A Regular Guy

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Mona Simpson's first two novels, Anywhere But Here and The Lost Father, won her literary renown and a wide following. Now, in her third novel, the narrator Ann Atassi has been replaced by a third-person narrator recounting the adventures of young Jane di Natali, but the theme remains the same: the search for, and the attempt to understand, the absent father.

This time the father is a millionaire biotechnology magnate named Tom Owens.  Into Owens's charmed life comes ...

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A Regular Guy

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Mona Simpson's first two novels, Anywhere But Here and The Lost Father, won her literary renown and a wide following. Now, in her third novel, the narrator Ann Atassi has been replaced by a third-person narrator recounting the adventures of young Jane di Natali, but the theme remains the same: the search for, and the attempt to understand, the absent father.

This time the father is a millionaire biotechnology magnate named Tom Owens.  Into Owens's charmed life comes Jane, born out of wedlock, raised in communes, and now dispatched into  his care by a mother who is no longer capable of providing it; Tom is far from ready for this responsibility. Fans of Simpson's previous novels will not be disappointed by this excursion into the cracked world of family relations.

"Simpson is an attentive observer and a fluent stylist, but it is the element of subtle surprise that draws us through these pages, the magnetism of an original mind that holds us fast."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The affluent, wonky protagonist who discovers a lost daughter may be modeled on Simpson's half-brother, Steven Jobs. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Simpson spins yet another yarn featuring a borderline incompetent mother (Mary) and her independent, reflective daughter (Jane)the tableau of her first novel, Anywhere but Here (LJ 3/15/87). Mary sends nine-year-old Jane off alone to find her father, Tom Owens, a young, self-made multimillionaire whose biotechnology company, Genesis, is the focus of his life. As Tom comes to accept Jane, he tries to divorce her in his mind from Mary. Also on the stage is Tom's friend, Noah Kaskie, a paraplegic biologist whose will to be a great scientist is eclipsed by his simple desire to be touched, to be loved. The reversal of fortune that affects Noah and Tom provides a subtext in the time-honored tradition of "just-comins." But Simpson draws her character so precisely that Tom is not a simple stand-in for hubris, Noah for honor, and Mary for indulgence. Reading A Regular Guy, then, is not a matter of playing favorites but of witnessing destiny arc across a range of interconnected lives. Though this beautifully written novel lacks some ot the humor of Simpson's earlier work, the fully realized characters and the well-cast mood of ambivilance make this her best novel yet. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/96.]Adam Mazmanian, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
With a bestselling debut (Anywhere But Here, 1987) followed by a shaky sequel (The Lost Father, 1991), Simpson has a lot riding on her latest effort—which proves to be a challenging but less-than- riveting saga of a girl who finally meets her larger-than-life father but has difficulty getting his attention.

Themes from the other novels continue to play out here, with the fractured family unit consisting of a mentally unstable mother, Mary, and her neglected daughter Jane, whom she drags with her on a restless, aimless jaunt through the Pacific Northwest after being rejected and virtually ignored by Jane's father, Tom Owens, an entrepreneurial wunderkind whose basement biotech venture grew into a major company, making him a millionaire and famous. When Jane is ten, Mary decides to take a break from parenting, so she teaches her daughter to drive and forces Jane to take their battered truck and go to Owens. Met first not by him but by his close friend, the wheelchair-bound biologist Noah, who takes her in, Jane is slow to gain her father's acceptance. He then brings Mary into town, sets her and Jane up in a bungalow, but attends to them fitfully, preoccupied with a new company that spun off from the old one after it went public, and with his leggy blond girlfriend Olivia, with whom he shares a decrepit mansion but for whom his feelings wax and wane. Eventually, Jane becomes Owens's confidante, just as his fortunes change: His parent company ousts him, and long-suffering Olivia walks out. Noah, on the other hand, has luck in love and in the lab, entering the limelight while Tom, who's married someone new and become a father again, sinks farther into the shadows.

A few events resonate powerfully—including an abortion Mary has (made to seem like Jane's decision), and the seduction of Noah at a Christmas party—but otherwise this is a tale too diffuse in the telling, which even the knowledge of certain roman à clef aspects can't overcome.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679772712
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/15/1997
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,040,486
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Mona Simpson
Mona Simpson

Mona Simpson is the author of Anywhere But Here, The Lost Father, A Regular Guy, and Off Keck Road, which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the Heartland Prize of the Chicago Tribune. She has received a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim grant, a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, and, recently, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue: Monuments

He was a man too busy to flush toilets. More than most people Jane had known, he was oblivious to the issuance from his body that might offend. He didn't believe in deodorant and often professed that with a proper diet and the peppermint castile soap, you would neither perspire nor smell.

