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The Feast of Love


The Feast of Love Cover

ISBN13: 9780307387271
ISBN10: 0307387275
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love. While this extraordinary novel takes on literature's great themes--love, death, and life's bewildering mixture of pain and happiness--it does so in a disarmingly simple way. As every character tells his or her own story, Baxter weaves each sharply distinctive voice into a chorus that is unforgettable in its comedy, wit, and profundity, as well as in the sheer reading pleasure that it offers.

1. As the book opens, the character Charles Baxter leaves his house for a walk in the middle of the night. As he passes an antique mirror at the foot of the stairs, he describes the mirror as "glimmerless," a word he has used to describe himself [p. 4]. What does he mean by this? At the end of the novel, as dawn arrives, he tells us that "all the voices have died out in my head. I've been emptied out. . . . My glimmerlessness has abated, it seems, at least for the moment" [p. 307]. What is the real Charles Baxter suggesting about the role of the author in The Feast of Love?

2. Does Baxter's decision to give the job of narration over to the characters themselves create a stronger sense of realism in the novel? Does it offer a greater possibility for revelation from the characters? What is the effect of this narrative technique on the reading experience?

3. Does Bradley become more interesting as the novel unfolds? Kathryn says of him, "He turned himself into the greatest abstraction" [p. 34]. His neighbor Harry Ginsberg says, "He seemed to be living far down inside himself, perhaps in a secret passageway connected to his heart" [p. 75], while Diana says, "What a midwesterner he was, a thoroughly unhip guy with his heart in the usual place, on the sleeve, in plain sight. He was uninteresting and genuine, sweet-tempered and dependable, the sort of man who will stabilize your pulse rather than make it race" [p. 140]. Which, if any, of these insights is closest to the truth?

4. The novel takes its title from a beautiful, light-filled painting that Bradley has made and hidden in his basement. When Esther Ginsberg asks him why there are no people in the painting, Bradley answers, "Because . . . no one's ever allowed to go there. You can see it but you can't reach it" [p. 81]. Does the fact that Bradley has been able to paint such a powerful image suggest that he is closer to attaining it than he thinks?

5. Why does Chlo? go to see Mrs. Maggaroulian, the psychic? Is the fortune-teller's presence in the novel related to Harry Ginsberg's belief that "the unexpected is always upon us" [pp. 290, 302]? How might this belief change the way one chooses to live?

6. What are Diana's motivations for marrying Bradley? Does her reasoning process [p. 138] seem plausible, or is it the result of desperation and self-deception? Is Diana, at the outset, the least likable character in the novel? How does she manage to work her way into the reader's affections?

7. Bradley is a person who baffles himself. He says, "I need a detective who could snoop around in my life and then tell me the solution to the mystery that I have yet to define, and the crime that created it" [p. 106]. Why, if his first wife Kathryn has a profound fear of dogs, does he take her to visit a dog pound? Why, if his second wife Diana is afraid of open spaces, does he take her to the wide skies and watery horizons of Michigan's Upper Peninsula? Why does he often act in ways that will compromise his happiness? Is Bradley like most people in this unfortunate tendency?

8. The characters often define themselves in strikingly economical statements. For instance, Diana says, "I lack usable tenderness and I don't have a shred of kindness, but I'm not a villain and never have been" [p. 258]; and Bradley says, "My inner life lacks dignity" [p. 58]. Do the characters in this novel display an unusual degree of insight and self-knowledge? Are some more perceptive about themselves than others?

9. In his description of the shopping mall in which Jitters is located, Bradley remarks, "The ion content in the oxygen has been tampered with by people trying to save money by giving you less oxygen to breathe. You get light-headed and desperate to shop. . . . Don't get me wrong: I believe in business and profit" [p. 110]. In what ways is Bradley not a typical businessman? How does Jitters differ from a caf? such as Starbucks? What observations does the novel make about America's consumer-driven culture?

10. Throughout literature (for example, in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), the traditional boy-meets-girl plot is complicated by the presence of a father or parents who refuse to sanction the union of the lovers. Can Oscar's father be seen in this traditional role--as a potential threat to the happiness of Chlo? and Oscar? Or does he represent something far more threatening and evil? What is his effect on the latter part of the novel?

11. Harry Ginsberg tells Bradley about a poem his mother used to recite, about a dragon with a rubber nose. "This dragon would erase all the signs in town at night. During the day, no one would know where to go or what to buy. No signs anywhere. Posters gone, information gone. . . . A world without signs of any kind. . . . Very curious. I often think about that poem" [p. 88]. Bradley takes up the idea, and begins to draw pictures of the dragon. How does the parable of the dragon resonate with some of the larger questions and ideas in the novel?

12. Speaking of Oscar, Chlo? says, "Words violate him. And me, Chlo?, I'm even more that way. There's almost no point in me saying anything about myself because the words will all be inhuman and brutally inaccurate. So no matter what I say, there's no profit in it" [p. 63]. Does Chlo? underestimate her own talent for self-expression? Do her sections of the narrative belie her opinion about the uselessness of words?

