About the Novel
Discussion Questions for
When We Lost Touch
by Susan Kraus
When We Lost Touch
a genre-bending novel. What genre or genres do you think this book fits into?
There is a genre evolving called “socially conscious fiction.” It is literature that prioritizes factual accuracy, addresses bias, and tackles polarizing or misunderstood social and political issues. Do you see
When We Lost Touch
as fitting that category? Did it cause you to reflect differently on any issue?
This novel is told in third person with shifting points of view. Does this work for you? Were there too many narrative voices?
The characters experience time in different ways, and Kraus utilizes ‘Historical Context’ fact-notes at the end of each chapter to ground the novel in a particular moment in time. What has been your own experience of time during the pandemic? Were the ‘Historical Context’ notes useful? Distracting? Do they help to explain a collective cognitive dissonance?
There are multiple endings in
When We Lost Touch
. Some bring closure while others leave the reader hanging. With the latter, did you rewrite the ending in your head? What kinds of endings did you construct?
There are multiple protagonists, each with their own story. But who are the antagonists? Are they different for each major character? Is the over-reaching antagonist the virus? Or more those positions of leadership and how they managed the pandemic?
Are there some characters who are stereotypes? What characters did you initially see as possibly stereotypes but for whom you developed empathy or attachment?
Setting is part of every story. This novel is mostly set in Kaw Valley, a university town in Kansas. Is this a novel about a particular place or a representative place? How do the experiences described mirror or differ from your own ‘place’ and setting?
How did flashbacks contribute to the different narratives? How did they influence your understanding of a character?
Were there any symbols used that made an impression? What about the child’s bootie that Theo found in the waiting room--- a bootie that has a story all its own?
COVID & Quarantine
Grace returns from her cruise to find her country turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. How did you react to the pandemic in the spring of 2020? What were the hardest changes in your life?
Mickey does research on “pods” and how to stay safe --home sanitization-- early in the novel. Who was in your COVID pod? What measures did you take to protect your family from COVID?
Did you binge watch any shows or movies? Which ones and why?
How did your sense of time expand or constrict while at home during COVID?
Katrina cannot get tested for COVID despite her severe symptoms. Did you or anyone you know struggle to get tested early in the pandemic?
Did you or someone you know struggle with long-haul COVID? After reading this book, has your understanding of long-haul COVID changed? Has the possibility of long-haul COVID caused you to feel more anxious?
Max is a boy on the autism spectrum, and his perception of COVID is framed differently. How did you react to Max? Was there anything in his responses that provided perspective?
Mickey builds a backyard sauna as his quarantine project. Did you take on a creative project during COVID?
The pandemic made painfully clear the great disparities in health care and socio-economic stability in our country. But this book is mostly about middle-class responses--- and middle-class concerns. Can you recall some issues that were mentioned but not fully explored?
Grace compares Molly and Mike’s online relationship during COVID to her parents’ relationship during World War II. Do you see similarities in this comparison, or is it a stretch?
Molly and Mike are both single parents who built their relationship online over Zoom and text rather than in-person. What do you think about how this relationship evolves? How does it compare to relationships in hookup culture? Do you think their relationship will last?
Amber, one of Grace’s clients, is in an abusive relationship. Do you think leaving the state and taking the kids is fair to her husband? Do you agree or disagree with Amber’s decision and Grace’s advice?
There are many mothers in this novel. What are some of the challenges they face as mothers during COVID? Is there a particular character or struggle that resonates with you?
Mickey and Max develop a special relationship during COVID. How is it different for Max as he has never had a father figure? For Mickey as he never had a biological child?
Grace and Katrina’s friendship is challenged. How have your friendships been challenged by social or political issues?
Molly and Grace forged a deep bond. Do you see their understanding of each other as grounded and accurate? Are they missing things as well?
Mickey and Grace are a couple who never expected to be ‘coupled up’ again in their lives. Have do you feel about their relationship?
Max and Jocelynn forge an unusual connection. What is it about Max that makes that possible?
Do you see the Katrina and Crystal relationship as realistic?
Grace’s client, John, is concerned about his mother’s growing distance from her children and grandchildren. He blames her husband and QAnon for this. Has your family been challenged by clashing political beliefs? How have you attempted to resolve these differences? What did you think about Grace’s advice?
