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1. Our interviewer thinks that the “beating heart” of The Outside of August is the relationship between Alice and her brother. Do you agree that this is what this novel is essentially about? What overall story element, character relationship, or mood made this work resonate for you?
2. Structurally this novel is composed of three parts. Part One consists of six chapters, and the chapters are named: Heat, 1977; Water, 1979; progressing all the way to Riddles,1985. Why do you think Hershon entitled her chapters thisway? Why do you think she abandoned the titles in Part Two and Part Three? What response was she hoping to elicit from the reader?
3. Readers often talk about characters they love, or characters they love to hate. Hershon’s characters often fall somewhere in the complex, human middle. They are presented “warts and all.” How do you feel about Alice? Do you sympathize with her? Do you understand her journey? What about Charlotte? Surely, she is a failure as a mother and yetthere is something tragic and compelling about her. What is that component of her character? How do her flaws add tension and pathos to the book?
4. The title of this book is The Outside of August, and it is apt, as August remains elusive to both the reader and Alice or much of the narrative. How can the absence of someoneshape another person’s life? Here we have two characters who mesmerize and disappear again and again, Charlotte and her son, August. Do you find them realistic? Maddening? Do you understand their hold on Alice?
5. What motivates Cady? Why does she hang in there for so long? Do you see her as someone who is hobbled by her experiences with this complicated family, or as someone who is set free by them?
6. Alan, the father, is a stalwart yet oddly weak presence in the book. He is reliable and physically available, and yet incapable of either rescuing his wife or cutting her loose and saving his children. What is his role in this human theater? What do you think about Alice’s decision (and Hershon’s) to return home to care for him? Who does she do this for, her father or herself ?
7. Alan is a successful neurobiologist, Cady has a good career in design, yet August and Charlotte cannot hold jobs, no matter how creative their explorations of the world tend to be. By the end of this novel, Alice has found happiness working in the local bookstore. What do you think this novel makes of the world of work? What part does it play inthe characters’ lives?
8. So much of this story ends midsentence in the middle of the lives of these characters. What do you think will happen next for them? Has Alice found love? Will Cady leave her life forever? What will happen to August and his newfound family? Do you find yourself imagining other scenarios for these characters? Alternative actions or endings?
9. Take a moment to savor the prose here. How would you characterize Hershon’s style? What are its pleasures? Excesses? How does she go about building a world and inviting the reader to inhabit it? Pick a scene that strikes you and read it out loud. What are the cadences she employs? Is there music behind the language? Does she vary the rhythm and length of her sentences?
10. Hershon is also a playwright. Take a moment to discuss the dialogue in this book. Divide some of it and read it aloud, as if it were a play. Can you see her dramatist’s hand? Does she have a feel for spoken language? How do you think stage dialogue and narrative dialogue differ?
11. There is a subtle sexual tension here between mother and son, and even sister and brother. What is the genesis of this tension? How important a component of the characters’ lives is it? How does it repel them from one another and also keep them inextricably linked?
12. Now that you’ve had a thorough discussion about such elements as story, character, prose, structure, and device, what do you think is the beating heart of the story? Has it changed for you through discussion? Does it read differently when you go back and look over the pages? In what ways does talking about literature open it up for you, and in what ways does it take away from the private activity of reading?What would you like to see Hershon write next?
Posted November 5, 2008
No text was provided for this review.