The Rusty Toque | Issue 4 | Humour | February 15, 2013
QUESTIONS FOR BOOK CLUBS
In the final pages of “The Meat Probe,” Jonny describes his relationship with Candida as “an infection drilling into our bloodstreams,” and “a boil on our collective anus, which must be lanced.” Candida’s response is swift and violent. Is her act justified? Is it redemptive and clarifying, as the author suggests, or no more than an ill-considered and indictable offense? How does any of this apply to your own significant relationships?
“A Thousand Snakebites” ends with Miss Cornelia’s shocking, absinthe-fueled confession about the paternity of her still-born twins, Murl and Little Nola. Why do you suppose Grandpappy reacts the way he does when he hears the news? And what’s the meaning of his comments about Miss Cornelia’s withered arm and “beady black guinea pig eyes”? How do the story’s images of heat lightning and “fat, lazy flies” deepen and amplify its theme of decay and corruption?
A mysterious yacht explosion has far-reaching consequences for the characters of “Sunset, Grenada, 1983.” In what way does it contribute to the atmosphere of “paranoia and malaise” that Zawadzki complains about? Do you believe Juan when he says he didn’t “punch, batter, or otherwise molest” any of the livestock? What role, if any, does his behavior play in Zawadzki’s decision to rat him out to their local drug-running paramilitary unit?
“Oleg the Horse Thief” tells the story of a randy Siberian peasant who breaks into a landowner’s stable, seduces the man’s homely daughter, steals a troika, loses the troika, then sits in a wheat field and contemplates his ennui. Very little happens and no one says or does much of any interest. Do you suppose the author is out of his depth when writing historical fiction rather than gritty contemporary realism? Discuss.
Do you condone or condemn the illicit romance at the heart of “English as a Second Language”? What do you think Nataliya really means when she says “You are the sweat, and you make disgust like hot pig”? Is Mike out of line when he takes her back to the “sick-smelling” futon in his tiny basement studio? Is Mr. Grzyb right to sack him, or should he have waited for a formal complaint process to begin?
In “My Daughter’s Daughter’s Daughter,” four generations of the MacDonald women gather at the family farm to celebrate 12-year-old Nellie’s christening. Why do these women hate each other so much? And what is it about the smell of peonies that they find so seductive? Is it wrong of Tannys to vomit through her fingers when old Nell tells her about being “taken by a farm hand amidst a swirl of motes”? What might the string of pearls symbolize?
DAVID WHITTON is the author of The Meat Probe and Other Inquiries (Boler Mountain Books, 1983). He lives in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Website: www.dwhitton.com