A Perfect Universe

Ten Stories

LIST PRICE $12.99

About The Book

Scott O’Connor’s novels have been hailed as “astonishing” (Library Journal), and “so insistently stirring, you want to lean in close to catch every word” (The New York Times Book Review). Now, from the author of Untouchable and Half World comes A Perfect Universe, a piercingly emotional cycle of stories in the tradition of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Annie Proulx’s Close Range.

Welcome to the often-overlooked corners of sun-bleached Los Angeles, where a teenaged bicycle thief searches for a kidnapped boy, a young musician emerges as the lone survivor of a building collapse, and an aging actor faces the erasure of his past. There, far from the Hollywood spotlight, we also meet two sisters locked in a destructive cycle of memory and illness, coffee-shop regulars whose lives are torn apart by a stunning moment of violence, and the desperate, fraudulent writer whose fictions connect these unforgettable characters in subtle and surprising ways.

Sharply observed, exhilaratingly paced, and beautifully written, A Perfect Universe is a masterful exploration of growing up and growing old, loss and longing, identity and deception, and the search for redemption, humanity, and grace.

Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for A Perfect Universe includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Children too wise for their age, a mother who only wants to win on The Price Is Right, a musician who emerges as the sole survivor from a collapsed building, and more honest characters populate Scott O’Connor’s short story collection A Perfect Universe. The author of Half World and Untouchable, Scott O’Connor weaves a piercingly emotional, observant, and realized cycle of stories in the tradition of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad and Annie Proulx’s Close Range.

Set in the corners of suburban California, these stories blend tales of courage, disappointment, and hope, as characters search for meaning and redemption amidst parenthood, grief, coffee shop lines, and long days at the hospital. With themes of celebrity, failure, and young children taking care of their adult parents, A Perfect Universe invites you into characters whose lives are so familiar that they will begin to resemble your own streets, neighbors, and sometimes yourself.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. The young musician who survives in “Hold On” has a ghostwriter working on telling his story. He has a hard time recounting the story in a way that the ghostwriter is satisfied with. What is a traumatic or life-changing event that you have lived through? How would you feel about someone else writing it down for a book to make a profit?

2. The survivor in “Hold On” feels some level of guilt that he is the only one who made it. How is that guilt portrayed, and what seems to be the best remedy to it?

3. In “It Was Over So Quickly, Doug,” which narrator do you most readily identify with and why?

4. Until page 23 in “It Was Over So Quickly, Doug,” we know the genders of two of the characters (the barista and the businesswoman), but not the third. Based on how that third character’s voice is written before his gender is revealed (page 23), how did you picture him?

5. In “Jane’s Wife,” Liz and Jane begin to drift apart when Jane’s artistic career takes off and Liz continues to struggle for success. Who are real-life celebrity examples who seem to have this same problem? How do you think drifting apart can be avoided in those situations?

6. The game show The Price Is Right drives Diane forward to make life changes in “Golden State.” Why do you think this game show is so important to her?

7. Meg, the sister who hears voices in “Interstellar Space,” would have been a “great beauty,” according to her mother on page 107. When her mother says this, Meg’s sister responds angrily. Why do you think Meg’s physical appearance is so important a thing for her mother to hold on to? When people deteriorate mentally, how does physical appearance play a role in how they are treated by broader society and even their own families? Does a mentally ill person who is conventionally attractive have an easier time dealing with life? Why or why not?

8. Opening lines are essential for any writing, but especially important in short stories, when the writer has less time to grab your attention. Look back over the stories in A Perfect Universe and re-read each opening line. Which ones do you think are the most effective and kept you reading? Why?

9. “In the Red” tells the story of Jonas, who we eventually discover has physically assaulted his girlfriend. However, since we don’t know that at the beginning of the story, it’s easy to have sympathy for Jonas’s character, for his loneliness. Discuss the idea of having sympathy for abusers. How is it helpful for us to understand where men in that mindset are coming from? Alternatively, how could understanding be harmful?

10. Several of the stories in A Perfect Universe (“Soldiers,” “Golden State,” and “Colnago Super,” especially) are told from the perspective of children who take care of their parents and have a better grip on reality than their parents. Why do you think this is a theme in the collection?

11. Richard (in “The Plagiarist”) and George (in “Flicker”) are both male celebrities who have either embarrassingly failed in their careers or are about to. What does fame mean to each of these characters? Discuss how each of them handles failure differently.

12. In “The Plagiarist,” Richard has an episode of panic after he discovers that Lydia is about to expose him. He has a dream involving himself and a woman in a medical clinic: “His body, her body, had turned murderous, and so they were pumping her full of poison” (p. 209). What do you think this dream means to the rest of the story? Who or what does the woman symbolize?