13. How would you characterize Chlo?'s unique brand of intelligence? What are her strengths as a person? Is it likely that she will survive the loss of Oscar, and the challenge of single parenting, without any diminishment of her spirit?

14. Chlo? believes that she once saw Jesus at a party; she also believes in karma and similar forms of spiritual justice. Harry Ginsberg, a scholar of the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, remarks, "The problem with love and God . . . is how to say anything about them that doesn't annihilate them instantly with wrong words, with untruth. . . . We feel both, but because we cannot speak clearly about them, we end up--wordless, inarticulate--by denying their existence altogether, and pfffffft, they die" [p. 77]. Why do questions of spirituality and the meaning of human existence play such a major role in The Feast of Love?

15. In The Feast of Love, is sex an accurate gauge of the state of two people's emotional relationship to each other? If sex is an expression of Chlo? and Oscar's joy in each other, does it make sense that they attempt to use it to make some sorely needed money? Is it puritanical to assume that they are making a mistake? Why are they ill suited for the pornography business?

16. Based on what happens in The Feast of Love, would you assume that the author believes that love is necessary for happiness? Although they begin the novel mismatched, Bradley, Kathryn, and Diana eventually all find themselves with the partners they truly desire. Is it surprising that the novel offers so many happy endings? How does the tragedy of Oscar's death fit in with the better fortunes of the other characters? Why has Baxter chosen to quote Prokofiev [p. 237] to open the section called "Ends"?

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OneMansView, November 30, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Longing for love

The author kicks off this interesting examination of relationships as a character in his own book, having woken one night in a disoriented state and then taking a mind-clearing walk in his Ann Arbor neighborhood including venturing into the U of Mich stadium. On his trek, he dimly observes lovemaking on the field at the fifty-yard line from a high perch, and later, but more significantly, he encounters his neighbor Bradley Smith with his like-named dog who has the inspired suggestion, knowing that Charlie is a writer, of writing on heartfelt occurrences in people’s lives and calling it “The Feast of Love.” It is Bradley’s acquaintances, be they friends, neighbors, employees, or ex-wives, who tell their stories. In some cases, it is Charlie, in his fictional role, who tracks them down and records their stories.

Many of the experiences are told from two or more perspectives. As might be expected, perceptions of what exists or has happened between two individuals can vary widely. Bradley, the manager of Jitters, a mall coffee shop, is a prime example of one who permits his feelings to miss the signs of a disconnect with his partners. An apparently successful visit to an animal shelter to ease his first wife Kathryn’s fear of dogs is nothing of the kind as she pines for a lithe female athlete Jenny with whom she gains an instant rapport at a sports bar after a softball game. He interprets the remoteness of his attractive, professional second wife Diana as an indication of her depth, which in actuality barely conceals an inexplicable indifference towards him despite accepting his proposal. One of the more appealing relationships is that between punkish Chloe and Oscar, employees at Jitters, who are on the fast track to nowhere but recognize each other as kindred souls and develop an intense, passionate, but short-lived, pairing.

Coincidentally or not, all of the various threads connect in some way; for example, in Chloe’s story she mentions seeing a man in the stadium when she and Oscar are on the fifty-yard line. Though the exuberance of the young punkers is compelling, the stories of Bradley and his ex-wives are more nuanced with wider appeal. The intriguing Jenny should have gotten a chance for her story. After the Diana fiasco plays out, an unexpected tragedy dampens the telling of loves gained and lost. An ugly scene involving Oscar’s father marks a further unraveling.

Nonetheless, this book is a small, illuminating window into the fragile and fleeting nature of relationships. The author’s portrayal of these uncertainties is sharp, poignant, and sympathetic. There is the hope that all can find a situation that can provide happiness. As Bradley understands, “there are only two realities: the one for people who are in love or love each other, and the one for people who are standing outside all of that.” Most people are striving like crazy to enter the first reality.
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Product Details

Baxter, Charles
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Community life
Ann Arbor (Mich.)
Love stories
Fiction : Literary
Audio Books-Literature
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.96 x 5.16 x .7 in .5 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
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History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Feast of Love Used Trade Paper
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Product details 320 pages Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group - English 9780307387271 Reviews:
"Review" by , “Rich, juicy...completely engrossing. [Baxter] builds a community right on the page before us, using a glittering eye, a silvery tongue — and just a little moonlight.”
"Review" by , “Superb — a near-perfect book, as deep as it is broad in its humaneness, comedy and wisdom.” The
"Synopsis" by , Late one night, a man wakes from a bad dream and decides to take a walk through his neighborhood. After catching sight of two lovers entangled on the football field, he comes upon Bradley Smith, friend and fellow insomniac, and Bradley begins to tell a series of tales — a luminous narrative of love in all its complexity.

We meet Kathryn, Bradley's first wife, who leaves him for another woman, and Diana, Bradley's second wife, more suitable as a mistress than a spouse. We meet Chloé and Oscar, who dream of a life together far different from the sadness they have known. We meet Esther and Harry, whose love for their lost son persists despite his contempt for them. And we follow Bradley on his nearly magical journey to conjugal happiness.

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