Reading Questions for Father of the Rain
1. What are the defining traits of Father of the Rain? Is it a courageous book? Why? Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer talks about being "heartened by all the brave and original works that have been written without the slightest regard for how strange or risky they were, or for what the author's mother might have thought when she read them." Talk about King's daring, her bone honesty in this book.
2. When she is away, Daley misses her mother, her spirit and values. Daley calls her the ballast in her life. Does she actually miss her father when she is absent from him? If so, why? It takes Gardiner two weeks to call her when her mother has decamped with her to New Hampshire. Is that call just legal strategy? How does Daley react? (see page 25)
3. "People need to be held accountable" (page 23), Daley's mother says, referring to Nixon in the summer of 1974. How is this issue of accountability woven through the novel?
4. Is there a sense of a lost Eden, however spurious? "I never suspected we all weren't having a good time" (page 66), Daley says about the Peking Garden restaurant and poolside frolics. What does her mother's rose garden signify to her? Despite the family dysfunctions, in Daley's mind certain things have connected the Amorys as a family. What are those things? Perhaps "I don't like you, I don't like Pinky, and I'm not having a good time" (page 61)? Or the silly back-to-school song? Other things? How does Daley deal with these codes when she returns to Ashing? What does she mean by "those two smashed sides of me fusing briefly" (page 61)?
5. Which of the minor characters move us to love or pity? For instance, is it Neal's mother with her bipolar mania that we feel sympathy for? Or her son Neal who always has to conceal and protect her and pick up the pieces after McLean's? The officer Mullen? The sisters Vance in their hidden garden world? Others?
6. Daley's is a rich and capacious spirit. Whatever her pain, she has a great heart, and her sense of humor is often her salvation. Talk about that shrewd, funny quality in Daley. Even though her father's humor is often crude and reductive, has she sharpened her wit on him? They do have each other's measure. After an AA meeting Gardiner has jotted down that "'Thank you is all you need to say to get God's attention. I thought that was pretty good.' He looks embarrassed, then laughs when he sees that my eyes have filled" (page 212). When else are they able to share that connecting wire of humor?
7. Who are the people in Daley's life that she truly cares about? Which ones does she dismiss without mercy?
8. Is regret part of Daley's nature? If so, when? What would she like to change about herself if she could? What are the most terrible choices she has to make?
9. "Did my father ever have a conscience? ... Or did he truly never develop to that extent? Was he only ever capable of feeling his own needs, his own pain? Was there any way to have had a good relationship with him?" (page 343). Much of Daley's growth comes with disillusion. Talk about these times in her life. How is it that the scorn and neglect of her father does not create a hard shell of a girl? "In my father's culture there is no room for self-righteousness or even earnestness. To take something seriously is to be a fool. It has to be all irony, disdain, and mockery. Passion is allowed only for athletics" (page 173). After a rare burst of anger at Gardiner, Daley is blistered with "You turned out worse than your mother, you little bitch." It is the first word about her mother since her death nearly a decade ago. She retreats in despair, but "It's a normal night for him. A quart of vodka, a vicious argument. He probably feels damn good, like he's just played two sets of tennis" (page 179).
10. Does the reader have any sympathy for Gardiner? Is his any kind of tragedy? Here is a man of great physical grace and prowess, with gifts of birth, enviable education, and mental agility laid low by alcohol and self-deception. "Ridding my father of his racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric would take a long time. It would be a whole reeducation. His prejudices are a stew of self-hatred, ignorance, and fear" (page 167). How does Daley try to seek explanations in his childhood? In his dubious work experience? Is it Daley among all his women who battles to save him as well as herself?