Discussion Guide: The Triumphs and Travails of Talisman Turner

Triumphs and Travails of Talisman Turner (book cover)

Psych & the City #1

Below is the discussion guide for The Triumphs and Travails of Talisman Turner. It’s perfect for book clubs who love to explore questions regarding love, marriage, and psychology.


Discussion Questions

  1. At the very beginning of the novel, Tali smiles into a mirror as long and as hard as she possibly can. According to the facial feedback hypothesis, the act of smiling should make a person happier. The exact reason for why this is supposed to work is still open to debate. (While James Laird contends the effect is due to self-perception, Robert Zajonc maintains that smiling increases the flow of cooler air to the brain, lowering brain temperature, thereby elevating one’s mood.)
    Test out the hypothesis for yourself. Did it work? I’ve heard women declare that their face hurts from all the smiling they’ve done, but I’ve yet to hear a man make the same complaint. Why do you think that is?
  2. One of Tali’s goals is to lucidly dream, in other words, to train herself to be aware she’s dreaming and consequently, be able to control the events of her dreams. Flying is one common lucid dreaming goal; fantasy fulfillment involving a romantic crush is another. If you could control the events in your dreams, what would you do?
  3. There are many historical and cultural reasons for wearing a wedding ring. One of a wedding band’s modern day functions is to signal to the rest of the world, “I’m off of the market.” Do men who are not married, but definitely are taken, have an obligation to mention their significant other? What about men who are married but for whatever reason don’t wear their wedding band?
    Do such men have to announce the existence of a significant other to a woman they’ve recently been introduced to within three conversations or less? Even if you don’t think men have an obligation to do so, what kind of relationship do you think a man has with his wife if he never mentions her? Is it just a case of maintaining privacy? Or something else?
  4. In her quest to find love, Tali consults several different sources of guidance: women’s magazines, kitchen magnets, astrology, a very special tarot system, and self-help guides. Are these sources of guidance ever better than the advice of a good friend or family member? Are these sources of guidance ever harmful? How do you develop your own gut instinct and inner voice over the noise of so many outside influences?
  5. Tell your girlfriends to get dolled up and meet you at a swanky hotel bar. Fortify your courage with one drink, then head over to the lobby elevators to replicate Asch’s conformity experiment. Enter an empty elevator and immediately swivel and face the back. When an unsuspecting passenger enters the elevator, does he or she conform to the standard you’ve set?
    Repeat the experiment, but this time have one person in your group, the confederate, remain in the lobby while everyone else boards the elevator. The confederate shouldn’t enter the elevator until an unsuspecting passenger does so. Upon entering, the confederate should turn and face the back, in imitation of the others.
    Does having a confederate as part of your experiment increase the rate of conformity? Make sure you “debrief” all the unsuspecting passengers and tell them all about Tali and the purpose of your experiment. Watch this video for inspiration, and have fun!
  6. Tali concludes that Graham assumes Lydia is good just because Lydia’s beautiful, a tendency psychologists have dubbed the “what-is-beautiful-is-good stereotype.” While not necessarily true, beautiful people are often assumed to be intelligent, happy, confident and socially skilled just because they’re good-looking. Is it ever disadvantageous to be beautiful? Are beautiful women–and their dreams–taken less seriously than their more homely counterparts? Do beautiful people have more to prove?
  7. After meeting Graham, and having an instant connection to him (perhaps because of MHC genes, first mentioned in Chapter 1), Tali feels like “she’s been floating along like a yellow silk parasol buoyed by currents of anticipation.” How much is disappointment proportional to expectation? If you never get your hopes up, then it stands to reason, you’ll never be disappointed. But if you live like that, can you ever be happy?
  8. Behavior modification techniques have been used to treat a range of conditions (from ADHD and autism to schizophrenia and phobic disorders). But do you think behavior modification can root out the yearning of a lonely heart or the intensity of a heady crush? Can you mend a broken heart by paying attention to environmental cues and maintaining antecedents? Or is time the only successful healer?
  9. In Chapter 24, Walter comments to Tali, “What you find when you open up a jar of lip goo, when you try on dresses that are too expensive, or when you think about a prospective partner…is what I find in the Red Sox.” In other words, they are all different forms of hope.
    Agree or disagree?
  10. Tali tells Doug that “a team of scientists showed that people increase their confidence by connecting themselves to others who are more successful—often to a sports team.” Such attachment is so strong that it can even affect the levels of testosterone in males (see Chapter 32). If men are more likely to increase their confidence by connecting themselves to sports teams, what do women connect themselves to, if anything?
  11. If you can convince your significant other–and your friends’ significant others too–to participate, try this variation of Claus Wedekind’s famous sweaty t-shirt/MHC gene study mentioned in Chapter 38. Ask your partner to abandon scented grooming products and wear a never-worn-before 100% cotton t-shirt (a white Hanes works very well!) to bed for at least two nights. Keep the t-shirt in an open plastic bag when it’s not being worn to bed.
    After two nights, have all your friends gather together, bringing their partner’s t-shirt with them. Can you detect your partner’s shirt from the others? What about your friends? Have everyone rate the “pleasantness” of the scent of each t-shirt. Which t-shirt wearer–or wearers–rate the highest? Do the results surprise you?
  12. According to conventional wisdom, you have to compromise to make a relationship work. But when does compromise turn into settling? It is ever alright to settle for less than you want or deserve?