Last Ride to Graceland

Last Ride to Graceland

by Kim Wright

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Overview

Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright

Recipient of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction

Lauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father?

Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth.

A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister's daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594918431
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 05/24/2016
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 276,152
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Kim Wright is the author of Love in Mid Air, The Unexpected Waltz, The Canterbury Sisters, and Last Ride to Graceland. A two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, she has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than twenty years for magazines such as Wine Spectator, Self, Travel & Leisure, and Vogue. She also ballroom dances competitively. Kim lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Last Ride to Graceland includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

When Cory Beth Ainsworth discovers a 1973 Stutz Blackhawk in her parents’ shed, all of her suspicions are confirmed. She was not a nine-pound nine-ounces preemie. She was a product of her mother, Honey’s, single wild year in Graceland, and it’s time that she learned the truth about her real father, Elvis Presley.

But truth is a tricky thing, as Cory soon learns. Retracing Honey’s journey from Memphis to South Carolina, she stops in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, finding that the road is taking her farther from her destiny at every turn. Her desperate search for a father yields instead a complex portrait of her mother, whose beautiful voice and rebellious spirit inspired the King even as his own song was fading.

In this latest novel, Kim Wright stuns with a wrenching portrayal of a mother and daughter whose powerful love for music binds them in a way they never could have expected.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The epigraph quotes Bruce Springsteen on Elvis, “It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.” What do you think Springsteen meant by this, and how does it resonate throughout the novel?

2. Cory Beth begins her story with an introduction to the South, where half-truths necessarily infiltrate a culture built on propriety and kindness. But when do half-truths become more harmful than helpful? Name a few moments in the text when they morph into full-blown lies, and discuss the consequences of that.

3. Memory plays a powerful part in this story. Cory is overwhelmed by her sensory reaction to the 1973 Stutz Blackhawk, calling it a time capsule. When else do memories arise unexpectedly from a sound or a smell, and how does that influence her decisions?

4. Before she sets off on her quest, Leary tells Cory, “That road out there can’t tell you a single thing that you don’t already know.” Do you think he ends up being right? Why or why not?

5. In our first glimpse of Honey, we learn that she desperately wants to avoid the life her mother prescribed for her. How does this generational divide trickle down to Cory? How much can we really resist our inheritances?

6. As she drives through the imposing gates of Graceland, Honey experiences a sense of foreboding and wonders whether the place is as much a prison as it is a dream. What does she mean here? Can the two be one and the same?

7. Philip tells Honey that his life "was written for me before I was born. I'm just turning the pages and living it, year by year.” Discuss how destiny can inhibit certain freedoms.

8. Honey initially records her thoughts in brief diary passages, eventually winnowing them down to haikus. Why does she find it easier to “edit reality,” reducing and simplifying her experiences into something more digestible?

9. Cory has a hard time reconciling the contradictory accounts of her mother from Fantasy Phil and Marilee. Are they both correct? How can our personality be fractured, based on how we present ourselves differently to different kinds of people? Does Cory do the same? How so?

10. Marilee, wistfully taking stock of the rundown Doozy’s Barbecue, claims that “things that get that wet never get dry again.” Is she just talking about the restaurant? What else could she mean here?

11. Discuss the significance of place of origin as it attends to the novel. David Beth, for instance, is from both nowhere and everywhere. He claims that “people are whatever they choose to be.” How does this mantra bleed into his life’s work? What do we lose when we lose our home?

12. Why do you think Cory is finally able to perform Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” in Fairhope? What parallels do you see between her life and his?

13. Elvis suffers the loss of his unborn twin acutely. Honey tells Cory that we all have a kind of twin out there in the world who cannot live if we survive. What does this particular brand of “symmetry” say about the larger message of the novel?

14. Why does Honey throw the blue hound dog toy into the water?

15. Discuss the last scene with Cory and Bradley. What has he become to her, and how has forgiveness played a part in this new relationship? Where do you think Cory will go from here?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Write your own haikus that express your daily joys and anxieties. Share them each other and discuss what it was like to condense your personal experiences down to syllables.

