After years of struggling in the Chicago theater scene, ambitious actress Kira Rascher finally lands the role of a lifetime. The catch? Starring in Temper means working with Malcolm Mercer, a mercurial director who’s known for pushing his performers past their limits—onstage and off.
Kira’s convinced she can handle Malcolm, but the theater’s cofounder Joanna Cuyler is another story. Joanna sees Kira as a threat—to her own thwarted artistic aspirations, her twisted relationship with Malcolm, and the shocking secret she’s keeping about the upcoming production. But as opening night draws near, Kira and Joanna both start to realize that Malcolm’s dangerous extremes are nothing compared to what they're capable of themselves.
An edgy, addictive, and fiendishly clever tale of ambition, deceit, and power, Temper is a timely, heart-in-your-throat psychological thriller that will leave you breathless.
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About the Author
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Temper 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.
Two ambitious women are drawn into the mind games of a manipulative theater director in this feminist psychological suspense novel set against the backdrop of the Chicago indie theater scene.
When struggling actress Kira Rascher finally lands the role of a lifetime—starring in a new play called Temper—the gig comes with a catch: working with Malcolm Mercer, a mercurial director who’s known for pushing his performers past their limits, onstage and off. While Kira’s convinced that she can handle Malcolm, the theater’s cofounder Joanna Cuyler sees Kira as a threat—to her own thwarted artistic ambitions and to her twisted relationship with Malcolm. But as opening night draws near, Kira and Joanna both start to realize that Malcolm’s dangerous extremes are nothing compared to what they're capable of themselves.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Reflect on your first impressions of both Kira and Joanna. How did your understanding of (and feelings about) these two main characters evolve over the course of the novel? Do you recall the key moments at which your impressions of either (or both) character(s) changed?
2. Kira is aware of how often she’s under the male gaze. How does she use this to her advantage, and in what ways does this make her vulnerable?
3. Kira and Joanna often feel mistrust, jealousy, and even hatred toward those whom they see as competition—including each other. Discuss the nature of female competition as it’s portrayed in this novel. In your mind, why do such intense feelings arise from competition among women? Have you experienced this in your own life?
4. When Kira is first warned about Malcolm’s intensity by Jason (whose backstory at this point in the novel is still unknown to the reader), what did you imagine awaited her? How did your initial theories align or conflict with Mal’s behavior throughout the novel?
5. The playwright behind Temper, L. S. Sedgwick, is first introduced as the play’s mysterious writer in Chapter 5, and the reveal of the play’s true authorship comes later, about halfway through the novel. Was there a moment when you suspected that Joanna might be the play’s author, and what was your reaction to this revelation?
6. How would you characterize Joanna and Mal’s relationship? Were you surprised to learn about Joanna’s unrequited feelings for Mal?
7. Which act of violence leading up to the novel’s shocking final scene did you find the most foreboding, and why? Discuss the ways in which acts of violence serve as foreshadowing through the novel.
8. Revisit Kira’s paragraph-long reflection on the Mara-Trent dynamic on pp. 135–136: “Mara could be played as a miserable woman trapped in a toxic relationship standing by silent and passive, capable of fighting back only in her fantasies. But when I read the script, that’s not what I thought of her at all. She’s full of fury, dangerous, a fuse nearly burned down to nothing. She’s been waiting, for years probably, for Trent to do something that will justify her attacking him—and whenever it finally happens, she intends to be ready. The reveries are mental rehearsals for future, inevitable violence. If anyone in Temper is a victim, it’s Trent.” In what ways does this relationship parallel elements of the Joanna-Mal dynamic, or the Kira-Mal dynamic? Do the gender pairings (i.e. Joanna/Kira as Mara, and Mal as Trent) align?
9. On p. 189, Jason warns that Malcolm aims to “dismantle” the actors whom he directs. Which characters are “dismantled” in this novel, and by whom?
10. Consider how sexuality is both presented and deployed in this novel. What is your response to the ways in which sex and sexuality are used by characters to assert power or dominance?
11. Do you consider Kira and Joanna to be feminist characters? In what ways do they combat sexism in their careers, as well as in their relationships?
