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The Chrysanthemum Palace

Reading Group Guide

    Reading Group Guide for The Chrysanthemum Palace
    1. Describe Bertie's character. How has his past as the child of a renowned television show creator and producer affected him? What do you think of the relationship he has with his parents, in particular his father? How has this essential relationship shaped his relationships throughout the book? What is your overall opinion of Bertie?
    2. "It's funny what draws us to people; funny we don't often see the design of it." What draws Bertie to Thad? What about Thad intrigues and confounds Bertie? Do the two men share anything in common? Do you think Bertie comes to understand Thad throughout the story and does he ultimately forgive Thad for his final offense against Clea? What was your initial reaction to Thad and did it change by the end of the novel?
    3. Discuss Thad's story about the time machine model. What does this story in particular reveal about Thad? Aside from the memory of playing time machine with his deceased brother, what do the time machine and Thad's subsequent belief that he imagined the whole story symbolize?
    4. Bertie says of his relationship with Clea:
      "We were like bystanders you see on television after a suicide bomb attacks, numbly clutching each other in front of splintered buses and orphaned cell phones. I get it. This is how it's always been and always would be between us."
      Discuss how this notion is illustrated throughout the book. Why do you think the bond between them was as strong as it was for as long as it was, despite the years of estrangement?
    5. Throughout the novel, we are given glimpses into the story line of Thad and Clea's episode of "Starwatch: The Navigators." What are the parallels between what is happening on the show and what is actually happening in real life? What effect do you think these similarities ultimately have on Thad?
    6. Why do you think Morgana and Jack Michelet emotionally and mentally abuse Thad? How much of their inappropriate behavior do you attribute to the loss of their young son? Bertie says of Morgana: "Sudden death expunged her rancor; at last, Thad was brought into protective arms." Do you think Morgana achieves any kind of salvation after Thad's death?
    7. Discuss the relationship between Miriam and Bertie. What initially brings them together? Do you think his feelings for her are genuine and vice versa?
    8. The final time Bertie sees Thad he says: "I watched Thad crane his neck to look at the stars, feeling a rush of sympathy and affection for the man. I was suddenly certain of his innocence." What does he mean by this? Do you agree with this perception? How does this last melancholy interaction between Bertie and Thad contradict what Bertie discovers about his death?
    9. The word denouement is mentioned twice in the story. What was your reaction to the denouement of Bertie, Thad, and Clea's story?
    10. What do chrysanthemums symbolize in the novel? What does the title mean?

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About the Author

Bruce Wagner
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Bruce Wagner

Bruce Wagner is the author of The Chrysanthemum Palace (a PEN Faulkner fiction award finalist); Still Holding; I'll Let You Go (a PEN USA fiction award finalist); I'm Losing You; and Force Majeure. He lives in Los Angeles.