2. Marilee says “there are lots of ways to sing.” She, for example, enjoys expressing herself through cooking. How do you “sing”? Tell each other a little bit more about your passions and how they inform your everyday life.

3. Give “The King” his proper due! Make your own peanut butter and bacon sandwiches and host an Elvis listening party, or have a movie night to watch films like Jailhouse Rock and Blue Hawaii. And feel free to try out your best impressions.

Customer Reviews

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Last Ride to Graceland 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
A story embedded with tidbits of Elvis Presley, and a girl's quest for her father. Usually, a coming of age story features a young adult, but Cory is no young adult. Cory has lost her rhythm and hopes to find herself by driving a Blackhawk car from South Carolina to Graceland. The story climbs and sputters throughout the South as Cory makes her way on the backroads that her mother traveled before returning to South Carolina. Cory encounters two men that might be her father, but who stands as the real man in this quest. The story contains rich language and a musical cadence. Many of the minor characters present remarkable insights into human nature. I am happy to see that the characters are not perfect individuals with great hair and fabulous bodies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
[I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. I thank them for their generousity. In exchange, I was simply asked to write an honest review, and post it. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] "Remember this, my child, even if you choose to ignore everything else I’ve told you. In the end, people are whatever they choose to be.” Cory Beth Ainsworth is on a mission to return the 1963 Stutz Blackhawk to Graceland, where her mother had been one of Elvis' backup singers towards the end of his life. Told orimarily through Cory Beth's eyes, the book shuffles between what she learns or speculates and her late mother's story. In a way, this book reminds me of The Odyssey of Homer. She's going on a journey to find out the truth she discovers may echo the truth she believes, but in the end it becomes her understanding that makes her a better, stronger and one hopes happier person. This is the second Kim Wright I have read. If anything, it is better than The Canterbury Sisters, which I loved. Go on Cory Beth's journey...you will be glad you did!
ethel55 More than 1 year ago
When Cory Beth discovers a carefully preserved Stutz Blackhawk, once owned by Elvis, in a shed on their property, the set-up for a road trip begins. I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful tale, told in alternating chapters between Cory Beth and her mother, Honey. Honey's chapters entail the year she left Beaufort, SC and became a backup singer for Elvis, in what would be the last year of his life. Cory Beth sets off, apparently to return the car to the museum at Graceland, but also to follow a trail of clues about her biological father. I loved how Cory Beth managed to retrace the route Honey took on her return trip to Beaufort, on the night Elvis died. I'm not a huge Elvis fan, but having visited both Tupelo and Memphis really brought some of the descriptions to life as I read the story. The ending was a bit quick, but the rest of the book more than made up for it.
KatsNook More than 1 year ago
Last Ride to Graceland is a touching story about a daughter seeking the truth about her mother’s past. This was my first book by Kim Wright and I really enjoyed this. Cory Ainsworth is a thirty-seven-year-old blues musician. It’s been less than a year since her mother passed away when she discovers Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk hidden away in their South Carolina home. The car is in mint condition and contains unusual clues from her mother’s past as one of Elvis’ back-up singer. Her mother, Laura aka Honey, fled Graceland on the day of Elvis’ death and never spoke of her time with the King. Cory has always wondered who her real father was so with the help of the clues Cory goes on a road trip. She intends to return the car to Graceland but follows the unusual route her mother took 37 years ago to get back home. A journey to find the truth of her father makes a surprising twist for Cory. By discovering her mother’s past Cory comes to an understanding that she and her mother weren’t as different as they had appeared to be. The characters of Last Ride to Graceland were fun and easy to relate to. Cory is lost and makes ends meet by singing at a bar. Her passion for music comes from her mother but we see that they clashed. This is a typical mother-daughter relationship that anyone can identify with. Cory is a likeable character and it is no surprise that the strangers she meets gravitate to her. This journey forms a stronger connection with her mother and also we see Cory get a grip on her future. The story is written in dual POV, alternating between Cory and Honey in 1977. The author also mixes in Elvis’ last days. I was 6-years-old when Elvis passed away. At the time I didn’t understand who he was but I can recall how devastated my mother was by his