This inability, not just to pander, but to see any need to pander to the wishes or whims of other people, was unusual in a man who had political aspirations. It was fortunate, for him, that he was wealthy. Also, he was handsome, so even before his prosperity, he had not been lonely in love. His favorite art was art in the classical mode, particularly public art, in the form of monuments. He was as interested in the Louvre itself as he was in the paintings inside, which, beautiful as some were, and arresting, seemed to him just so many details. If a man wants the face of the earth to look different after his life upon it, he must think on a certain scale.

This afternoon he was taking his daughter to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Although he had limited patience for many things, he would never tire of showing places to his children--works, gardens or even states of feeling he had known. Someday, he would show her Italy. Next winter he intended to teach her how to ski. That, for the most part, made up what he believed a father should do for his children: introduce them to the wonders of the world.

And it was true, years later, long after she'd forgotten walking into the powder room while he was talking cross-continentally to his girlfriend too long on the phone, Jane remembered her father's tall form, riding with her in thecrushingly crowded elevator, to the second-to-top landing of the Eiffel Tower, then walking up the metal stairs in his slant way, standing on the top balcony, his longer-than-most-fathers-of-his-day hair whipping against his round forehead, lips pressed together in a kind of patriotic awe, a smile breaking down towards her. That was him. His hair disheveled by wind, his voice raised to be heard over nature, he strode at the very end of the balcony like the mascot on a ship, invested in the future of the world. He was an American industrialist, a believer in the potential accomplishments of state, and, in a way he couldn't explain, proud. He was her father. And they saw all of the planned city of Paris spread below them.

He whispered, "I'm kind of thinking of running for office. Hey, doesn't this remind you a little of the Statue of Liberty?"

He had just told her he might run for office. She assumed he meant running for president. It never occurred to her then that the choice would be anyone's but his.

That evening, in the hotel, he picked her book out of her hands, flipped through and then returned it. "Have you read anything by Abraham Lincoln?" he asked, dismissing the book issued by her old school. "You should read his speeches. I feel I can learn from people like Abraham Lincoln. See, I think it's individuals who make history." He paused a moment. "I think sometime when you're older, you're going to understand a lot better."

"Understand what?"

"I don't know, why I'm so busy. Why I wasn't always around when you might have wished I was." He knocked the cardboard cover of her book. "In school you study history; well, Genesis probably made a few of the great inventions of our time."

"It's a company."

"It's a company but it's more than a company." He fixed a look on her. She was too young to break in at the moment an adult would have, to force his own claims upon himself. His eyebrows went the way they did when he was serious. "You'll understand when you're older. A lot more about me.

"Here," he said, on the top landing of the tower, "we'll remember this." He pulled out two candy-colored franc notes, big bills, folded one into a paper airplane and sailed it down, over the metal railing. "Now yours."

"I'm keeping mine," Jane said.

Over the years, he took her to see the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial and his favorite mountain lodge, built in the 1930s. He showed her Yosemite, his favorite place on earth, save home.

She led him, once, to an old abandoned factory at night.

"You like this?" he said, features like an owl's. "Why?"

"Never mind," she said, turning back, face parallel to the ground. She'd found it beautiful, the moonlight on hundreds of half-cracked-out windowpanes.

But he truly was only curious.

He made various thwarted efforts to erect his own monuments. All his life, he was impressed with architects and listened with his head cocked a certain way when they were talking, but each of their collaborations failed because the men he hired fell short of his standards and he did not have the time to direct the projects himself.

He bought a tower once, and he bought an orchard. He also owned a cave in Italy. Usually, he demanded that no statements involving money enter his sphere at all, but because of an odd carelessness of the accountant, Jane had seen a credit card bill on his dressertop. "Grotta, " it said, and then converted a phenomenal amount of lire into eighteen thousand American dollars.

When she asked him about it, his face changed, his lips self-happy, remembering. "That's where Olivia and I made love one time. We fell asleep on this little haystack right outside the cave. And then while she was asleep, I hid her dress."

All of these purchases took place when he was living in a drafty upstairs wing of rooms with a roof that leaked and floors that bloomed fungus and an outside terrace where weeds grew up, cracking the tiles. A colony of bees made their home in a corner of the dining room.

He was not--as she had long hoped--a man inclined to ordinary dwelling.
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Mona Simpson's novel A Regular Guy. We hope that they will provide you with new ways of looking at a novel produced by an American realist hailed by critics as one of her generation's finest writers. With this work, Mona Simpson shows herself to be a sensitive and incisive analyst of the broken family, with an uncommon insight into the child who is at the mercy of parents who are absent, restless, narcissistic, dishonest or emotionally unstable. While it engages serious contemporary social issues, this work also makes for compulsive and deeply enjoyable reading, with characters who absorb our attention and involve us completely in their world.

