Millard Salter's Last Day

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About The Book

In the spirit of the New York Times bestselling A Man Called Ove, this is the heartwarming story of a man who decides to end his life before he’s too old—but then begins to reconsider when he faces complications from the world around him.

In an effort to delay the frailty and isolation that comes with old age, psychiatrist Millard Salter decides to kill himself by the end of the day—but first he has to tie up some loose ends. These include a tête-à-tête with his youngest son, Lysander, who at forty-three has yet to hold down a paying job; an unscheduled rendezvous with his first wife, Carol, whom he hasn’t seen in twenty-seven years; and a brief visit to the grave of his second wife, Isabelle. Complicating this plan though is Delilah, the widow with whom he has fallen in love in the past few months. As Millard begins to wrap up his life, he confronts a lifetime of challenges during a single day—and discovers that his family has a big surprise for him as well.

Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for Millard Salter’s Last Day 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

Millard Salter’s Last Day is the heartwarming story of a man who decides to end his life before he’s too old—but then begins to reconsider when he faces complications from the world around him.

Rather than suffer the indignities of aging, psychiatrist Millard Salter has decided to kill himself by the end of the day—but only after tying up some loose ends. These include a tête-à-tête with his youngest son, Lysander, who at forty-three has yet to hold down a paying job; an unscheduled rendezvous with his first wife, Carol, whom he hasn’t seen in twenty-seven years; and a brief visit to the grave of his second wife, Isabelle. Complicating this plan, though, is Delilah, the widow with whom he has fallen in love over the past few months. As Millard begins to wrap up his life, he confronts a lifetime of challenges during a single day—and discovers that his family has a big surprise for him as well.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss the book’s epigraph. Why do you think Appel chose to include that particular line from Larkin’s Aubade? Read the full poem. What themes does it share with Millard Salter’s Last Day? Did the epigraph affect your reading for Millard Salter’s Last Day? If so, how?

2. Millard believes that “comprehension wasn’t the same as compassion” (p. 181). Explain this statement. Do you agree with Millard that “open[ing] your mind too much” (p. 181) can be detrimental? Why does Millard hold this viewpoint? What are the dangers of sympathizing with every person equally?

3. Who is Virginia Margold? On Millard’s birthday, she presents him with a box full of mementos. Why do you think that Virginia has held on to these items? Following the visit, Millard feels sorry for Virginia. What do you think has led to his change of opinion about her?

4. Given the circumstances under which Millard and Delilah met, were you surprised by how their relationship progressed? After Millard confesses his feelings to Delilah, he apologizes, telling her, “It was a selfish thing to say” (p. 15). Do you agree with his assessment? How would you have handled the situation if you were Delilah?

5. As Millard tours his childhood neighborhood reminiscing, he chastises himself for wishing that Delilah was with him because “None of this should have mattered to him—love was about the present, not the past” (p. 159). Why do you think Millard wants to share this experience with Delilah? How might knowing someone’s past deepen a romantic connection?

6. Late in his life, Millard comes to realize that “marriage—heterosexual marriage, at least . . . was a tortuous cat-and-mouse game of implicit contracts between the sexes” (p. 70). Describe Millard’s marriages. Can you think of any examples of game-playing from his relationships with Carol and Isabelle that would have led him to have this viewpoint? Discuss them with your book club.

7. When Carol and Millard discuss their son, Lysander, Carol tells Millard, “You know Stanley and Livingstone, right? Well, Livingstone didn’t consider himself lost, even if Stanley chose to find him” (p. 81). What does she mean? Do you agree with Millard’s assessment of Lysander? Does Millard’s opinion about his son change throughout the novel? If so, how? Did your opinion of Lysander change? Why or why not?

8. In Isabelle’s final days, she tells Millard that she’s filled a notebook with lists of what he should do after her death, saying, “All you have to do is follow the directions” (p. 11). Why does Isabelle do this for Millard? How might it provide her with some solace? What is the effect of having Isabelle’s instructions on Millard?