12. Joanna reveals her imposter syndrome on p. 228, saying: “Maybe he only loves my words when he doesn’t know they’re mine.” Do you think these feelings of insecurity stem from Mal’s treatment of her, or from Jason’s dramatic act of self-harm, or from somewhere else entirely?
13. On pg. 333, Joanna describes Mal as a “hollow man.” Do you read Mal as a manipulative and unfeeling sociopath, or a boundary-pushing genius, or neither? Could Mal be considered a tragic character?
14. Discuss the role of the audience in this novel. How often are these characters performing (whether on or offstage)—even when the audience is just a single person?
15. Consider the story from Malcolm’s perspective; what if his point of view were introduced, or the entire story were told from his first-person perspective, in his own voice? What would you title the novel, and how do you think the female characters would be portrayed?
16. What do you think of the author’s choice to alternate between Kira and Joanna’s perspectives, keeping both in the first person? How would your impression of Kira change if we saw her only through Joanna’s eyes (rather than having access to her thoughts)? How about Joanna?
17. In the play, red lighting indicates that Mara is shifting from the real world into a “reverie.” Do you interpret the final scene of the play to be real, or a reverie? How about the final scene of the novel itself?
18. Author Layne Fargo has a background in theater and used to work as a dramaturg. Which behind-the-scenes revelations of a theatrical production did you find the most interesting, or the most surprising?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Serve a Shakespearean Cocktail: Mal’s performance in Hamlet is referenced throughout the novel as an example of his intensity on stage. Pay homage to the Bard at your book club discussion by serving a Shakespeare-inspired cocktail! Check out Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas by Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim for a wide range of recipes, or go with the Hamlet Cocktail itself: mix 2 parts vodka, 1 part Campari, and 4 parts orange juice.
2. Cast the Movie: Who do you envision taking on each of the main characters in a cinematic adaptation of the novel? Distribute slips of paper and ask each book club member to cast the main players (Mal, Kira, Joanna, and Spence). One everyone has chosen their four lead actors, share your selections and see if any overlap! Now, how about the supporting cast of David, Jason, and Bryn?
3. Explore Other Difficult Women: Author Layne Fargo cohosts a podcast about challenging heroines called Unlikeable Female Characters. Choose an episode (or go right to Episode 1: “Favorite Unlikeable Female Characters”) and circulate it among your book club members to deepen your discussion of Kira and Joanna in the context of a broader literary trend in female characterization.
4. Take an Improv Exercise for a Test Drive: Channel your inner Kira! Head over to http://improvencyclopedia.org and challenge your book group to one of their recommended improv games before diving into your discussion of Temper.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Let me start by saying I LOVE David Mamet. Not a non sequitur; this felt like an homage to the nth degree. And that's what endeared me to it early on, despite the generally unlikeable characters and distasteful power struggles/personality clashes that felt like the opening skirmishes in what promised to be (and was) a full-on war... I saw the ending coming a mile away (again, Mamet fan), but still found myself rapidly turning pages because there was always that tiny seed of doubt about what was real and what was all in the alternating narrators' minds (Mamet again). It was an interesting sojourn through the dark. Fargo writes a compelling story and I'll be on the lookout for more... My review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley with no expectation or requirement about a review.
A dark psychological thriller. It does not move quickly in order to savor the characters and the plot. It was really interesting to learn more about the world of theatre. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I think my skin was crawling with tension throughout this dark, dry tale. Two women, both ambitious, both attracted to a sadistic, domineering actor, both driven beyond their boundaries and both on a collision course of destruction. Twisted, brutal emotionally for the characters and filled with deceit and manipulation, there wasn’t really a developed character that I liked, but I give kudos to Layne Fargo who wrote in bold strokes to bring forth a tale one will not soon forget. TEMPER by Layne Fargo had me unsettled throughout and after struggling to get through the first half of the book, it opens up into a full throttle, jagged edged thriller that made my head spin, a total love-hate read for me! I found myself wondering: How far would you go to achieve your personal dreams? Would you forsake your very soul? I received a complimentary ARC edition from Gallery/Scout Press!
