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Guide to Sitting Practice by Caroline Adderson

It only takes a moment for your life to be changed forever—as the characters of this darkly comic novel discover early on. The fateful moment for the newlyweds Ross and Iliana comes with the freak automobile accident that leaves Iliana paralyzed, Ross grief-stricken, and both of them struggling to come to terms with a married life nothing like they originally had in mind. As the usually affable Ross struggles with guilt and with finding ways to cope with his newly fractured life, Iliana gets used to her unwelcome existence as a wheelchair-bound wife, to her husband’s growing sense of alienation, and to their awkward new lack of intimacy.

What ultimately happens with Ross and Iliana is as unexpected and surprising as the fateful mishap that sets the events in motion in the first place. Sitting Practice is a clever and insightful study of love’s collision with harsh reality, told by an author with a remarkable instinct for the workings of human nature, a nimble gift for language, and the ability to find humor in the oddest places.


1. The term “sitting practice” is often used to describe meditation. What other meanings might the title Sitting Practice have?

2. Several characters in the novel use their spiritual beliefs to justify their behaviour.  For example, Iliana’s father uses his Christian values to bully the family.  Ross’s lapsed Catholicism is his excuse for not making love to Iliana on their first date.  Later, his purported Buddhism strains their marriage.  Discuss the effect religion and spirituality have on the main relationships in the book.

3. Whose behavior more genuinely reflects their moral and spiritual beliefs, Ross’s or Iliana’s?  Stevie’s or Ross’s?

4. Iliana is unfaithful to Ross when she has an affair with Stevie.  Ross also castigates himself for being unfaithful to his twin sister Bonnie.  But in what ways has Ross broken faith with Iliana?  Are there limits to fidelity?

5. Family members introduce a secondary conflict in the novel. Compare Iliana and Ross’s respective treatment of their extended families.  What stresses does it place on their relationship?  To what extent are their marital problems due to their not starting a family of their own?  How might Stevie’s family background have shaped his character?

6. Ross’s sister Bonnie is an exasperating character, as much to her fictional family as to readers.  What are her good points?

7. As a result of the accident, Iliana is paralyzed from the waist down, but it is Ross who is left impotent.  To what extent are their problems in their mind?  To what extent in their bodies?

8. A connection is made in the novel between food and sexual appetite.  Discuss.

9. There are a number of explicit sexual scenes in the novel, but none of them would appear in a Hollywood movie.   What is the author saying about sex and love?

10. After the accident Ross thinks: “Life, that double column of gains and losses, which in the end must cancel each other out, owed Iliana anything she wanted.”   Does the affair cancel out Ross’s guilt over the accident?    Can this kind of moral accounting ever lead to true forgiveness?

11. Will Ross and Iliana stay married?

This guide reprinted with permission of the author.

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Posted by Pearl on Jul 20 2010. Filed under Reading Guides. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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