The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know Discussion Guide

Warning: Contains Plot Spoilers!

The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know
By Brent Hartinger

Synopsis

Twenty-three-year-old Russel Middlebrook searches for the secret to gay life and love in trendy Seattle.

Major Themes and Ideas

(1) The twenties are a time of exploration and self-discovery. But while that can be exciting, it can also be confusing and frightening.

(2) Everyone has illusions in life; they’re part of what keep us going. But most illusions are not sustainable over the long-term.

(3) Nobody knows anything for sure, but people are very reluctant to admit that to other people, compounding our individual feelings of frustration and isolation.

(4) The most important thing of all is human connection. But in a way, it’s also the most difficult.

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Discussion Questions

(1) The first line in the book is: “I was officially lost.” But Russel’s not just lost in a bad part of town. In what other ways is he lost?

(2) Russel divides the people around him into those with Unstoppable Career Drive and those with Passionate Aimlessness. Is that really accurate? If it’s not, why would Russel think it?

(3) Is Russel a reliable narrator? Can you think of examples of how he isn’t?

(4) Russel decides not to call Kevin, because it’s better to live with the fantasy than risk the reality that it might not work out. Have you ever done something like this?

(5) What do you think of Vernie? Is she a good influence on Russel? Why? Do you think Russel’s right when he suspects she’s befriending him, at least in part, because she feels guilty about how she treated her own children?

(6) Russel repeatedly questions whether the things he says are racist or sexist. Regardless of what you think about his specific comments, do you find yourself worrying if people will take offense at things you say? What does that say about the age we live in?

(7) What do you think about polyamory? What do you think about Russel’s annoyance about how polyamorists try to associate their movement with the LGBT one? Is Min right when she says polyamory isn’t necessarily about sex?

(8) Is Russel an asshole? Why? Does that the fact that he worries he’s being an asshole make him less of an asshole, or is he just rationalizing?

(9) What does Russel mean when he says that he and Kevin have “lost their innocence.” Have they really? Is such a loss inevitable?

(10) Virtually every character in the book chooses to hold an illusion about something: Russel, Min, Gunnar, Kevin, Vernie, even Boston, the Bigfoot hunters, and Russel’s parents. What are their respective illusions? What does it mean that most of these illusions are not sustainable in the long run? What illusions do you hold? Have you ever deliberately chosen to believe an illusion over reality? What happened?

(11) The thing Russel didn’t know he didn’t know is that his friends are just as lost and confused as he is. Do you remember when you first had this realization? Did knowing it make you feel better?

(12) The other thing Russel didn’t know (or at least didn’t remember) is the importance of his friends. He says they’re at least as important as a husband or wife. Is he right?

(13) Did Gunnar really see Bigfoot?

(14) If you don’t know you’re lost, are you still lost? If you can’t know for sure the meaning of your life, does that make it less meaningful?

(15) Vernie says that the ending to a story should be both unexpected and inevitable. Would the ending to this story qualify? Russel says it’s not a fake feel-good ending like the ending to Pretty Woman because he earned it. Did he?

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