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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

You Are Not a Stranger Here


You Are Not a Stranger Here Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. In what ways are the nine stories in You Are Not a Stranger Here unified? What kinds of characters, situations, and thematic concerns recur throughout the book?

2. Why does Adam Haslett begin the collection with a story told from the point of view of someone suffering from mental illness? How does this story affect the readers perceptions of the stories that follow it? What does “Notes to My Biographer” reveal about being in a manic state?

3. In “The Good Doctor,” Frank experiences “a familiar comfort being in the presence of another persons unknowable pain. More than any landscape, this place felt like home” [p. 41]. Why would Frank feel this way? Does such a feeling make him a more empathetic therapist, or does it indicate a kind of narcissistic relationship to his patients? In what ways are readers of You Are Not a Stranger Here in a position similar to Franks?

4. At the end of “The Beginnings of Grief,” why does the narrator cry, “for the first time in a long while,” when his shop teacher, Mr. Raffello, delivers the “dark amber chest” [p. 64], he has made? Why would seeing this particular object make him weep? What might his crying signify?

5. In “Devotion,” Owen observes that reading Othello in school did not help him to deal with his own jealousy. “What paltry aid literature turned out to be when the feelings were yours and not others” [p. 78]. Should literature be an aid to understanding and controlling ones own feelings? In what ways might You Are Not a Stranger Here make readers more fully aware of their own and others emotional states?

6. Why does Hillary, at the end of “Devotion,” feel herself “there again in the woods, covering her brothers eyes as she gazed up into the giant oak” [p. 88]? In what ways does the story reenact this earlier moment of protection?

7. In “Reunion,” as James enters the final stages of AIDS, he writes a series of letters to his dead father. “I find you now and again here on the common, bits and pieces of you scattered in the woods, but as the days go by, so the need lessens. Ill be coming home soon”[p. 131]. In what sense does he “find” his father on the common?

8. In “Divination,” after Samuel voices his premonitions, his father tells him: “Youre twelve years old and you have a lot of ideas in your head, but nothing will wreck you quicker than if you let yourself confuse whats real and what isnt…. I dont know what it is youre dreaming, or what you dreamt about that teacher, but thats all it is—dreams. Your lifes got nothing to do with those shadows, nothing at all” [p. 157]. In what ways does “Divination,” and indeed the entire book, question the distinction between whats real and what isnt? In what ways do the “dreams” and “shadows” referred to above have everything to do with the characters lives in You Are Not a Stranger Here?

9. In “My Fathers Business,” the narrators father wants to inoculate himself against the present: “So much easier if you can see people as though they were characters from a book. You can still spend time with them. But you have nothing to do with their fate” [p. 185]. How might such an attitude have affected the narrators own fate? How does this statement relate to the narrators desire to “figure out the relationship between the desire for theoretical knowledge and certain kinds of despair” [p. 177]?

10. When Paul asks Mrs. McLaggen in “Wars End” if she often invites strangers into her home, she replies: “Youre not a stranger here” [p. 106]. Why might Adam Haslett have chosen this line as the title for the collection?

11. In “Volunteer,” Ted at first resists the idea of visiting the Plymouth Brewster Structured Living Facility: “Enough already with the fucking mentally ill, for Christs sakes, enough, but something made him come” [p. 213]. What is it that draws him there? What role does his own family life play in his decision to volunteer there? What kind of relationship does he establish with Elizabeth? What do he and Elizabeth give each other?

12. What do the stories of You Are Not a Stranger Here, taken as a whole, say about mental illness, about madness and love, and about the relationships between parents and children? In what ways do these stories give us a new look at the age-old subject of family life?

Product Details

Haslett, Adam
Anchor Books
New York
Short Stories (single author)
Short stories
Stories (single author)
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
August 12, 2003
Grade Level:
8.04x5.30x.60 in. .42 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

You Are Not a Stranger Here Used Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Anchor (UK) - English 9780385720724 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A] very impressive debut. Haslett is an expert storyteller, who draws the reader in with his compassion, then methodically unravels unexpected truths....Haslett's perceptive stories are far-flung in setting...but his themes are grounded in one place: the troubled human mind."
"Review" by , "[An] affecting debut collection....Though the thematic similarity of many of the stories dulls their startling initial impact, this is a strikingly assured first effort."
"Review" by , "There are some spectacular moments, and also several inexplicable miscalculations in this extremely uneven yet unquestionably promising debut collection....Not by any means the book it might — perhaps should — have been."
"Review" by , "Adam Haslett's debut stories are almost frighteningly tender....Haslett is a young writer and may himself have a long journey ahead. But in the best of these stories, he reveals a piece of wisdom greater than his years: that mercy extends not just to the ill, but to their sentinels — who are, in their finest hour, blessed with the task of love."
"Review" by , "All this can be a little gloomy, but Haslett is an eloquent, precise miniaturist, and his characters' struggles with their own assumptions collectively provide a fascinating snapshot of life during the era of Prozac, when new ways of thinking about emotion have forced us to adjust our notion of identity and even, perhaps, of grace."
"Review" by , "Not every reader will care or dare to enter Haslett's sometimes melodramatically painful world, but the book welcomes the courageous — and the estranged."
"Review" by , "Haslett possesses a rich assortment of literary gifts: an instinctive empathy for his characters and an ability to map their inner lives in startling detail; a knack for graceful, evocative prose; and a determination to trace the hidden arithmetic of relationships."
"Review" by , "Elegant....Invigorating....[Haslett has an] assured, almost democratic empathy for his admirably varied characters....These are graceful, mature, witty stories."
"Review" by , "Adam Haslett is a wonderful rarity: an old-fashioned young storyteller with something urgent and fresh and fiercely intelligent to say. Haslett's great gifts as a writer — his fearlessness in particular — are a great gift to the reader. You're likely not only to love his stories but to feel stronger for having read them."
"Review" by , "Adam Haslett possesses the rare ability to combine powerful narrative with sensitive and perceptive observation of people and places. You Are Not A Stranger Here is a brilliant beginning to a literary career."
"Review" by , "From the brilliantly manic gallop of the first story to the deep, careful, breath-held balance of the last (a truly beautiful duet of age and youth), You Are Not A Stranger Here is a book to savor."
"Synopsis" by , The publication of “Notes to My Biographer,” in Zoetrope: All-Story magazine introduced readers to the remarkable voice of Adam Haslett. Nominated as part of a National Magazine Award, broadcast on National Public Radio, performed at venues across the country, the story brought the author widespread recognition.

Now, in his first book, Adam Haslett gives us nine richly varied stories, each suffused with intense emotion and written in a lyric prose alternatively lush and spare. You Are Not a Stranger Here carries its readers into the hearts and minds of people facing life’s most profound dilemmas. We meet an aging inventor still burning with ideas as he makes a final visit to his gay son. A psychiatrist’s encounter with a reluctant patient reveals a young doctor’s own needs and fears. An orphaned boy finds solace in a classmate’s violence. The return of an old lover disturbs the peace between a brother and sister who have lived together for decades.

In settings that range from New England to Great Britain, from Los Angeles to the American West, the stories in this book treat what Faulkner called the old verities and truths of the heart: love and honor, pity and pride, compassion and sacrifice. They do so with heartbreaking precision and an often generous humor, drawing us past the surface of characters’ lives into the moments of decision and recognition that shape them irrevocably. Together these stories constitute a significant achievement by a powerful new writer.

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