Reader�s Guide Book Club Discussion Suggestions for by guy25

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									                 Reader’s Guide / Book Club Discussion Suggestions for
                                  Run in the Fam’ly
                                  by John J. McLaughlin


1. This novel is a father-son story. How is does it remind you of other father-son stories you
   are familiar with, and how does it differ? How would you characterize the relationship
   between Jake and Curtis? What is their central conflict?

2. The novel is narrated in first person, in Jake’s authentic, vernacular voice. What is the
   effect of his voice on the story? What can you see, hear, or experience from this voice
   that you couldn’t if the book were narrated in third person?

3. On the first page, when Jake begins to tell us about his past, he says, “It’s all here… and
   sometimes I don’t even know if I’m just remembering or living it all over again.” He then
   begins to recount a story from his childhood, but in the present tense, rather than the past.
   He does this again in part II of the novel, recounting other stories from his youth. What is
   the effect of this “past as present” technique? How do these stories from Jake’s past
   influence the present arc of the story, which takes place over the Memorial Day weekend
   in 1993? What do you think, in general, of the author’s choice to write the story in
   present rather than past tense?

4. In the prologue, Jake tells the story of the Robertson family’s move, from Chicago to
   Oakland, a move that some members of the family are resistant to. Why does Curtis force
   this move upon the family? What do the various scenes of the prologue reveal about
   Curtis?

5. Throughout the novel, Jake tells us about a recurring dream he’s had since he was a boy,
   and about a scarf that Curtis wore—a sort of family heirloom for the Robertsons. Both
   the dream and the scarf hold the key to the powerful secret that Curtis steadfastly keeps
   from Jake until the end of the book. What is this secret, and what do the dream and the
   scarf have to do with it? What is the significance of the fact that the scarf is seamless?
   And of the man in the maple?

6. In the chapter “Playin’” we see Jake is caught in the welfare-to-work rut: if he gets off
   the rolls, he can’t earn enough from his minimum-wage job to make ends meet and
   provide the health care his son needs. He and Noel make a calculated gamble to stay
   unmarried, so that each can draw on public assistance, with its access to food stamps and
   medical coupons: “We’re just trying to find a way to bring this boy up—the county, the
   stamps, my job, and two caseworkers in different parts of the Flatlands who don’t know
   we’re together. We’re playin’, just like anybody else.” Does the systemic trap set for
   people like Jake make his decision to cheat the system more sympathetic to you? Less?
   How has this trap changed since the welfare “reform” enacted in 1996 (after the time of
   this novel), if at all?
7. Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 7 illustrate some of Jake’s life as a minimum-wage worker, both for
   a moving company and as a day laborer. What did you learn about these kinds of jobs,
   and this kind of lifestyle? How does this affect your answers to the previous question?

8. What roles do Janice (Jake’s mother), and Cheryl and Paula (his sisters) play in Jake’s
   life? How are they different from, or similar to, Noel?

9. How would you describe Jake’s interaction with George, the middle-class black man who
   runs the Ready Man, the labor hall in chapter 2? And with Morris Daniels, the middle-
   class black man whose family is being moved in chapter 3? What is the significance of
   the bay that separates the Flatlands and Bella Vista, and the desert that separates Oakland
   from Bethel? What does the novel have to say about class relations within the African-
   American community, and between the black underclass to which Jake belongs and US
   society as a whole (regardless of race)?

10. In trying to convince Jake to go in on the robbery of George, Laurence recasts the parable
    of the Good Samaritan in a 1993 Flatlands setting (pp. 213-215 ). If you are not familiar
    with it, read the original parable (Luke 10:25-37). Compare Laurence’s version, and
    consider his motives for spinning it as such. What is the effect of this story upon Jake?
    And upon you as a reader?

11. What do you make of the final, violent confrontation among Jake, Curtis, Laurence, and
    George? What does it reveal, ultimately, about each one?

12. One reader, echoing the sentiments of many who have read this novel, said of the last
    pages, “It sure ain’t no Hollywood ending.” What might she have meant by this? In your
    opinion, is the novel ultimately hopeful or despairing? Why?

13. Jake Robertson is black, but the author of this book is white. Is that significant to you?
    Why, or why not? Have you read other books in which the author’s background is
    significantly different than that of the characters? How would you compare this book to
    those? Why might one author choose to write directly from his/her lived experience,
    whereas another might not?

14. In light of the novel’s conclusion, the title perhaps suggests the question of whether blood
    or raising holds more importance in forming bonds of family. Which, for you, is more
    important, and why? Did this book make you reconsider your previous notions of what it
    means to be a father, or a family?

15. What significance do the epigraphs have to the novel? If you have read any of the books
    from which they are drawn, what connections do you find in them to the themes of this
    novel?

16. What does the novel have to say about the role of violence in a family, and/or society?
    What does it have to say about reconciliation—between fathers and sons, between friends
       (or enemies), and in society at large? Do you think violence can be redemptive (or simply
       solve problems) in ways that nonviolence cannot? Why or why not?

(revised Feb 2008)

								
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