Thanks for choosing my book for your club!

I’ve got some discussion questions here to peruse and if you’ve got a burning question you need answered, email me and I’ll try to answer it. I may also be available to pop in to your gathering via Skype — my contact is james@sieworld.com for inquiries. Happy reading!

Still Life Las Vegas Discussion Guide

  1. In the preface, the “writer” Walter Stahl wants to lay out memories “…end to end, and see what manner of creature is being conjured to life.” What creature is he talking about? Is he successful?
  2. The book swings back and forth in time— from teen Walter’s present day to his parents’ past, from Emily’s childhood to Walter’s adulthood—what effect does that have on the narrative? How does one time period play off the other?
  3. What impact do the illustrated sections have on the story? Why do you think those particular sections were chosen to be drawn? Do you get something out of them that you would not get were it described in prose?
  4. Stories are important in the book— stories within stories within stories. How do characters define themselves by the stories they tell? Are stories different from memories? Which stories are true?
  5. Discuss the importance of Las Vegas as a setting. What are the qualities of that city that entwine it inextricably with the family’s history? How do Las Vegas, and Liberace, work metaphorically in the book?
  6. Movement and stillness is a constant theme, both as a response to grief, and a way of life. Emily’s flight illustrates one mode of being, Owen, in his depression, embodies the other. Chrysto talks of the mind’s stillness as “Knowing absolutely you are in the right place.” What impact do these examples have on Walter’s view of life, and his choices?
  7. Mythology looms large in Still Life Las Vegas, especially classical Greek myths. Owen is a teacher of mythology, Walter grew up listening to them, Chrysto seems to have stepped out of his own myth. How do myths, especially the one of Orpheus and the Underworld, relate to the pursuits of these characters and how they view themselves?
  8. In her last scene, Acacia seems to transform before Walter’s eyes. Do you think this change is literal or an indication of Walter’s state of mind?
  9. Discuss the function of art in the book: Walter’s drawing, Emily’s accordion, Chrysto’s posing, Little Bang’s love of piano. Is art an escape from life or a way of defining it? Does art betray the characters or save them? What is Owen’s “art”?
  10. What do you think was the last question Walter had for his father, the one he’ll never have the answer to, the one Owen was “too far away to hear”?
  11. Why does the book end on an epilogue rather than with young Walter driving away? How does the epilogue alter the reading of the last chapter?
  12. In one short bus ride, Walter realizes he has fallen in love with Chrysto. How was this foreshadowed in the book? In other novels a character’s coming out would be a major revelation; here it happens in a flash: “Surprising but not surprising. This has been waiting for me my whole life.”  How do you account for Walter’s easy acceptance of his sexuality?