Temper by Layne Fargo is a recommended dark psychological thriller set amidst the theater scene. Chicago actress Kira Rascher has landed a great role in a new play, Temper. The drawback is that the play is being put on at the Indifferent Honest Theater Company and this means she will be working with the toxic director and actor Malcolm Mercer. Joanna Cuyler is the partner and roommate of Malcolm. She knows Malcolm's problems, but she also does not like Kira and sees her as a threat. Kira knows the stories and has been warned about Malcolm, but she is sure she can handle him. This is a dark story with the narrative alternating between Joanna's and Kira's point-of-view. The alternating narrative helps escalate the tension, documenting the chain of turbulent events that builds up to an inevitable ending. The writing is meritable in this debut thriller and Fargo creates a toxic world for all of her characters. The ending is predestined and unavoidable, which makes the ending predictable, but not shocking or surprising, especially after pages of knowing the inner thoughts of Joanna and Kira. None of the characters are likeable or trustworthy at all. Both Kira and Joanna are suffering from the repercussions of Malcolm's manipulation and abuse. As the stakes increase, the chapters get shorter, helping to make the pace quicken and the tension rise even faster. The setting is the indie theater scene and these people are basically foreign to my life, which made it easier for me to keep saying, "Leave this behind. Why are you tolerating this?" as I was reading. Finishing does require you to not question why these women would tolerate any of the abuse. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Gallery/Scout Press.
Tense and ominous building to an explosive ending. Short chapters and alternating perspectives make this fast paced and easy to read in a sitting or two. The tension slowly but constantly built and the overall tone was ominous and foreboding. I knew that something explosive was going to happen and was just waiting for it to detonate. I have to say that I did predict what would happen pretty early on but it didn’t impede my enjoyment of the build up at all. If anything it made me even more eager to get to the finale which felt inevitable. I’d like to be a better person but I’m apparently terrible and I got the ending I anticipated and had hoped for. It may have been predictable but it was oh so satisfying! The characters are for the most part awful people, to the point that I didn’t feel bad when horrible things happened to them. This is the kind of book where you have to embrace all the worst impulses in yourself and just let your evil freak flag fly. Enjoy the nastiness, revel in the manipulation, and embrace the betrayals. This is like watching one of those old day time talk shows that always ended in name calling and some sort of physical fight. You just keep eating your popcorn and are thankful that particular mess isn’t your life. The same kind of voyeuristic urge is satisfied by “Temper” although in a much more refined and highbrow way. If you find the misery and anguish of others amusing then this book is for you. I generally do not enjoy this intense level of schadenfreude but for some reason this book drew me into its smothering embrace and wouldn’t let me go. After a while I didn’t want to be let go. This psychological tale reveals just as much about the reader as it does about the characters and you might not like what you see reflected back at you. Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and Gallery/Scout Press for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
Maybe it's me, but the number of books calling themselves psychological thrillers is much higher than the number that actually are. That's where I am with Temper. It is a drama, but I didn't find anything even remotely thriller-like. As far as the story, it's quite possible that this one went over my head, but I really didn't get it. We have a bunch of characters, none of which are particularly likable, having sex and hating on each other. Okay, I did get that part, I didn't really like it, but I got it. The story is also completely predictable, from the twists to the ending, which is one more reason I don't consider this one a thriller. All of that aside, I think I may have been able to get some reading enjoyment out of this one if someone had told me not to think for myself or ask why during the process. However, I did ask why, particularly where Malcolm was concerned. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why these women wanted him so badly, and why they tolerated his treatment of them. Whatever this mystery allure was, it didn't come through very well, at least not for me. In the end, I was left with a well-written story of unlikable characters that I couldn't find much interest in.
OOOOH! What a dark and twisted tale! Kira finally gets an acting job in a new play called Temper and is both delighted and skeptical as director and co-star, Malcolm is known to push his actors, often with cruel and manipulative techniques. She takes the plunge and comes into conflict with Joanna, the manager and roommate of Malcolm. Things get ugly quickly as this odd triangle evolves and emotions become more volatile as the novel progresses. Sexuality, jealousy, rage, bitterness, and tension all reign supreme as the suspense mounts. Told in alternating perspectives of Kira and Joanna, the book never loses its break-neck speed as it culminates in a "What the heck just happened?" conclusion. Dark, very dark, but oh so satisfying! Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!
