A New York Times Notable Book.
Synopses & Reviews
John Nickel is a black ex-jazz musician who only wants to be a good father. But when his son is taken away from him, he's left with nothing but the Memphis bar he manages. Then he hires Fay, a young white waitress, who has a volatile brother named Carl in tow. Nickel finds himself consumed with the idea of Taft, Fay and Carl's dead father, and begins to reconstruct the life of a man he never met. But his sympathies for these lost souls soon take him down a twisting path into the lives of strangers....
"As resonant as a blues song....Expect miracles when you read Ann Patchett's fiction." New York Times Book Review
"A moving emblem of fatherhood's rarely explored passion." Los Angeles Times
"Absorbing....Strikingly original." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
ANN PATCHETT is the author of the critically acclaimed The Patron Saint of Liars, which was the only first novel chosen in 1992 by the American Library Association's Notable Books Council as one of the best works of fiction of the year. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Patchett was recently a Bunting Institute fellow at Radcliffe.
Reading Group Guide
Reader's Guide copyright © 1999 by The Ballantine Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc.
1. At the start, John Nickel seems to see Fay and Carl in terms of someone else's children that he is tempted to father. Clearly, his relationship to Fay changes: Why? What is the connection, in his head, between romance and parenthood?
2. Why do Fay and John go to Shiloh?
3. The scenes of Levon Taft's life aren't real; they are imagined by John Nickel. Why is John so interested in Fay and Carl's father? What does it mean that John imagines Levon Taft in relation to black children, first the boy who is selling chocolates and later the boy at the wrestling meet in Memphis?
4. How do you interpret the last scene in the book? Why does the author choose to end with a scene in which Taft, Fay, and Carl are all much younger than they have previously appeared in the story? Why not end the book with John and Franklin?
5. The action of this novel takes place over a very short period of time, about ten days. How would this have been a different story if it had taken place over a year?
6. The neck plays an important role in this book: John feels the lingering touch of Fay's hand on his neck; Mrs. Woodmore scratches and scars John's neck when he is late for Franklin's birth; Carl shoots the deer in the neck though his father tells him not to, and later he shoots John through the neck. Is there any connection between these events?
7. How do you feel about an author writing outside his or her own race and gender? Would you think this book had more validity if it were written by a black man?
8. The blues are a strong presence in the book, and yet they remain offstage. We never see John perform as a drummer. How important is his life as a musician to the way in which we understand his character?