death. The author’s historical facts are a unique tie into Honey and Cory’s story. There were humorous, heartbreaking and touching moments. I recommend Last Ride to Graceland for fans of women’s fiction and heartwarming mother-daughter stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are many things I love about Kim Wright's books; the top three are these: 1. Before the end of the first chapter, her characters have become people you know and probably love; 2. The women she writes about are searching for something and find that something in the journeys they take, not just the destinations they reach; and 3. At some point in every book, I laugh out loud, shake my head in recognition and keep on reading. Last Ride to Graceland is the story of Cory Beth Ainsworth, now one of those people I know and love, a woman on a journey to finally find out if Elvis Presley is her real father. This is not just a crazy delusion: Cory Beth's mother sang back up for Elvis and, not long after her mother passes, Cory Beth stumbles on a vintage Stutz Blackhawk, bubblewrapped and hidden in the shed of the man everyone thinks is her father. A Stutz Blackhawk just like the one Elvis loved, the last car he rode in before he died. The car is full of clues about its journey from Graceland to Beaufort, SC, the hometown that Cory Beth's mother returned to after her time with Elvis, promptly marrying her high school sweetheart then giving birth, just seven months later, to Cory Beth. The new mom had settled down to life as Laura Ainsworth, good Southern lady and choir director, never mentioning that year with Elvis, who called her Honey Bear. With next to no money and next to no plan, Cory Beth takes off in the Stutz Blackhawk, following those clues her mothet left in Elvis's car. A singer herself, the idea that Elvis may turn out to be her father is not something Cory Beth can let go. On her meandering journey back to Graceland, she meets up with a past and a mother she never imagined, along with a cast of those characters who become people, from an abandoned hound dog to a karate instructor turned televangelist to a Graceland security cop with a plan. For the writing, the story, the laugh out loud moments, and the characters you won't forget, I highly recommend this book.
JackieBCentralTexasJB More than 1 year ago
Read from April 29 to 30, 2016 Book Info Paperback, 352 pages Expected publication: May 24th 2016 by Gallery Books ISBN 1501100785 (ISBN13: 9781501100789) Edition Language English Other Editions (3) Source:Netgalley EARC Book Buy Links Amazon B&N BOOK SYNOPSIS Lauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father? Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth. A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister's daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion. My Thoughts When it comes to questions about Elvis Presley, even fictional ones, my curiosity knows no limits. So when read the book synopsis was intrigued to take the road trip that Cory found herself traveling on and to find out whether or not Mr. Presley is indeed her father. Needless to say road trip scenarios are one of my favorite hooks in a book, it is always interesting to take these journeys, be open to every possibility and also meet new people as the reader along with Cory discover new places to visit along the way. The only real drawback to finishing this tale of discovery is that having spent all that time with Cory on the road, finding out all the secrets of the past as well, it really is hard to come back to reality of real life as much for me as it will be for Cory once she finishes her long trip to find some answers. Told from dual Points of View, Cory in 2015 and her mom Honey in 1977, the shift in time from past to present and vice versa is well done as it allows us to get a glimpse of both women’s similarities as well as their differences. The eclectic cast of supporting characters are a mix of engaging Southern charm and hospitality as well as informative as they help Cory fill in some blanks about her Mother and the identity of her biological father. Taking a piece of American history and adding her own take to it the author has created a lovely mix of finding truth as well as perhaps finally getting Cory the break she has long wanted as a singer. The ending is full of possibilities that Cory never imagined when she started her road trip but if they pan out will give her the new life that she had always dreamed of for many years. [EArc from Netgalley in exchange for honest review]
bumblebee23 More than 1 year ago
What a great concept this book was! There were Elvis facts in the book, but the story was of Cory Beth taking the same journey that her mother, once a backup singer of Elvis, made thirty seven years prior. I couldn't wait to see what would happen next on Cory's journey, in Elvis Presley's favorite car of course!
bumblebee23 More than 1 year ago
What a great concept this book was! There were Elvis facts in the book, but the story was of Cory Beth taking the same journey that her mother, once a backup singer of Elvis, made thirty seven years prior. I couldn't wait to see what would happen next on Cory's journey, in Elvis Presley's favorite car of course!