Discussion Questions

“The novel is not the author’s confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.”–Milan Kundera

Discussion Questions: Beyond the Precipice

  1. Name and describe the 7 stages of grief. What stage(s) of grief do you think Bret is in? How do Bret’s guilt over his father’s death and withholding details from his mother prevent him from processing his grief and finding closure? Support your answers.
  1. FallingFromPrecipice-dreamstime_xs_19825505Why did Bret agree to Drake’s conditions after the death of their father? (Consider Bret’s age at that time of the accident and the existing family dynamics.)
  1. Bret mentions on a couple of occasions that Drake is acting the way he is because that’s how he deals with the grief over the loss of their father (“It was just his brother’s way of coping,” 38; “Drake had a right to be angry,” p. 195). What does this show about Bret’s character compared to his brother Drake’s?
  1. When his father died, what kind of security did Drake lose? To whom did he turn to compensate? Why was Bret not affected in the same way?
  1. What had Bret’s father disapproved of in Bret’s childhood other than music? Why? Show the differences in the way Niall Killeen treated his sons when he was alive and list the reasons he had for these discrepancies. How did Niall drive his sons apart? What were Niall’s fears?
  1. What do Bret’s song lyrics mean? (p. 70, 82)


  1. How do Kern’s character and values contrast with Niall’s? What does this illuminate for Bret? How does it plunge him further into internal conflict?
  1. During the Shakespeare scene (p. 76) Bret explains to Colin about Lady Macbeth, “she goes mad from her guilt of being involved in the murders of King Duncan and the Macduff family. She tries to cleanse her hands of their blood but never can.” He then takes the role of Lady Macbeth as they practise the play, to which Emil adds jokingly, “Let’s see you go mad, Bret.” Where is this foreshadow later acted out by Bret in his own life?
  1. What do the contests between Bret and Emil at the Willoughbys’ lake (Chapters Ten) and on the ravine staircase (Chapter Twelve) reveal about Bret’s character? Why is this important to the story? (Hint: On p. 88Bret says, “I’m used to being tired”–that’s one aspect of his life. Emil then asks, “Why do you push yourself so hard?” and tells him, “Well, you’ve got grit.” To this, Bret answers, “Sometimes that’s all there is,” and flashes back to his abusive uncle and why it’s important to stay fit, not vulnerable.)
  1. Why does Bret’s behaviour deteriorate in December? Why does he show self-loathing?
  1. Why can’t Bret let go of his father’s wishes, and why is he still desperate to please him?
  1. What is the difference between conditional and unconditional love? Who provides which in the book? Support your answers.
  1. Why is Bret ultimately able to accept Kern’s gifts and love for him? (Hint: It has to do with Kyra during Bret’s early childhood.)
  1. How does Emil’s relationship with Bret provide contrast to Scott’s friendship? (Hint: What were their respective families like, and what did they value?)
  1. Bret lost more than one family member at the time of his father’s death. Who was/were the other(s)? Do you believe the loss is permanent? Why or why not?
  1. Do you agree with Scott’s response after he finds out the rest of Bret’s story? How would you respond?
  1. How does Bret vindicate himself in his own mind and to his father about his fear of heights, which, combined with his gift in music, represented weakness and lack of success in life in his father’s opinion?
  1. Who has more potential to be self-sufficient: Bret or Drake? (Consider what each did in the years after Niall’s death.)
  1. How do Macbeth, Oliver Twist, and the partial words of Good King Wenceslas (p. 268) relate to Bret and some of the situations in his life?
  1. What is meant by “Something loathsome, yet familiar” (p. 348, Chapter 48) in reference to Blade and the incident at the radio tower? To whom is Bret referring?

Published by Dream Write Publishing, Ltd. Artwork by Phobaphobia Productions.

About Beyond the Precipice  |  About Beyond the Music

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