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      Year of Wonders
Geraldine Brooks
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Get our free guide to Geraldine Brooks' novel of one courageous woman's struggle to survive in the year of the plague.

 
         

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Finally, after fifteen years, Jack Tennant is going home. Against his better judgment, he has succumbed to his mother's guilt-laden pleas that he see his estranged father, who suffers from "locked-in syndrome," a condition that leaves him fully intact mentally but unable to speak or move, save for blinking his eye. Jack's do-gooder girlfriend believes that this trip is a chance for Jack to achieve peace with his family. But Jack's no fool: he knows better—and there's a lot his girlfriend doesn't realize about the Tennant family. She doesn't know about the history between Jack and his father. She doesn't know about Jack's alcoholic brother Pressman. And she doesn't know the truth about his brother Dex, who drowned when Jack was very young—and about whom his parents have never said a word

With his family teetering on the brink, Jack finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to make a decision he's avoided for years. Should he walk away from his past and leave his crazy family to solve their problems without him? Or should he try to mend fences that have been broken for as long as he can remember?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Davies Adam Davies is the author of The Frog King. He lives in New York City.

Praise for the novels of Adam Davies:
Goodbye Lemon
"Funny, evocative and emotionally true. High Fidelity and Less Than Zero fans will devour it." —USA Today

"Bitter, smart, and soaked in dark humor."—Publishers Weekly

"Smart and vicious and cutting..." —New York Post

The Frog King
"The literary invention, metaphorical pizzazz, and sheer cleverness of the prose and word-play in The Frog King is astonishing." —The Wall Street Journal

"The funniest young-guy-in-New York novel since Bright Lights, Big City." —Bret Easton Ellis

"As touching and hilarious as Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, as heartfelt and ironic as Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." —Baltimore Sun

"A clever tale that delivers moments of simple beauty." —Chicago Tribune

QUESTIONS:

  1. Jack traces all of the central turning points in his life—the failed Juilliard audition, his encounter with Jordana Mochnik—back to Dexter's death. Do you think he's right? Are there more positive events in his past that might have something to do with his experience with Dexter and his family as well?

  2. Jack says that since Dex died, the big question he hasn't been able to stop asking is "Are you being loved in the way you deserve?" (p. 57). Has anyone in the Tennant family loved or been loved that way? After Jack realizes that Press has been reserving his seat on the punching bag in the basement, he finally consents to drink—and thinks, as he does so, "My Everlast, my brag, my brother. This is the way I deserve to be loved" (p. 160). Do you agree?

  3. Bess tells the Tennants that those with locked—in syndrome can "hear and smell and taste everything but cannot articulate. They are fully intellectually and perceptively intact but have no speech and no significant communicant movement." (p. 68) In what ways are Gil's symptoms mirrored metaphorically throughout his family?

  4. When Gil regains some movement in his finger, she associates the progress with theories of neuroplasticity, and declares that it amounts to a "totally legitimate neurological rebirth. Gil is changing himselfÉliterally into a biologically new person" (p. 220). Are there other characters in the story who also attempt to change themselves into new people? In what ways? Do you feel these changes are significant enough and will be long lasting?

  5. Throughout the novel, Jack invests inanimate objects—the flip-flops, the E-type, the Everlast, the Invincibles—with tremendous power. Why? He even goes so far as to address the house itself as an opponent, keeping a running score (p. 147). How can a mere thing become an enemy?

  6. Jack says that Hahva's "whole life is circumscribed by mysterious predilections and arcane rules" (p. 35)—could this apply to him as well? How do his quizzes function as a kind of mental and emotional "discipline" (p. 49)? He describes his "extensive tantra of self-control" (p. 61) as a cultivated shield: "If I can do all these things my family will never be able to touch me again" (p. 62). To what extent has he been successful in that aim? At what cost?

  7. Do you think Jack really came home to punish his father (p. 106)? Are there other reasons—besides greed, compassion, or hope—that might be motivating him, and that he may not be able to admit, even to himself?

  8. Despite telling Havha that he's been playing "Opposite Whole Life" (p. 17) in his attempts to be different from his father, it's clear that Jack often wants to emulate him as well. Why? Considering his lifelong struggle to both imitate and oppose his father, what does the discovery that they share a love of music mean to Jack? How is it similar to what Hahva feels when she finds out that Jack has a talent she never knew about? Why do you think he has kept this from her?

  9. Is Jack's voice reliable? Do you believe in his mythology, his version of the key events in his life? Why or why not? Jack eventually discovers that his memories of Dex's death are "wrong wrong wrong" (p. 249)—was there a point in the story where you began to suspect as much? Jack describes his careful mythology of his family, and particularly his father, as "everything I've ever counted on, believed in, struggled against" (p. 230). What do the errors in that mythology say about the nature and uses of memory? Why do you think his original narrative of Dexter's death and funeral is so very different from what seems to have actually happened?