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A Memory of Warby Frederick Busch
Reading Group Guide
1. For all the characters histories presented,we are only in Alexs
consciousness throughout the novel. From what point in time is
Alex remembering all these events? What is the significance of
that? What is the purpose of Busch having one character create the
experience of memory for the other characters?
2. Busch uses repetition and variation of a certain set of words—
i.e., chatter, pant, verge, panic, tingle.What is the effect of this repetition?
Why does it become important?
3. Alexs fathers name is Januscz; Nellas former boyfriend works
(Alex thinks) for Janus, the investment firm; many characters have
names that feature double consonants: Nell;Teddy; Otto;William,
etc.What do you make of all the mirroring? Can you find other
mirror effects in the plot itself ?
4. Time travel is mentioned several times.Why? How does the
impossibility of real time travel comment on the process of memory?
What about the mention of Alice in Wonderland ?
5. Continuing the mirror idea:How do each of the major characters
embody differing aspects of Alexs self ? Can we trust these portraits of characters he paints as anything other than those aspects? Can you find points in the novel where Alex states plainly
that this is what they are?
6. Three main occupations are pursued by those in Alexs present:
the arts, the law, and psychoanalysis. If “All your clues are from
Freud and my wife . . . ,” what are we to make of Buschs use of
these three? What of the women—Liz, Detective Rhys, Nella—
who have the starring role (and Alexs desire) in each?
7. In their final meeting before Januscz becomes aware of Sylvias
infidelity, Alex, who is conjecturing this entire scene, has Otto and
Sylvia discuss the conjecture of memory just so the loved one
might be remembered. This is one of the scenes in which Busch
brings two major forces of the novel—talk and love—together,
making them nearly one and the same. In what other scenes does
this equating occur? How do the nature of love and talk change
for Alex over the course of the novel?
8. During the meeting with Grensen, Busch alternates between
repeated uses of the color white and invocations of the pristine
calm of Nellas fathers house with Ottos endurance in the dark
horror and filth of the death camp. As these are taking place in
Alexs mind simultaneously, what is the implication of this back
and forth? How does Alexs imagining of Sylvias imagining Ottos
experience echo what Alex has told us of his time as a very young
child in Barrow? At what point does the “white” of Nellas childhood
become sinister? What is the meaning of “storming in
9. The novel ends as it begins, with a memory of his father, but a
much different memory. Discuss how that memory has altered.
How did the meeting with Nellas father influence the change?
What does Alex gain in return for his re-remembering?
10. Is it important, ultimately, whether or not William Kessler is
actually Alexs brother? Why did Kesslers arrival precipitate Alexs
crisis and generate this elaborate effort of personal revision?
11. The William Carlos Williams poem that Alex remembers
stealing as a child is evocative for several reasons. Note the isolated
word in each stanza; note also Alex explaining the meaning as
being agricultural. How does this help render the memory as organic
and appropriate to the narrative flow of his memory in general?
12. Also in regard to the poem:Williams speaks of the precise
choice of detail that will turn an idea of an image into a concrete
experience for the reader.Why is this poem essential to understanding
how Alex is telling us his ideas about his life, his past?
What is Busch saying about exactly how we make our memories
real for ourselves?
13. The element of choice in memory notwithstanding, the novel
faces the hard fact of a horrific set of historical events. Given what
Alex tells us and how Busch gets it told, what do you think is the
measure by which we can trust memory? What is the difference
between memory and history?
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