9. Despite its serious themes, Millard Salter’s Last Day is a very funny book. Were there any scenes that you thought were particularly hilarious? What were they? How does using humor help Millard cope with mortality? Do you think it is an effective coping method? Why or why not?

10. In his youth, Millard believed that “true devotion was about breaking down barriers” (p. 24). Contrast this with his current view of love. What are the characteristics of “authentic love” (p. 24) in Millard’s view? How does this impact what information he shares with Delilah? Do you agree with his decision to keep his plans from her?

11. Lysander’s failure to mature and assume adult responsibilities gnaws at Millard because “Millard, embroiled in extraneous affairs, had let him” (p. 6). Is Millard being too harsh on himself? What responsibility do you think Millard, as a parent, has to his son? Do you think Millard has been a good father to Lysander?

12. Based on Millard’s interactions with Lauren Pastarnack, did you think that she would make a good psychiatrist? Does Millard? Do you agree with Lauren that the quiz Millard gives her when she asks him to write a letter of recommendation is unfair? What’s the lesson in the quiz for Lauren? For Millard? Do you witness any other teaching moments that occur between Millard and Lauren? If so, what are they?

13. Ezra Steinmetz tells Millard, “There’s nothing special about dying. . . . It’s one of the few universals” (p. 61). Do you agree? In what ways is death universal? Are there any ways in which it is unique? What effect does each of the deaths detailed in Millard Salter’s Last Day have on Millard?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Millard believes that “maturity meant accepting the infinite expanse of existence, that there were many things one would simply never know or do” (p. 18). In contemplating his mortality, Millard begins to catalog these things, effectively making “a bucket list in reverse” (p. 18). Discuss Millard’s list, then come up with one of your own. What sort of things have you wished to do? Pick one to attempt to accomplish and share reports of your progress with your book club.

2. On his way back from visiting Isabelle’s grave, Millard tours his childhood home, remembering anecdotes from his childhood. Tell your book club about the place where you grew up, sharing some stories from your younger days.

3. Millard Salter’s Last Day is filled with reminiscences, from Millard’s tour through his childhood neighborhood to the slide show he’s presented. If you were going to create a slide show representing your life, what would you include in it? Share your photographs and the accompanying memories with the members of your book club.

4. Millard Salter’s Last Day has drawn comparisons to A Man Called Ove. Read both books and discuss them with your book club. Do you think the comparisons are apt? In what way, if any, are Millard and Ove similar?

5. To learn more about Jacob M. Appel, read more about his other books, and find out when he will be in a city near you, visit his official site at jacobmappel.com.

About The Author

Jacob M. Appel is the author of many novels and short story collections including The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, Scouting for the Reaper, Phoning Home, Einstein’s Beach House, and Millard Salter’s Last Day. His short fiction has appeared in many literary journals including Agni, Colorado Review, Gettysburg Review, and more. His prose has won many awards including the Boston Review Short Fiction Competition and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award. His stories have also been shortlisted for the O. Henry Award and the Best American Short Stories. He has taught most recently at Brown University, at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City, and at Yeshiva College, where he was the writer-in-residence. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Orlando Sentinel, The Providence Journal, and many regional newspapers.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (November 7, 2017)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781507204092

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Raves and Reviews

"Millard Salter’s Last Day wins readers in a number of ways."

– The Associated Press

"The author has a gift for schtick — above all, Jewish New York City schtick. And in spite of Salter’s claim to being in a profound funk, when all is said and done, the man is full of life."

– The Associated Press

"The author is clever — coy, even — in how he treats the reader. He has Salter tease us. Thus, our protagonist can be exceedingly comical, careening from innermost stream of consciousness to conversations with workaday hospital colleagues to quirky, lovable family and friends."

– The Associated Press

"Millard calls up comparisons to the late John Updike’s visited and revisited character, Rabbit."

– The Associated Press

"The more we get to know Millard Salter, the more we want him to live."

– The Associated Press