In the novel, The Wonder of Ordinary Magic, Bobby Weaver is a young writer with an unfinished novel: a murder mystery involving two strangers hiking on the Appalachian Trail who slowly fall head over heels for each other. However, there’s a caveat to Bobby’s work —Bobby’s in a coma, deteriorating both physically and mentally while still painfully aware of what’s going on around him. As Bobby strives to tie up loose ends in his final story, if just for himself and his characters, the reader is given a glimpse of the life he’s left behind in the form of day-in-the-life vignettes of his family. A vibrant, original story steeped in symbolism and family ties, this haunting debut explores the subtle ways lives are connected, broken, and renewed by love.
1. The Wonder of Ordinary Magic shifts between seven main characters; Bobby and members of his extended his family. How did the mixture of voices shape your experience of reading this novel? What are the strengths and drawbacks of this format? Did you find yourself drawn to any one character in particular? Why?
2. Bobby is in a coma, yet still living a rich and significant inner life, not only commenting on what is happening around him, but also finishing the novel he was working on before the accident. Have you ever wondered what coma patients, or other severely disabled people are capable of experiencing in their minds? Similar to Bobby’s own internal narrative, each chapter focuses on one character at a time and we get a sense of their history and fluctuating emotions. If you could slip into other people’s heads, disabled or not, do you believe you would find that people are more—or less—alike?
3. In Chapter Two, Miranda remembers that after she properly mourned for her mother, she almost thought Mary “would simply walk back into the kitchen one morning while she was standing at the stove making Chloe pancakes and say, Well done Miranda. Now help me plant the snap peas, the season’s getting well along, and if we wait any longer, we won’t get our two harvests.” Have you lost someone close to you? Did you ever experience moments of “magical thinking” as you grieved this loss, believing irrational thoughts even briefly, perhaps that the person wasn’t really dead or that you could somehow find them or “rewrite” the events that led up to their death?
4. The writer in Bobby feels compelled to finish the murder mystery he was working on before the coma. Did you like his writing style and did you enjoy reading this story-within-a-story? Do the characters in his book have anything in common with the people in his life? Do you get a better sense of the kind of man Bobby was through his internal monologue or from the murder mystery he was writing?
5. How does Chloe’s stream of thought differ from that of the adults around her? Do you think she had a special connection with her Uncle Bobby? Do you believe taking her to see Bobby regularly was a good idea, or should children be sheltered from sick or dying family members?
6. In what ways do Josh and Michael differ regarding their attitude toward “coming out” and gay rights? Do you think basic personality traits, or family background contribute more to these differences? In your own life, how much influence did your upbringing have on your current state of happiness, on the choices you’ve made as an adult and on the lifestyle you’ve chosen?
7. Tom’s favorite book and movie is The Legend of Bagger Vance. Using golf as a metaphor for life, the caddy Bagger tells Junah that each of us has an Authentic Swing that we are born with, that is ours alone. He says we should not be taught or molded to some ideal version of the perfect swing. What do you think Bagger Vance meant by this? If you are a parent, how might this idea relate to raising your children?
8. At one point Tom wonders, “Do we nominate ourselves for the roles we play in our life, or are they assigned to us like our authentic swing, before we can even walk, before we even take our first breath?” How would you answer this question? He also says he feels like there is something missing in his life. Is it possible for Tom to still be a good husband, brother, and father when he feels like this?
9. Jack spends a lot of time thinking about the past and in Chapter Twenty the author writes, “It seemed to Jack that the more time and love you are gifted in a lifetime, the more things you will surely come to miss when old age and loss begin to take their inevitable toll.” Do you think our memories keep us company as we age or cause us greater heartache?
10. The word magic is used often in The Wonder of Ordinary Magic and is, of course, in the title. Explain the meaning of the title and give an example of ordinary magic from the book. Grief, courage, vulnerability, family, and connection are other topics explored in this novel. Discuss the theme that resonated most with you and give an example from the book.
11. As the story follows an extended family dealing with everyday life and personal tragedy, clues and symbols appear to indicate a timeline and a wider struggle. For example; Colin Powell is The Secretary of State, Chloe remarks about the number shaped frown lines her mommy gets when she’s sad, two dead crows are spread out like airplanes in Bobby’s murder mystery, Miranda wished she could protect Chloe “from a world that seemed more treacherous than ever, a world still seeking traction after witnessing ruin.” How do you feel about the way Bobby became injured? Are the events of that day integral to the story these characters tell us, would it have mattered if Bobby had been injured in a different way?
12. In the Epilogue the author writes, “Bobby feels a shift; a subtle change in the energy around him; a quickening and a lightening. He sits up, climbs out of bed, then turns and looks at the man in the bed.” Does this chapter feel like a continuation of the magical realism of Bobby’s coma narrative, or does it in fact seem more real? What do you think the significance is of the sliver of moonlight Bobby sees in each room as he visits his family members one last time? Were you surprised at the ending? Did you find it satisfying?