1. "The most terrible and wondrous experience in Jane di Natali's life was over by the time she was ten, before she'd truly mastered the art of riding a bicycle" [p. 28]. With these words Simpson concludes her description of Jane's nighttime journey west from the Sierras in a battered truck. What is wondrous and what is terrible about this passage out of childhood? Why does Mary decide that it's time to send Jane to her father, and why do you suppose she does it in this way?

2. A Regular Guy is the first of Mona Simpson's novels to be narrated entirely in the third person. Does this mode of narration have the effect of giving you equal access to the interior lives of various characters? Who is the novel's central character? Which of the characters do you most care about, feel closest to? Is your empathy with some characters and not others an effect of the mode of narration, or of some other aspect of Simpson's technique?

3. In his speech at the teachers' convention, Owens claims that "People being related biologically is irrelevant. What matters is if you like 'em." [p. 111] Why, then, is he anxious about whether Jane looks like him? Would he have accepted Jane as his daughter if she weren't attractive, bright, and healthy? Do you believe that he is capable of loving?

4. Two abortions take place during the course of the novel: Mary aborts the child she has conceived with Eli because Jane expresses some negative feelings about having a sibling, and Olivia aborts the child she has conceived with Owens because Owens is ambivalent about marrying her. What issues do these two abortions raise in Jane's life? Why are they important to the concerns of the novel as a whole? Why does Mary put Jane in the position of deciding the fate of her and Eli's unborn child?

5. What is the relationship between ambition, success, and love in A Regular Guy? Does the choice of either love or ambition tend to be different for the women and the men in the novel?

6. Owens's loss of status seems to turn his focus to simpler things: love, children, gardening. Is Owens, after his fall, a more likable character? Do you think his newfound devotion to family is authentic? Is Simpson inviting us to conclude that the domestic, private life is inherently of more value than the public life?

7. Tom Owens has a number of strong opinions about how society should be run, and he seriously considers running for political office. Do you think he would have been a successful politician? Or president? Which of his beliefs derive from his hippie past, and which seem to contradict the ideals of the sixties? Is there a coherent philosophy behind his various beliefs? If not, how do you interpret this aspect of his character?

8. Simpson juxtaposes the rise of Noah Kaskie with the fall of Tom Owens, and from the beginning of the novel seems to set up the two men as a study in contrast. In what other character juxtapositions are we invited to reflect upon and compare aspects of personality and various approaches to life?

9. Jane takes her father's name at the end of the novel and seems to be finally and securely accepted by him. What kinds of changes has Jane gone through? Does she come to resemble her father's character more than her mother's?

10. Asked about her motivation as a writer, Simpson answered: "I hope to reach the readers who read the way I read, passionately and with much yearning and abandon, readers ardently questioning how they should live, both personally and in a larger context of community and world-wide community, and who find the context for their questioning to be books and the process of reading." (Quoted in Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 44, p. 103.) Such issues are clearly being examined in this novel: how does your reading of it affect the way you think about what you value in your life, and how to achieve the right kind of life?


1. What are some of the ways in which these novels identify the problems of family life in contemporary American culture? What is Mona Simpson's ideal of the family, and how do the families in these three novels fail or succeed in providing love, protection, identity, self-respect? Why is the importance of the child's point of view central to all three novels?

2. In The Lost Father, Mayan says, "So much of what determined what was life and what dream was still only money" [p. 116]. In each of these works, one's economic condition has a strong shaping influence on one's life. Is money—or its lack—the most fateful element in life? Which characters in these works are most dependent on money, or on the idea of wealth, in imagining and creating the kind of life they desire?

3. There is a range of narrative techniques in these three novels. There are several first-person narrators in Anywhere But Here, a single first-person narrator in The Lost Father, and a third person omniscient narrator in A Regular Guy. How do these technical choices on Simpson's part affect your experience of each of the novels?

4. About her approach to structure, Simpson has said, "I work paragraph to paragraph or even line to line.... I have an emotional sense of where things are going to, but I don't do a whole chart or anything like that." (From interview with Susannah Hunnewell, The New York Times Book Review, 9 February 1992, p. 10.) How would you describe and differentiate the structure of these novels? Henry James fondly called the novel form "a loose baggy monster." Do you think that Simpson's novels particularly fit this description?

5. How does Simpson control and convey the sense of time and of past and present? How important a role does memory play in these works?

6. Simpson started out as a poet, and her writing is often powerfully lyrical and imagistic. For example, in The Lost Father Mayan says of her mother, "in her private soul she is a child holding an empty glass jar waiting for the sky to fill it..." [p. 3]. What are some of the more striking images and descriptive passages you've noticed? How do such images affect or deepen your experience of the work?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2014

    Steve Jobs

    About steve jobs and daughter

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2012

    The ups-downs

    This book does potray (sorry about spelling) his real relationship with a false area here and there, A good book!

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