This reading group guide for The Fine Color of Rust 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.
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Loretta Boskovic is a woman struck with the Gunapan curse—her husband, Tony, ran off after ten years, leaving her with only two resources to bring up her children in this small Australian town: a part-time job and a robust sense of humor. When the government threatens to shut down Gunapan’s only school, Loretta leaps into action to rally the community around the cause. And when she and her unlikely friend, the old junk man Norm, sense suspicious activity within the city council, Loretta finds her way through the corruption to uncover the real truth. She may be short on money, influence, and glamorous outfits, but with the help of her devoted friends and unflagging spirit, Loretta is ready to defend the true beauty of her imperfect home. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. O’Reilly describes the Japanese word sabi in the book’s epigraph as “the simple beauty of worn and imperfect and impermanent things.” How does this theme manifest itself in The Fine Color of Rust?
2. What are your first reactions to Gunapan as a community? Consider the positive aspects of the town (everyone knowing everyone else, people helping each other, a sense of all being “in the same boat”) as well as the negative ones (economic depression, drought, welfare dependency). In your opinion, what is the value of a small town or community? Consider where you live and how you participate in your local community in your response.
3. What do you think is Loretta’s greatest strength? Her greatest weakness? What is Loretta’s greatest value to others?
4. Loretta has frequent fantasies of transformation: “The pudge has magically fallen from my hips and I’m wearing a long, slinky silk dress. I’m in the function room of the golf course, tossing my newly blond-streaked hair and full of ennui or some other French feeling . . .” (p. 75) Will she ever do anything about these fantasies? Why do we have fantasies like this? Are they helpful, or do they only make us long for things we can never have?
5. When Loretta reads her “List of Pleasing Things” aloud in writing class, it’s clear that her pleasing things are completely different from those of the other women. Is this a reflection of their different backgrounds? Is it a matter of working class versus upper class? Do you think the other women are being perfectly honest in their lists?
6. Loretta says her sister Tammy “thinks her wealthy lifestyle exemplifies cultured good taste and mine has degenerated into hillbilly destitution, whereas I think Tammy is living a nouveau riche nightmare while I represent a dignified insufficiency.” (p. 54) Whose version do you agree with? Why?
7. What do you think was the real cause of Melissa and Jake’s bullying behavior? Did Loretta do the right thing in the way she tried to short-circuit the bullying? Have you or members of your family ever been bullied? Or have you been the bully? What makes people become bullies?
8. Loretta’s sister Patsy says, “You’ve got no reason to stay here [in Gunapan]. . . . That bastard’s not coming back and the kids are young enough to move schools. Mum’s gone to the Gold Coast, so she won’t bother you. Come back to the real world.” (pp. 61–62) Why do you think Loretta chooses to stay in Gunapan?
9. Most of the residents of Gunapan seem pleased and excited about the resort development. Why do you think they want the resort? Discuss the tension between gritty authenticity and out-of-reach luxury in The Fine Color of Rust.
10. When Loretta jokes about dropping her kids off at the orphanage, she’s expressing the feelings most parents have at some point: of being overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated. She is also fiercely protective of her children. What do you think of the way motherhood is portrayed in the book?
11. Loretta’s mom offers the following advice: “[You] should give up that political hocus-pocus you’ve got yourself into. Put your energy into finding a partner and a father for those children.” (p. 57) What do you think is the best use of Loretta’s energy, for herself, for Melissa and Jake, for the community? Whose needs are most important for Loretta to meet?
12. For both Loretta and Norm, humor is one of the ways they deal with adversity and pain. (Loretta also gets assistance from a dose of chocolate.) Do you think humor makes life easier or harder? How do you cope in difficult times?
13. What is the greatest injustice in The Fine Color of Rust? The greatest moment of justice restored? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Write out your own “List of Pleasing Things” and bring it to your book club meeting. Read them aloud. Do you tend toward poetic, intangible things or simple, downto- earth items? What do you think your list of “pleasing things” says about you as an individual? Were you surprised by any of your fellow book club members’ lists?
2. Loretta is a firm believer in the power of local organization and fighting for the underdog. According to Loretta, “No one cares about us in the small towns. We have to fight or we’ll go under.” (p. 184) Channel Loretta’s energy for change in your book club and spend an afternoon working together for a local cause that you all believe in. This could range from volunteering at a school, a shelter, or a residential care facility to canvassing or making phone calls for a local political or nonprofit organization. How does spending time in your community change your relationship to or perspective of your surroundings?
3. The local natural water resources are very important to Gunapan’s community. What natural resources play a similar role in your community? Take a trip with your book club members to a local park. Consider packing a picnic, bringing some sports gear, or dusting off your camera and binoculars and taking some time to appreciate the outdoors together. To browse National Parks by state, visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_ parks_of_the_United_States. If you don’t live near a National Park, try searching the National Park Service’s state-by-state registry of places to visit instead: www.nps .gov/communities/states.htm.