Read an Excerpt
ALL LOVES EXCELLING
by Josiah Bunting III
"Don't let us down." With these words, Amanda's mother leaves her only child at a dauntingly prestigious boarding school. At her mother's insistence, Amanda has come here solely to gain the credentials she needs to get into an Ivy League college. And she will do itor die trying.
ABOUT JOSIAH BUNTING III
Josiah Bunting III is a Rhodes scholar, an Oxford graduate, a Vietnam veteran, a former president of Briarcliff College and a former headmaster at The Lawrenceville School. Now superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, he is the author of The Lionheads and other books. Bunting is also a classical pianist and a long-distance runner.
- Is Amanda Bahringer an average American teenager? Why or why not? What about her parents? In what ways do they typify a particular strata of American society? Does the author's portait of the Bahringer family serve the theme of the novel? How?
- Amanda is defined by other people's expectations of her: her parents, her coach, and her teachers structure her life on her behalf. How does her failure to measure up to these expectations manifest itself? Is she able to differentiate between her own aspirations and those of her parents? Why or why not?
- As they arrive at St. Matthew's, Tess Bahringer senses that her daughter's spartan room would "confer some dim if inarticulable advantage, some membership, some network... well, Tess didn't know exactly what it was, but it was an opportunity that she had never had..." (p. 6). As Tess pushes her daughter toward this nebulous goal, what do we learn about her motivations? Does she believe she is acting in her daughter's best interest? Do you sympathize with her? Why or why not?
- Amanda's seeming inabitity to "connect" with the people around her is belied by her capacity for deception: she lies about her eating habits, denies taking pills, and manipulates the medical personnel. What qualities enable her to deceive the adults entrusted with her well-being? Why are they so easily deceived by her? Discuss.
- "All that Hopkins celebrated and exemplified, Passmore loved: fierce commitments; self-mastery; silent, selfless toil; an absolute willingness to go his own way." (p. 61). Are these the same qualities that endears Dr. Passmore to Amanda Bahringer? Does she really embody these traits or are they projected onto her by the headmaster?
- "My heart in hiding," begins one of Amanda's late journal entries (p. 273). Another reveals her admiration for Hopkins' "ability to control and endure" (p. 275), and another a sharply observed description of "old, old women in black, their skin like parchment walking like crows up and down the aisles of Shop Rite," (p. 236). Contrast the voice that emerges in her private writing with her conversations with her mother, her teachers, and her classmates. Does either emerge as the 'true' Amanda?
- Love Divine, all loves excelling. Joy of Heav'n
To earth come down
Fix in us thy humble dwelling. All thy faithful
Why do you think the author chosen Hymn 125 as the St. Matthew's school hymn as well as the title of the novel?
- Discuss Amanda's "self-medication" in the context of her life at St. Matthew's. Is she trying to improve her performance? Improve her focus? Shorten her running time? Does she need to enhance her psychic and physical condition in order to succeed at St. Matthew's, or is a larger societal issue illustrated by her dependence? Discuss.
- "At St. Matthew's you ran to compete," Amanda realizes a month and a half into her tenure at the school, "You studied to learn an A.P. syllabus. You playedbut no word could be less aptyou played the piano for a purpose." Discuss the novel as a social commentary onand an indictment ofan achievement-oriented society. Are the characters in the book overshadowed by its "message"? Why or why not?