Turning Points – Reading Group Guide

What is evil? What is sin? What is the force of love and its loss?

These are more than just theoretical questions. They can force themselves upon us, and when they do, they can reduce everything else in our lives to insignificance, as they do with the characters in these stories. 

The Arsonists:

  • Evil is palpable and undeniable in “The Arsonists,” a story that asks how it fits not only in our lives but in the universe? Is it necessary? Can it even be positive?
  • How does Tommy answer these questions? Tommy’s mother? Larry?
  • As their criminal journey winds on further and further, how do Alex’ and Tommy’s feeling about each other change?
  • How does the whole barn-burning episode change Tommy’s feelings about himself?
  • The effort to catch the arsonist throws the relationship between Larry and his brother, Weller, into bold relief. How would you describe it?

The Stunt:

  • Weller fell into a “big brother” role with Roy, but he failed to recognize an important element in Roy’s psyche until it was too late. What was it that Weller missed? How did it affect Roy’s behavior?
  • What do you think Roy really intended to do during his final swoop over the creek in the Stearman biplane?
  • What went wrong with Roy’s relationship with the girl he fell in love with? How did she react to him?

The Return of the Visigoths:

  • Larry’s world was disintegrating, and radical changes in his life had become inevitable. What was his response?
  • How did his relationship with Ann, an older married woman, affect the way he faced his problems?
  • Why do you think Ann got into this relationship with an 18-year-old boy? Why did she stick with it as long as she did? Why did she eventually slip out of it?
  • Neither Ann, nor Larry, nor Tom ever seem to have the slightest ethical qualms about their relationship? Should they?

God’s Phone Booth:

  • Larry at 12 struggles desperately to avoid what he is certain is mortal sin, sufficient to damn him for eternity. Father Phillips inserts himself squarely into Larry’s struggle with his conscience. What is his effect upon Larry, especially upon Larry’s faith?
  • Larry concludes that he is different from all the other children in his school. Is he? If yes, how? If not, why does he think so?
  • Larry is caught in a squeeze play between his mother and Father Phillips. Explain that situation. How does Larry’s mother view his ethical dilemma?