Many of the characters in
When We Lost Touch
discuss or debate different issues. Were there any issues mentioned that made you feel uncomfortable? Did you find yourself agreeing more with certain characters?
Zed and Cherry found connection and validation in QAnon. Did you experience empathy for them? Judgement towards them?
How did you respond to Betty’s ‘revealed’ assertions about Donald Trump “being Satan?” Is Betty someone you see as grounded? What do you think about Grace’s advice?
How have your political views influenced your responses to COVID? Do politics have a role in medical science? In what ways?
Fiction has no requirement to be ‘balanced’ politically. Does historical fiction need to be balanced? Does history always reflect the race/culture/bias of whoever has power and writes the history?
Health Care & Ethics
Theo and his wife are frontline medical workers during the pandemic. Did this book give you a more intimate view into some of the challenges of frontline medical workers?
Theo struggles with the medical ethics of COVID treatment. What do you see as some of the main ethical struggles? How do you think they were or were not addressed in this novel?
Take the expression, “the ends justify the means,” and apply it to different characters and choices in
When We Lost Touch.
Are people entitled to break rules under certain circumstances? Are ethics sometimes situational? Have you had times or experiences in your own life where the ends justified the means?
What end of life care do you want for yourself or your family members? What ethical principles do you believe should be applied to dying?
In the legal system, there are often cases that apply standards of contribution. Do you agree or disagree that standards of contribution could be used in the future to triage medical treatment? In other words, if people reject science and CDC guidelines, do they have the same entitlements as people who have done everything they can to avoid infection?
Imagine yourself on a jury in a case of a frontline medical worker charged with homicide or manslaughter who was faced with making decisions of which patient had the best chance to live. Do you have religious or ethical principles that would influence your judgement?
Grief, Loss, & Death
Did you know about DMORT before you read this book? Were there other ‘surprises’ in the novel as far as your understanding of our national response to COVID?
There is an entire chapter devoted to Jocelynn and what a "good death” looks like. It illustrates the profound differences between a “good death” and a “COVID death.” How do you think that grief has been compounded by being unable to give people they love a ‘good death’? What are
thoughts and feelings as you compare the two?
Did you lose someone, family or friend, to COVID? How did the experiences and responses of the grief group members resonate with your loss? If you have not lost anyone to COVID, what surprised you about their reactions?
The issue of accidental infection was raised with Sofia and also with Katrina. Are you aware of deaths or severe illness as a result of accidental infection?
Do you believe that people who refused to follow protocols were complicit in their own deaths?
Beth and Kayla, especially, blame certain people for infecting and killing their mothers. Is this a reasonable position? Unreasonable?
Which member of the grief group did you feel the most connection with or empathy for?
Did you feel that each member of the grief group had their own unique experience of grief? What were some commonalities between their experiences?
What was your response to their act of “baking rebellion?”
Some of the characters in
When We Lost Touch
have experienced trauma. How do you see certain characters as “traumatized?” What have you experienced in your own life, whether you define it as traumatic or not, that has impacted how you feel, think, or react?
Grace and Katrina have open discussions about race in this book. Have you talked about race with your friends and family? Why or why not? Would you consider doing so after reading their conversations?
Kraus quoted statistics from multiple sources during the race discussions. Were those facts new or surprising? How did the discussions mirror some of your own experiences of living in your ‘skin’?
How has your own upbringing (community, religion, race, ethnicity, heritage) informed your sense of security? How about your trust or distrust in law enforcement and the legal system? Have your assumptions changed since the murder of George Floyd?
For white readers, how have you benefitted from white privilege? Can you come up with ten examples of privilege from your daily life?
White people often assert that they are ‘color blind’ as a positive, meaning an absence of bias. Has reading this changed your perceptions of how being blind to race is more about being blind to the privileges that come with a white skin?
Susan Kraus is a white woman, raised in a white town, who attended white schools (much like Grace.) Yet she has written a novel that includes the thoughts and feelings of a biracial woman who struggles with colorism. Do you see Katrina’s narratives as realistic? Does it feel like appropriation?
What does "critical race theory" mean to you? Does it trigger a negative response? Do you see the American history that oyu were taught as balanced? Why are fact-based curriculum changes controversial?