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Original Essays | September 17, 2014

Merritt Tierce: IMG Has My Husband Read It?



My first novel, Love Me Back, was published on September 16. Writing the book took seven years, and along the way three chapters were published in... Continue »
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    Merritt Tierce 9780385538077

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The Feast of Love

by

The Feast of Love Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

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"?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

Dina, November 24, 2007 (view all comments by Dina)
This is a wonderful book. Baxter takes us through the lives and loves of multiple characters, gradually tying their stories together as he goes.
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(15 of 31 readers found this comment helpful)
Deborah Fochler, September 30, 2007 (view all comments by Deborah Fochler)
I read this book several years ago and absolutely loved it. The stories are captivating and spellbinding and reinforces the belief we all need love. It is by far one of the best books of this decade - not year - but decade. This author is brilliant. Because the movie is coming out, I decided to reread the book - in my opinion the book is much better than the movie and I can not fathom how a director could do this book justice. Dont miss it.
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(16 of 31 readers found this comment helpful)
Mick, August 15, 2007 (view all comments by Mick)
This novel is a sheer pleasure to read. Baxter tells stories of love, love lost, love found and does it all beautifully. It's all as accessible as life (and love) itself. I love this book.
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(19 of 35 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375709104
Author:
Baxter, Charles
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Location:
New York
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Love stories
Subject:
Community life
Subject:
Ann Arbor
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage Contemporaries
Series Volume:
3603
Publication Date:
20010531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.03x5.25x.74 in. .57 lbs.

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Related Subjects

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

The Feast of Love Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.50 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375709104 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

If you have ever loved, buy this book! How's that for a strong recommendation? Charles Baxter is, in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated contemporary American authors on the scene. He is remarkably talented. This novel, set in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is comprised of a collection of first person narratives. We hear the voices of Bradley, Chloé, Harry, and Diana, with a few others sprinkled in. You know the saying, "everybody has a story to tell." Baxter tells their stories, stories of love and loss and longing, through exquisite observations that capture profound, visceral human emotion and everyday sentiment. He conveys it in prose that is at once authentic and poetic. Each of the characters approaches life and love differently, and by the end of the book, we care about them all. Baxter gently nudges our guard down and allows us to feel without feeling manipulated. Such is the compassion good writing can render.

"Review" by , "Extraordinary....The Feast of Love is as precise, as empathetic, as luminous as any of Baxter's past work. It is also rich, juicy, laugh-out-loud funny and completely engrossing....As loose and supple as life itself."
"Review" by , "I had scarcely read twenty pages of Charles Baxter's superb new novel — a near perfect book, as deep as it is broad in its humaneness, comedy and wisdom — when I began to worry I couldn't do it justice in a review....If there is any justice, this new novel will win him the wider fame and readership he deserves."
"Review" by , "[A] buoyant, eloquent and touching narrative....Some magical things seem to happen...but the true magic in this luminous book is the seemingly effortless ebb and flow of the author's clear-sighted yet deeply poetic vision."
"Review" by , "[E]xtremely likable....[T]he Joycean monologue (spoken by Chloé) and graceful acknowledgement of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with which Baxter ends this rueful tale of romantic folly, are the perfect touches."
"Review" by , "The best book I've read this year...A beautiful, sly, bawdly and wondrous conversation on love, on mistaken pairings and the happiness when they are set aright."
"Synopsis" by , In vignettes both comic and sexy, men and women speak of and desire the ideal mates who may be hiding in the unmapped sphere of possibilities in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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