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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Again and again Campbell gives different, often laughable explanations for his service dog, Judge. He tells people he has an iron lung, that he has SARS, that he is color-blind. These answers serve as diversions, intended to point other characters, as well as the reader, away from the truth, and they act as one of the most prominent examples in the novel of a character concealing his feelings and motivations. Campbell won’t even tell Julia why he needs Judge, when the reason he has Judge—his epilepsy—was his main reason for breaking off his relationship with her when the two were younger. But Campbell’s bond with Anna and the rekindling of his romance with Julia challenge this self-defense mechanism. After Campbell has a seizure in the courtroom, he finally reveals that Judge is an epilepsy dog that can sense when Campbell is going to have convulsions. Campbell’s admission counts among the different examples of characters revealing the reasons for their secrets.
When the narrative shifts to Brian’s perspective, he frequently talks about the stars. For Brian, astronomy offers a break from the stresses of his work and family as well as providing him with a frame of reference for understanding the difficult situation his family is in. When Anna stays with Brian at the firehouse, for instance, he asks her to go to the building’s roof with him so they can watch a meteor shower. He thinks to himself that when they wish on falling stars, what they see is really just a trail of burning debris, implying that Brian believes it futile to wish on the falling star. Yet he also uses the experience as a chance to bond with Anna, and when Anna says she knows that Brian wants to ask her about the lawsuit, he tells her she doesn’t have to say anything and turns his focus back to the stars. In another instance, Brian points out the star Vega, which is part of the constellation Lyra, named for Orpheus’s lyre. Orpheus, Brian tells Anna, loved Eurydice so much that he wouldn’t let death take her away. The story clearly brings Kate to mind for both Brian and Anna. In addition, we learn that Sara and Brian even named Anna after Andromeda, which is a constellation as well as the name of a galaxy visible in that constellation.
At several points in the book, old family photographs lead characters to recall the past and reflect on the situations they presently find themselves in. Kate, for instance, looks at a picture of herself as a baby and, recognizing the sickly cancer patient she has become, wonders who that child is. Anna notes that people take childhood photographs as proof that time has passed and that they were happy once, in contrast with the pain her family feels now. At the end of the book, Kate and Sara spend hours looking at a picture of Anna, whose death made Kate’s survival possible. Often members of the family, notably Sara and Brian, will look back on these family photos and think about how those earlier versions of themselves and their loved ones seem like strangers now. The motif works to emphasize how drastically the family has changed, always for the worse, in the years since Kate became sick.