13. The stories in A Perfect Universe are primarily set in the suburbs of California—away from the bustle of Los Angeles and glamour of Hollywood. How does this setting unite the stories? What about suburban California makes a realistic setting for these stories?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. In “It Was Over So Quickly, Doug,” the pacing and scene setting feels a bit like a movie scene. Ask each person in your book group to write a two-page screenplay (dialogue and scene details included) about their last experience in a coffee shop line.

2. In “Golden State,” the game show The Price Is Right drives much of the plot forward, and physical objects give important hints to the wealth of the characters (Bruce’s truck, Diane’s blue dress that she has to wear twice, Claire buying a beat-up used bike). Play your own version of The Price Is Right with your book group, and then discuss the importance of physical objects. What items’ prices are each of you most familiar with and why?

3. The movie and book The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls deals with young children having a somewhat stronger grip on reality than their adult parents and having to take care of their parents frequently. Watch the movie as a group, and then discuss how the themes of The Glass Castle also relate to the short stories “Soldiers,” “Golden State,” and “Colnago Super.”

4. Short stories rely on precise, image-rich words. Even shorter stories abound online and can pack a similar emotional punch. Research “six-word stories” on the internet, and have each member of your group pick a story from A Perfect Universe and rewrite it as a six-word story.

About The Author

Scott O’Connor is the author of the novella Among Wolves, and the novels Untouchable and Half World. He has been awarded the B&N Discover Great New Writers Award, and his stories have been shortlisted for The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and cited as Distinguished in Best American Short Stories. He has written for Fox and Universal Television, as well as The New York Times Magazine and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (February 2018)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781507204061

Raves and Reviews

“Each fast-moving story presents a vivid sense of a California beyond the bright lights of Hollywood… Fans of Jennifer Egan will enjoy O’Connor’s depiction of angst and ennui in capitalist California.”

– Publishers Weekly

"The reader is immediately drawn in… as O'Connor shows, our vices are what make us so delicately and chaotically human. A catalog of imperfections neatly packaged within a book."

– Kirkus Reviews

A Perfect Universe beautifully encapsulates our contemporary world, in the miniature globe of Los Angeles. We see ourselves in these hustlers and hopefuls, strays and survivors, characters as complex, damaged, and determined as the city itself. This is a new classic—not only of the mysterious, evergreen pull of the City of Angels, but of American fiction at large.” 

– James Frey, New York Times bestselling author of A Million Little Pieces and Bright Shiny Morning

“I sat down to read the first story in A Perfect Universe, only to look up several hours later having read the entire book in a single sitting. I fell in love with these characters from the first page. The storytelling in this book—tender and attentive, starkly poetic and always surprising—moved me at every turn.”

– Attica Locke, author of Bluebird, Bluebird and Pleasantville

"The stories in A Perfect Universe describe lives torn by violence of all kinds—physical, emotional, judicial—and they do so with immense intelligence and heart-stopping clarity. Scott O’Connor’s vision of Los Angeles as a place both sprawling and strange, given to both radical privacy and startling intersection, brings to mind another one of the city’s definitive portraits, Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, but has a gnostic brilliance that is entirely his own."

– Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine

“Scott O'Connor's beautifully wrought stories are sharp-edged, unflinching, and filled with the kind of precision of language that etches images into the mind. His characters' lives are ingeniously connected by a '70s cult sci-fi film, but what really binds them is the often heartbreaking and always surprising ways they attempt to find purchase in the world they inhabit, one which can feel as out of reach and inscrutable as the farthest star.”

– Marisa Silver, author of Little Nothing and Mary Coin

“Through a kaleidoscopic cast of characters teeming with desires, hopes, frustrations, and regrets, the compelling stories in A Perfect Universe excite the imagination while appealing to the heart. Scott O'Connor's crystalline prose delivers an ambitious range of voices and narrative structures that reflect the bewildering complexity and quiet beauty of our modern world.”                                                                        

– John Pipkin, author of Woodsburner and The Blind Astronomer's Daughter

“Scott O’Connor’s riveting exploration into the hopes, losses and triumphs of his characters plunges the reader into sprawling Los Angeles, where the entertainment business looms like an extra moon. A brilliant storyteller, O’Connor inhabits his characters and pulls us in after them, exploring lives in which everything is up for grabs and nothing is what you think.”

 

– Kit Reed, author of The Story Until Now and Mormama

“The 10 stories gathered here are remarkable in their simplicity… With the popularity of short story collections on the rise, O’Connor’s addition to the ranks stands out and shines.”

– Booklist, Starred Review

"[A] sometimes wry, sometimes cutting story collection…entertaining stories accessible to all."

– Library Journal

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