character? Why or why not?

  9. At San Cristobal, Zoe decides to converse with a child and is accused by the mother of giving the child the Evil Eye. What affect does this message have on Zoe? Were you surprised at her response to the mother?

  10. Law enforcement plays a big role in this story. Are the members of the law enforcement community portrayed realistically or with bias? Give examples from the story.

  11. What do you make of the healing ceremony by the curandera? In your opinion, can such healers actually effect cures? If so, how?

  12. How does each setting—the hospital, the Davis Mountains, Mexico—reflect Zoe’s mental state at the time?

  13. One reader said this Zoe’s story is “structured like a nautilus—chamber after chamber, each related to and enlarging on the last.” In your opinion, does this image describe the book? How?

  14. Does Zoe’s story provide any answers to Freud’s famous question, “What do women want?”

Book Review

Here's a review of Let Me See by Pat Orr, a member of the Localismos Book Club in Bastrop, Texas. The Interactive Book Club at the top of this page allows you to join in the discussion.

If Zoe Dempsey had never met the stranger on the mountainside on a late spring evening—or even if she had not given him the directions that, in the end, did not save him—she would never have started on the wild ride that is the course of this novel. That would have been a loss both for Zoe and for the readers of this book.

A physician and healer, she specializes in autoimmune disease, which occurs when the body's mechanism for fighting disease, unable to distinguish between ally and enemy, attacks its own healthy cells. The cause is unknown, and methods of treatment are hotly contested.

Zoe herself is under attack. Long hours of work and constant pain from a diving accident have contributed to a dependence on painkillers that she has spent a year overcoming. A colleague is determined to undermine her professional standing and discredit her choice of treatments. Her preoccupations have her drifting further from her husband and their beloved daughter than she realizes.

But it is hard to stop Zoe. She deals with the addiction, even as she protests that she is no addict. She confronts her persecutor and continues with her plan to add a curandera, an alternative healer, to her spectrum of treatment. She rediscovers her family on a retreat to family property in the Big Bend country. And there she meets the sad and desperate man on the mountainside, at the liminal hour of dusk, beginning the headlong rush of events that takes her into a near-death experience, betrayal by someone she trusts, incarceration, and close to unbearable loss.

Each experience, different from the one before, is related to Zoe's previous errors and insights and feeds both her growing frustration and her growing awareness. She never loses all her blind spots, and so is always palpably human. She learns as she goes. Even when nearly overwhelmed with suffering, she can register the humanity of people she meets and be astounded by a brush with grace.

In all this, she confirms what she has seen all along, that society, like the human body, can suspect and attack its own, a paradox left to each reader to interpret. As I view it, those who needlessly react and fight may lose their humanity, while humanity somehow thrives in those they attempt to oppress.

The writing style complements this swift, forceful narrative: crisp, brief sentences that highlight the depth of Zoe's experience. The novel's structure adds to the delight. Like a nautilus, it opens out into chamber after chamber, each a surprise but related to and enlarging upon what has come before. In doing so it creates a breath-taking sense of the mutuality of medicine and politics and also illuminates the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the enterprise of living. This is a riveting story about a woman who is blind to much but learns to see much more, and generously takes the reader with her as she goes.