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Home at the End of the World: A Novelby Michael Cunningham
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the significance of the title A Home at the End of the World. Does it suggest hope, despair, or both? Explain.
2. Consider the structure of the novel. Why do alternating narrators work for this particular story? How would the story differ if an omniscient narrator or only one character told it? Is there one narrator whose voice you found especially compelling or identified with most? Why?
3. If youve read The Hours or Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham, what similarities do you notice in Cunninghams narrative style or themes with A Home at the End of the World? What distinguishes this book from his two later novels?
4. The third chapter was an award-winning short story, entitled White Angel, published in The New Yorker prior to the novel. What makes that chapter particularly effective as a separate story? How does the rest of the novel deepen and expand on that story?
5. On page 6, Jonathan mentions his fathers “beauty.” Do you agree with him that it is unusual to speak of a father in that way? Why? Is male beauty or behavior portrayed in similarly unexpected or surprising ways in the novel?
6. As a young mother, Alice says of her relationship with her son Jonathan and his best friend Bobby: “Sometimes in those days I thought of Wendy from Peter Pan—an island mother to a troop of lost boys” (p. 87). What do you think she means? How does the theme of “lost boys” figure into the novel as a whole? What role do the women play in relation to this theme?
7. Discuss the eroticism fueling Jonathan and Bobbys childhood friendship. Do you think they view their shared sexual experiences differently? Explain. How does the erotic component of their relationship change as the novel progresses? Is there anything that remains constant?
8. On page 179, Jonathan says, “We become the stories we tell about ourselves.” How might this observation apply to Jonathan, Bobby, Clare, and Alice? Do you view the stories these characters tell themselves as a form of selfpreservation, self-delusion, or both? Explain with specific examples.
9. Do you think Jonathan, Bobby and Clares attempt to redefine family succeeded or failed? Why? What do you think defines a family? What do you think the novel is ultimately saying about family?
10. What role does Erich play in the characters lives? In what ways do you think he is a catlyst for change? Discuss the significance of death in the novel.
11. In Bobbys final chapter, he thinks he spots a vision of Clare. “What I saw was just the wind blowing,” he realizes. “It was either the wind or the spirit of the house itself, briefly unsettled by our nocturnal absence but to old to be sur prised by the errands born from the gap between what we can imagine and what we can in fact create” (p. 336). What do you think he means? Discuss the significance of this statement to the story as a whole.
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