Synopses & Reviews
"Fascinating and hilarious," "relentlessly clever," and "truly haunting" are all phrases that have been used to describe David Schicklers unique talent. And all apply to this brash, brilliant novel featuring two of the most memorable characters in contemporary fiction: Grace McGlone and Henry Dante.
Sexy and willful, Grace McGlone is saving herself for the right man. When Henry Dante pulls into the small Wisconsin town where she works at the car wash, she instantly knows hes the one. He knows it too. But when Grace discovers Henry has "The Planets" a stolen set of famous Spanish diamonds stashed in the back seat of his truck, shes having none of it. Shes "trying for heaven," and the ill-gotten jewels must go. And so they do, in a race across the American landscape from Chicago to Yellowstone, purusued by a savage gangster obsessed by the diamonds he thought were his.
Passionate, criminal, comical, and possessing all the dark enchantment of a fairy tale, Sweet and Vicious is a modern love story shot straight from the heart of David Schicklers miraculous imagination.
"In the much anticipated follow-up to 2001's Kissing in Manhattan, his highly acclaimed story collection, Schickler tracks a pair of gloriously wacky, star-crossed young lovers on the lam from a gang of goons. Driving across the Great Plains in a stolen pick-up truck, loner thug Henry Dante and flame-haired temptress Grace McGlone are bent on giving away a set of seven famous stolen diamonds in a series of impetuous, extravagant gestures that are every bit as improbable as their relationship itself. From the omen-laden day that they first meet when Grace walks through a car wash to introduce herself to Henry Schickler rewinds to relate their vivid and bizarre backstories. Myriad off-kilter characters are entwined in the trajectory of Henry and Grace's month-long romance, including Grace's club-footed, treehouse-building classmate; the smarmy radio evangelist who deflowered her when she was 15 while whispering 'God's will'; and the vengeful Chicago mobster who happens to be Henry's boss. Delightfully but believably nutty, Grace and Henry each have a precisely modulated moral code and a sense of honor forged in the weirdness and tragedy of their respective pasts. Though their largely innocent misadventure think Bonnie and Clyde as it might have been written by Tom Robbins comes to a somewhat disappointingly tidy conclusion, the ride is more than worth the price of entry. Agent, Jennifer Carlson. (Sept. 7)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] totally cracked, lushly written, but (as its title suggests) zanily uneven first novel....At times the book careers like a car without the brakes, but Schickler spins sentences in a way that keeps you in your seat. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Sweet and Vicious is impressive: it has a sharp wit and a sustained edge. But it works as a string of short-story anecdotes rather than an overarching novel. [The] book's biggest ambitions seem more tacked-on than innate." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[Q]uirky, sexy, ironic, raw and darkly romantic....[B]eneath it all, Sweet and Vicious is a rollicking but tender love story, an exuberantly told modern fairy tale without a tidy ending." The Oregonian
"[E]nchanting....Serious fun and a rare, rich feast for many: Schickler's unabashed use of allegory and his skillful weaving of the dark and comical make him one of the best new voices in years." Kirkus Reviews
"Schickler never manages to tease a real dilemma out of this wandering tale....[T]his novel shows the saggy elastic of an over-elongated tale. Drastically condensed, it might make a good three-minute ad for Christianity, aimed at teenagers." The Washington Post
"Schickler is a rare find...he mixes love, violence, ardor, and humor in this funny and heartbreaking modern-day fable." Booklist (Starred Review)
About the Author
David Schickler is a graduate of the Columbia University M.F.A. program. He is the author ofof Kissing in Manhattan, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Zoetrope: All Story, and Travel and Leisure. He lives with his wife in New York.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of David Schickler’s Sweet and Vicious.
We hope they will enrich your experience of this provocative novel.
1. How would you characterize Sweet and Vicious—tragicomedy, romance, suspense? Or does it defy categorization? What initial tone is set by the novel’s opening scenes involving Charles Chalk and Helena Pressman?
2. Who are the novel’s sweetest characters? Who are its most vicious ones? Which characters’ actions meet your personal definition of heroism?
3. The cosmos appears as a backdrop throughout the novel, from the planetary diamonds to such details as the Nova. What is the effect of these numerous heavenly references?
4. Among the characters who are trying for heaven, what seems to be the admission requirement? Do any of them gain glimpses of heaven while they’re still living?
5. Compare the Reverend Bertram Block to the Pobrinkises. How do these men perceive themselves? Do their sins have a common denominator?
6. David Schickler gave meaningful names to many of his characters, such as Grace, Henry Dante, and Hunter (who changes his name to Honey). Discuss the ironies provided by these monikers.
7. Do the characters in Sweet and Vicious fall into classic or revolutionary gender roles?
8. What criteria do Grace and Henry use when giving away the diamonds? Why are the uppity waitress and the misfit dancer chosen, for example? Are Robin Hood philosophies at work, or do Grace and Henry have a more highly evolved notion of needing and deserving?
9. The notion of onlookers and performance drives several of the novel’s scenes, in settings as varied as diners and religious revivals. Is there such a thing as an innocent bystander in Sweet and Vicious? What was your experience as a voyeur into these imaginary lives?
10. Do the novel’s twelve chapter titles form a cycle of any kind? In what way does the placement of Keening (a wailing lamentation) pave the way for a return to earth?
11. When Henry and Grace experience love at first sight, she is emerging from the car wash. What other artificial devices for cleansing appear in the novel? Does Henry and Grace's authentic love have the power to purify?
12. With a road trip, a jewel heist, and organized crime, Sweet and Vicious has all the ingredients of a conventional hard-boiled novel, yet it is anything but conventional. What devices does the author use to take his book beyond a standard genre? In what ways does he amplify the novel’s literary traits and avoid creating caricatures?
13. Does the novel appear to offer any advice regarding such basic human cravings as sex, salvation, riches, and power? What role does violence play in satisfying these hungers?
14. As the characters journey cross-country, from urban locales to a kava-steeped spa and Yellowstone, how do the settings reflect the plot’s evolution?
15. What was your reaction to the novel’s shifting point of view and dual verb tenses? How would a uniform point of view have altered the narrative’s impact?
16. How do you interpret the role of fate and coincidence versus divine intervention in the novel’s many star-crossed victims?
17. Do the lovers in this novel mirror any of the characters in Kissing in Manhattan? Are there any parallels to be made between the geography of Sweet and Vicious and the mythic New York apartment building featured in the author’s short-story collection?
18. What is the nature of nature itself in Sweet and Vicious? What worldly wisdom can Grace share with the high school seniors she encounters at the end of the book?