A New York Times Notable Book | San Francisco Chronical Best Book of the Year
A master of short fiction whose "best pieces are as good as it gets in contemporary fiction" (Newsday) returns, as Jean Thompson follows her National Book Award finalist collection Who Do You Love with Throw Like a Girl.
Here are twelve new stories that take dead aim at the secrets of womanhood, arcing from youth to experience. Each one of Thompson's indelible characters—lovers, wives, friends, and mothers—speaks her piece—wry, angry, hopeful—about the world and women's places in it.
This collection includes the following short stories: “The Brat” “The Five Senses” “It Would Not Make Me Tremble to See Ten Thousand Fall” “The Family Barcus” “Lost” “The Inside Passage” “Holy Week” “A Normal Life” “Hunger” “The Woman Taken in Adultery” “Pie of the Month” “Throw Like a Girl”
Reading Group Guide
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DISCUSSION POINTS 1. In "The Brat", we read Iris's tale of teenage angst and violence. As she gazes down at her tormentor, she muses "if she shot him nobody would ever have to look at him again. That would definitely be something real. Or she could take the gun home and shoot her mother or Kyle." (p. 20) Do you think her actions are primarily motivated by her desire for something exciting to happen? Considering recent school shootings and violence, did this story hold more relevance? Did it resonate more or less? What about the ending -- was it what you expected? 2. "The Five Senses" is probably the most sinister and eerie of the stories in this collection. In it, we follow Jessie as she goes on the run with R.B., her boyfriend. In a flashback, Jessie tells a counselor her parents' real problem with her relationship: "They're afraid people will see the two of us together, me and him, and I won't look like anyone they'd want to be their daughter. I'll look like I belong to him." (p. 36) What does Jessie mean by this? What do you think happened to her parents? Do you think R.B. is a sociopath? Discuss the significance of the title. 3. Why do you think the majority of the violence in "The Five Senses" is alluded to and not shown? Do you think it's more effective this way? Discuss the flashbacks. How do they help to further the story? 4. Kelly Ann, the listless Army wife and mother in "It Would Not Make Me Tremble to See Ten Thousand Fall", decides to enlist herself, much to her family's chagrin. Why do you think she does this? What is the significance of the title? Do you think her marriage will survive her radical decision? 5. "The Family Barcus" is about a suburban family during the 1950s and 1960s and how they are affected when their father leaves his job to start his own risky venture. The narrator, Cindy, reflects back on this difficult time in her family's life and remembers that once, years later, she went to one of those rotating restaurants. How is this a metaphor for her family's ultimate collapse? Were you surprised that the father left for good after telling his daughter that "family is everything. It's our sword and shield against the world"? 6. There is an undercurrent of sadness, almost melancholy, running through most of these stories. Did you find this realistic or disheartening? Why is it that the characters are nameless in "Lost?" 7. In "The Inside Passage", Mike tells our narrator, "Everybody gets married. Everybody's gotta bite the bullet." (p. 131) In "The Woman Taken in Adultery", the wife remarks "you start out being married together and you end up being married apart." (p. 219) What do you think of these views of marriage? 8. Many of these stories deal with restless characters trying to change their lives. Chad, the husband trying to make a success of his start-up radio station in "A Normal Life" muses on his radio show "I wonder if any of us can ever really make decisions without second-guessing and regrets." (p. 171) What do you think of this notion? Why was Melanie upset with him after this comment? After Melanie returns from Thailand, she hears Chad on his show saying "the Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life is happiness." (p. 192) Do you agree? 9. Thompson's stories have much subtext within them. What do you think the fire symbolizes at the end of "Hunger?" What does the title refer to? How are all the characters "hungry" in some way? Discuss the painting in "The Woman Taken in Adultery," from which the story gets its name. How does Thompson use humor in the scene where the narrator is confronted by her paramour and her husband at the museum? 10. "Pie of the Month" starts out as this sweet story of two older women running a pie-making business and ends up with a more subversive agenda, addressing war, violence, immigration, and the economy. Do you think the shift in tone is effective in this story? How has the current political climate affected the town where you live? 11. The title story, "Throw Like a Girl," describes a friendship over the course of twenty-plus years. Did knowing early on in the story that Janey would die intensify the drama? Her character and the narrator discuss the somewhat competitive nature between them. Do you think that competition is natural in women's friendships? Does this exist in male friendships? Why do you think that the collection is named for this story? Why does it come last? 12. Which story left the strongest impression on you? Which one left the least? Do you find the struggles of the characters relatable? Are you interested in reading more of Jean Thompson?
Jean Thompson is a novelist and short story writer. Her works include the novels A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, She Poured Out Her Heart,The Humanity Project, The Year We Left Home, City Boy, Wide Blue Yonder,The Woman Driver, and My Wisdom and the short story collections TheWitch and Other Tales Re-Told, Do Not Deny Me, Throw Like a Girl, Who DoYou Love (a National Book Award finalist), Little Face and Other Stories, and The Gasoline Wars. Thompson’s short fiction has been published in many magazines and journals, including the New Yorker, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The PushcartPrize. Thompson has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and other colleges and universities. She lives in Urbana, Illinois.
"If there are 'Jean Thompson characters,' they're us, and never have we been so articulate and worthy of compassion. These stories concrm that no one is beneath her interest, or beyond her sure and seemingly limitless reach." -- David Sedaris
"Thompson is a writer of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity." -- Vince Passaro, O, The Oprah Magazine
"Like Raymond Carver, Jean Thompson is fascinated by the sudden and unlikely communion of people. Her characters vary, but she never condescends to them, no matter how hungry their hearts are, no matter how many screws they have loose . . . Her fiction [is] a gold mine." -- Jeff Giles, Newsweek