“A kickass debut from start to finish.” —Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad
Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run.
Betrayed by her family after taking the fall for a friend, Lee finds refuge in a cooperative of runaways holed up in an abandoned building they call the Crystal Castle. But the façade of the Castle conceals a far more sinister agenda, one hatched by a society of fanatical men set on decoding a series of powerful secrets hidden in plain sight. And they believe Lee holds the key to it all.
Aided by Tomi, a young hacker and artist with whom she has struck a wary alliance, Lee escapes into the unmapped corners of the city—empty aquariums, deserted motels, patrolled museums, and even the homes of vacationing families. But the deeper she goes underground, the more tightly she finds herself bound in the strange web she’s trying to elude. Desperate and out of options, Lee steps from the shadows to face who is after her—and why.
A novel of puzzles, conspiracies, secret societies, urban exploration, art history, and a singular, indomitable heroine, The Readymade Thief heralds the arrival of a spellbinding and original new talent in fiction.
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Reading Group Guide
1. Why do you think Lee steals? What is the “itch” that stealing scratches in her?
2. Do you think Edie was always using Lee, or was there genuine friendship there? What do you make of the bird metaphor Edie uses when describing why she chose to befriend Lee?
3. Lee is a quiet character, but is she passive?
4. The Station Master asks Lee about whether she understands the nature of desire. He says that she knows “what it is to want, perhaps even to yearn, but true desire is something else entirely.” What do you think differentiates desire from yearning? Is there something that Lee desires?
5. Tomi argues that paintings have aura because they are “one of a kind,” and that “to go and see a painting is a kind of pilgrimage, a ritual.” He also says that “aura is not in the thing but in the relationship between the viewer and the thing.” Do you agree with Tomi?
6. Do you think the Undertaker would have killed Tomi if he hadn’t drawn first? If Lee had returned With Hidden Noise, would the Société Anonyme have stopped pursuing her?
7. Of all the places to go, why do you think Lee chooses to return to Annie’s home when she is on the verge of death?
8. Do you think Lee’s mother knew that Steve was contacting the S.A. when Lee returned home to steal the car? Edie actively betrays Lee, whereas Lee’s mother betrays her perhaps through inaction. Which is worse? Are they both equally culpable?
9. Do you believe the Priest when he says that the S.A. was created with noble intentions? At what point did the S.A.’s obsession transform from benign to malevolent? And if the Priest’s theory about Marcel Duchamp’s work had proved correct, would the ends have justified the means?
10. Why do you think Lee chooses to keep her child?
11. Near the end of the novel, Lee returns to the abandoned aquarium to find Tomi’s body has disappeared. What do you think happened?
12. In the final scene, Lee finds in the Undertaker’s safe a single, small portrait of a young woman mixed in with a stack of stolen paintings. It is “the kind of work, Lee knew, that Duchamp would have dismissed as retinal.” Why do you think she takes it? Why this particular painting?
13. In the epigraph the author quotes Marcel Duchamp: “There is no solution, because there is no problem.” What do you make of this quote, after finishing the book?