When I started reading Temper I wasn't sure I was going to like it. I instantly hated every character. They were trying way too hard to be cool and way too hard to be judgmental of everyone who just wasn't as cool as they were. I even hated the name of their theater company- Indifferent Honest Theater Company. I kept wanting to switch words around to make the acronym ITCH because everyone loved getting under everyone else's skin. Get it? This is why I am not a writer myself, I guess. So everyone was irritating, except maybe Spence. And he has his moments. That's what made it so satisfying when everyone started messing with everyone else. Everyone thought they were right and knew what was going on...and everyone was wrong. We spend the novel going back and forth between the POV of Kira, the struggling (aren't they all) actress, and Joanna, the co-owner of a theater company. Kira is living with her best friend, Spencer, with whom she sometimes has sex, and barely making it in Chicago. He is much more successful than she is in his work as a fight choreographer. Joanna lives with her partner, platonically, in the theater company and is the behind the scenes person. Everyone focuses on Malcolm and that is just how he wants it. So, even though he is her partner, he appears more successful than she does. These women have so much in common. They should realize to sooner because they are both so self-centered that they don't even seem to be in the same novel sometimes. Of course, all narrators should be assumed to be unreliable. I wish the ending could be said to a surprise. It was going there from the beginning, though. After, as I think about it, I'm not sure it could have gone any other way. It didn't need to be a "twist". It just needed to make sense. To follow the story to its own natural conclusion. I don't know if it was meant to be or not, but this one wasn't full of twists. Just plot points that had to be there and weren't really surprising. Watching these people try to one up each other was the whole point. Not who wrote the play, who Malcolm was sleeping with, what Kira was willing to do...those were all pretty obvious and needed for the plot.
Thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster and Ms. Layne Fargo for the opportunity to read this Advanced Readers Copy of "Temper". The stage is set with a small cast of intriguing characters. Our author takes us on an intense journey of betrayals, dramatic sexual tensions and deep dark thoughts throughout the creation of a theater play called "Temper". Told from the 2 female lead characters viewpoints. "Joanna" and "Kira" are strong female characters with many secrets and agendas to reveal... the twists and turns keep coming as tempers build and we are kept on edge until the final curtain call. This is a badass story with an exciting behind the scenes peek at theatre productions. 4 stars #Temper #NetGalley #mysterythriller
Where to begin? Malcolm and Joanna co-own a theater company in Chicago. The play, "Temper", has been chosen for the next event for their theater. Although not a front-runner for the female lead - Malcolm chooses Kira for the leading part - opposite himself. Malcolm and Joanna have a long history as do Kira and Spence. Spence works as a "fight coordinWhere to begin? Malcolm and Joanna co-own a theater company in Chicago. The play, "Temper", has been chosen for the next event for their theater. Although not a front-runner for the female lead - Malcolm chooses Kira for the leading part - opposite himself. Malcolm and Joanna have a long history as do Kira and Spence. Spence works as a "fight coordinator" for Temper, also. The story is told from various perspectives. Very impressive character writing is evident in this suspenseful, if not a bit twisted, tale of interactions among people. (Particularly those who crave the theater). All four of the main characters (and most of the incidental ones, as well) have personal flaws and hurt that obviously still both haunt and sting them. You will not be able to put the book down. The need to know the powerful events that center around all of the characters is quite strong (and definitely worth the read) ! A MUST READ and a winner for Lynne Fargo! Many thanks to Simon & Schuster - Scout Press and NetGalley for an impressive read!ator" for Temper, also. The story is told from various perspectives. Very impressive character writing is evident in this suspenseful, if not a bit twisted, tale of interactions among people. (Particularly those who crave the theater). All four of the main characters (and most of the incidental ones, as well) have personal flaws and hurt that obviously still both haunt and sting them. You will not be able to put the book down. The need to know the powerful events that center around all of the characters is quite strong (and definitely worth the read) ! A MUST READ and a winner for Lynne Fargo! Many thanks to Simon & Schuster - Scout Press and NetGalley for an impressive read!