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Tuesday
Apr242012

A Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for Luisa Perkins’s Dispirited

 

  1. What does “dispirited” mean?  Why is the novel titled Dispirited
  2. Dispirited is a fantasy, but how realistic or fantastic is the process by which Blake becomes dispirited?  Is his experience recognizable?  How does the connection of the spirit to the body in Dispirited comment on the connection of the spirit to the body in reality?
  3. Dispirited is a novel about feeling “at home.”  What does it mean to feel “at home”?  Why does Cathy feel more at home in the old mansion, Hulsthuys, than in her own house in Silverado Estates?  Why does she feel more at home in New York City than in Kashkawan?  What does Cathy mean when she says to Rich, “Being with you feels like coming home”?
  4. At least Cathy knows what it is to feel “at home.”  What about Bunny?  What does Bunny require to feel “at home”?  Are the requirements for feeling “at home” universal or individual?
  5. What is Hulsthuys?  Is it a house?  Is it a home?  Is it a body?  Is it a soul?
  6. When Cathy and Bunny visit Hulsthuys together, Cathy realizes that it is a place that seems to exist in different times and places.  Cathy asks herself, “What was this place? Why was it here?” How do you answer those questions?
  7. What makes Rich so attractive to Cathy?  And Cathy to Rich?  If they are so attracted to each other, why can’t Rich initially experience what Cathy experiences?  Why can’t he see Hulsthuys?  Why can’t he see Bunny?
  8. In the moment that Rich decides to trust Cathy’s almost unbelievable statements about what she’s experiencing with Bunny and Blake, he ponders on the fact that “people were afraid of getting too close to abnormality and deformity.”  Is Rich right?  Why?  Why not?
  9. As with so many of the individuals involved with Cathy in the work to save Bunny, we see Rich assume different physical forms.  When Zared attempts to interfere with Cathy’s work, he assumes Rich’s form, but not Rich’s physical infirmity. Why?  And why is Rich physically whole during the time he spends in Hulsthuys?  What does Rich (or the idea of Rich) lose or gain as his physical form is altered?
  10. Dispirited is a novel about how convincingly individuals can assume others’ forms.  As readers, we’re constantly asking ourselves: Is this really Blake?  Or Rich?  Or Gail?  Or Athena?  Or Cathy?  When are we fooled?  When aren’t we fooled?  Why?
  11. Malcolm is the only individual to be fooled for a long, long time when a wekufe inhabits his son’s body.  What makes Malcolm susceptible to this error?  How does this make Cathy feel about Malcolm?   How does it make you feel about Malcolm?
  12. Who is Januarye?  Is she Cathy herself?  Is she a twin?  Is she Cathy’s mother or her great-great-grandmother?  Is she Catalyntje?  Is she an old librarian? Is she Hulsthuys? Do we “need” to know who she is? 
  13. When Cathy first meets Januarye jumping rope, she’s singing an odd little rhyme that comments on the connection between body and soul:
    God guard me from those thoughts men think
    In the mind alone;
    He that sings a lasting song
    Thinks in a marrow-bone.
    The rhyme itself is from a poem by W. B. Yeats titled “A Prayer for Old Age.”  Why does Januarye sing it?
  14. In Dispirited, what’s in a name?  Why is Blake named Blake?  Why is Bunny named Bunny?  Why is Januarye named Januarye?  Are the characters’ names clues to help us decode the action of the novel? 
  15. As Cathy’s effort to save Bunny involves her in increasingly unbelievable circumstances, she begins to lie to those she loves most.  Is Cathy justified in the increasing number of lies she tells to her mother, her step-father, and Rich?  How far does her responsibility to tell the truth extend? 
  16. Cathy may tell lies, but she absolutely refuses to steal from a Manhattan coffee shop.  As Cathy says, “Stealing was stealing, whether you were inside an inter-dimensional magic house or not” (148).  What’s the difference?  How does Cathy decide, moment by moment, what is right and what is wrong?  Do you agree with her decisions?
  17. Cathy doesn’t understand why she has been given the responsibility to save Bunny.  She wonders about the “gifts” she has that might qualify her for—or condemn her to complete—this particular task.  What are those “gifts”?
  18. Cathy demands an answer to this question from Januarye by asking, “Why me?”  Januarye answers Cathy with another queston, “Why not you?”  (158)  What does Januarye mean?  Does Cathy understand what it is that Januarye is trying to tell her?
  19. The only portal between Hulsthuys and the real world is the reference room in the library where Rich first went to do research on the old house that Cathy had discovered.  Why a reference room?  Why a library?
  20. Is Cathy’s responsibility to save Bunny the result of her family ties?  Near the end of the novel’s action, Catalyntje says, “You are a true Voorhees, Cathy Wright” (241).  What does this mean?  Is it this family connection that ultimately allows Cathy’s baby sister Mae to help Cathy save Bunny?
  21. One of the lessons that Januarye teaches Cathy is the importance of “need.”  Januarye seems able to give Cathy only what Cathy needs, not what she’s idly interested in or confused about.  Why does Januarye want Cathy to value “need”?  And, why, once Cathy has learned the lesson about the importance of need, does Catalyntje suddenly acknowledge that Cathy may have access not only to what she needs, but also what she wants?
  22. Throughout Dispirited, we hear echoes from other books.  We hear one of those in the book’s last line when Cathy announces her return in almost the exact words that Samwise speaks at the end of The Lord of the Rings: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”  Why does Cathy use these words?  Where is she coming back from?  Has she ever truly been gone?

Thank you, Christine Edwards Allred, for these terrific questions!

 

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