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Meritocracy: A Love Storyby Jeffrey Lewis
Reading Group Guide
1. Unrequited love appears to be at the emotional heart of the book. It drives the narrator. Is unrequited love, in its simplicity, with its peculiar agonies, unaccompanied by courtship, quarrels or families, the purest form of romantic love? Is it naive? How does his unrequited love isolate Louie, and how does it draw him close to the others? To what extent is unrequited love a phenonenon of the youthfulness of the characters?
2. The sixties in historical imagination are the decade of upheaval. But in Meritocracy: A Love Story, there is little upheaval; instead, there is doubt, anxiety, probing. Is this a function of the story being set in 1966 instead of 1968? Is it a function of the characters' social class? Or other factors? What resemblances can be found between 1966 and now?
3. The author chooses a term, "meritocracy," from social or political science for his title. Is there irony in that? What roles do the rich and privileged play in the author's depiction of "meritocracy?" Is America today a meritocracy? Does "meritocracy" as an idea hold water?
4. The author suggests that the best of his generation were lost. What sort of "argument" is the author making here, really? Political? Poetical? Would you agree or disagree with the feeling that the leaders of the post-war generation have disappointed? In order to save those who took extreme positions of integrity, would America have been well-served, post-Vietnam, by a "truth and reconciliation" program of the sort that Nelson Mandela developed in South Africa post-apartheid?
5. Harry Nolan has very specific qualities which mark him in his friends' minds as a future leader, among them boldness, charisma, and an absence of guile. What do you make of his friends' belief in him? What do you think George Bush, or Bill Clinton, or Al Gore, or John McCain, or John Kerry, or Hillary Clinton, or Barak Obama, would make of Harry Nolan?
6. Does it appear to you, from the author's style of narration or otherwise, that the character Harry Nolan was closely modeled after an actual person? Would it make any difference to you, in terms of your feeling for the book, if he were or if he weren't?
7. Through much of Meritocracy, past and present succeed each other in alternating chapters. What effects does the alternation of chapters between past and present have on the storytelling? The alternation of chapters aside, how would you characterize the relationship between past and present in the book?
8. The book has much to say about "Ivy League culture," as least as of 1966. Do you know people who've more recently gone to Yale, Harvard or Princeton, and from what you've observed, do characterizations from the book hold true today?
9. Two of the characters are Jewish. To what extent does their Jewishness make a cultural mark of difference in the book, and to what extent do other factors, such as modest origins, scholarships, physical or social ungainliness, contribute? If the book were written about characters today, would the differentness of being Jewish have the same effect?
10. The narrator seems equally torn between love of Sascha and hero-worship of Harry. What seem to be the driving factors in Louie's hero-worship of Harry? Is homoeroticism one of them?
11. The author has said that Meritocracy: A Love Story is the first volume of a quartet. Where do you imagine the surviving characters might be today?
12. Is Adam Bloch "at fault"? If he is, what is he "at fault" for?
13. Sascha could be considered the absolutely central character in the book, the one about whom the other characters and finally the story itself revolve. To what extent does this seem true? What is it about her that most excites Louie's love? What about the other characters? In some senses, she seems quite ordinary, yet every one of the men has extraordinary feelings for her. How does that work? Do types like Sascha still exist today?
14. A few people have written that Meritocracy: A Love Story is a little like Scott Fitzgerald for a later generation. Is there any truth to that?
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