Readers Guide

Readers Guide for A History of the Present Illness. Suggested topics for discussion:

  1. In “Snapshots From An Institution,” what purpose do Charles’ antics (the story-within-the-story) serve?
  2. In “An American Problem,” why does the Khmer assistant use this phrase to describe Bopha’s bedwetting?
  3. Do you get the sense that Robert really enjoyed being a doctor in “Giving Good Death”?  What about the narrator in “Becoming a Doctor”?  Or Ray in “Lucky You”?
  4. Why does Louise Aronson choose to set Marta’s difficulties with her daughter Sophie against the backdrop of Marta’s father’s last days and death?
  5. What do you think the narrator’s mother-in-law means by “Form is not always content’s container” in the story “Twenty-Five Things I Know About My Husband’s Mother”?
  6. What effect does the structure of short stanzas in multiple alternating points of view have in “Fires and Flat Lines”?
  7. What tips you off to the irony of “Blurred Boundary Disorder”?  Why would Louise Aronson include this seemingly ludicrous story in the collection?
  8. Why is “Vital Signs Stable” told in everyone but Edith’s point of view?
  9. Is Ruth’s behavior at the end of “Days of Awe” selfish?  Justified?
  10. In “Lucky You,” why doesn’t Perla help the boy who falls?
  11. Why does the narrator (or the author) continue to emphasize the themes of objectivity and truth in “A Medical Story”?
  12. Many of the doctors in A History of the Present Illness face ethical dilemmas with their patients, including Chitra in “Soup or Sex?” and the narrator in “The Promise.”  There are strict guidelines and laws governing doctors’ behavior. Do you think it is ok for a doctor to interpret the rules somewhat flexibly, even just a little bit, if s/he believes it will bring comfort to a patient?
  13. The phrase “good death” appears in a number of the collection’s stories.  What does this phrase mean?  Why the repetition?
  14. What is the role of the narrative of medicine in the medical world?  Why is it important?


Download the full Reader’s Guide for book clubs (PDF)
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