The Possible World

A Novel

The Possible World

A richly compelling and deeply moving novel that traces the converging lives of a young boy who witnesses a brutal murder, the doctor who tends to him, and an elderly woman guarding her long buried past.

It seems like just another night shift for Lucy, an overworked ER physician in Providence, Rhode Island, until six-year-old Ben is brought in as the sole survivor from a horrifying crime scene. He’s traumatized and wordless; everything he knows has been taken from him in an afternoon. It’s not clear what he saw, or what he remembers.

Lucy, who’s grappling with a personal upheaval of her own, feels a profound, unexpected connection to the little boy. She wants to help him…but will recovering his memory heal him, or damage him further?

Across town, Clare will soon be turning one hundred years old. She has long believed that the lifetime of secrets she’s been keeping don’t matter to anyone anymore, but a surprising encounter makes her realize that the time has come to tell her story.

As Ben, Lucy, and Clare struggle to confront the events that shattered their lives, something stronger than fate is working to bring them together.

An expertly stitched story that spans nearly a century—from the Great Depression through the Vietnam War era and into the present—The Possible World is a captivating novel about the complicated ways our pasts shape our identities, the power of maternal love, the loneliness born out of loss, and how timeless bonds can help us triumph over grief.
  • Scribner | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501166143 | 
  • June 2018
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Possible World includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The Possible World traces the converging lives of Lucy, Ben, and Clare. Though they are from different walks of life and belong to different generations, what do they have in common? Of the three, whom did you relate to the most?

2. The friendship between Clare and Gloria, Oak Haven’s newest resident, takes some time to blossom. According to Gloria, what she and Clare have in common is a love of reading and possession of most of their marbles. But what other qualities or motives draw the two women together?

3. Why did Clare choose to name herself after St. Clare of Assisi, “the saint who had lived in poverty with God” (p. 185)? Do you agree with Prior Washburn that it is a fitting name, given her circumstances at the time? Does it continue to be a good fit later in her life?

4. Lucy’s life revolves around her job as an emergency room physician. Why do you think she’s so tied to a career that can “swing from a beautiful satisfaction . . . . to a dismal failure” all in one day? How does the aphor see more

About the Author

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz
Photograph by Amy Stern

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, an emergency-medicine doctor, published her first novel Near Canaan while in medical school. Her most recent novel is The Possible World, and she currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.