What You Have Left

What You Have Left

In 1976, on the day of his wife’s funeral, Wylie Greer drops off his five-year-old daughter, Holly, at his father-in-law’s dairy farm on the outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina. Wylie asks for a little time to clear his head, but thirty years pass before Holly sees her father again. What You Have Left is about a father and daughter trying to make their way back to one another across decades of longing, uncertainty, and ambivalence—all the while hoping to discover that what they have left is worth salvaging. Shot through with sly humor and a knowing sympathy for human weakness, What You Have Left is a stunning debut that explores the weight of history, the nature of loss, and the possibility of forgiveness.
  • Free Press | 
  • 240 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451643190 | 
  • April 2011
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions

1. This book doesn't start at the beginning of the story. Why do you think the author sometimes showed you the results of a character's actions before revealing his or her personal history? How might it have changed your ideas about Wylie if we read his side of the story first? How were your feelings about Cal affected by this structure?
2. The only two chapters in the novel that are narrated in the first person are chapter 3 (Lyle 1991) and chapter 8 (Holly 2007). Did it feel different to hear the characters speak for themselves in those chapters, rather than hearing their stories from a third-person narrator? How reliable are Holly and Lyle as narrators? Were there any specific passages that stood out to you in these chapters as particularly unreliable?
3. Discuss the relationship between Wylie and Lyle. Why did Lyle initially lie about having met Wylie (p. 67)? Do you think he had Holly's best interests in mind, or his own? What about his decision to switch car keys with Holly at the end of chapter 3 (p. 77) and take the blame when the police arrive? Was this an act of chivalry, or of self-interest?
4. In chapter 2 (Wylie 1971), we learn about the tragedy that befell Gladys and Lester's new baby, Nat. How do Gladys and Lester act as foils for Maddy and Wylie? Could what happened to baby Nat ever have happened to baby Holly? What evidence can you find that Wylie and Lester are different kin see more

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About the Author

Will Allison
Jennifer Barrett

Will Allison

Will Allison’s debut novel, What You Have Left, was selected for Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, Borders Original Voices, and Book Sense Picks, and was named one of 2007’s notable books by the San Francisco Chronicle. His short stories have appeared in magazines such as Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, and One Story and have received special mention in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies. He is the former executive editor of Story. Born in Columbia, South Carolina, he now lives with his wife and daughter in New Jersey. Learn more about Will Allison at www.willallison.com.