Reading Questions for Father of the Rain
12. Eudora Welty, in the preface to her stories, wrote: "I have been told, both in approval and in accusation, that I seem to love all my characters ... to try to enter into the mind, heart, and skin of a human being who is not myself ... man or woman, old or young, with skin black or white." Do you think Lily King makes the jump in imagination Welty refers to? How does she achieve the astonishing truth of Daley's world and of those around her? Carefully chosen vivid details? Ones that skewer a character or a type, a place or a custom? Give examples. Does anyone, including Daley, completely escape satire? Who? Can you both satirize and love a character? For example, when Daley calls her mother to talk about Myrtle Street: "She's doing something, painting her nails maybe. The phone keeps slipping away from her mouth" (page 66). Gently, a deft and funny sketch is made of a woman who cares deeply for her child but still has her own life. Other examples?
13. In the muddle of family behavior, how has King sifted through layers of the past for concrete evidence, the shards of love and hate, vengeance and delight that have made Daley who she is? Daley usually has no trouble being honest with herself. Does she ever delude herself? Does she slip into whitewashing herself when she tells her story? When does she disappoint you? What about Paul?
14. "The impulse to lie is instinctive, like one of those desert cats hastily burying its kill in the sand" (page 156). Here Daley refers to covering her tracks with her father, even a phone call. Is it any wonder she learns the wiles of a feral creature in his house? "My mother ... loved me but did not protect me ... let me go off every weekend for years and years to my father's even though I returned a wild animal and she never asked why" (page 180). Beneath the veneer of Ashing civilization (pool, tennis courts, club, red pants, wild geese socks, multigenerational Harvard credentials,) the father's behavior often veers between boorish and grotesque. Does violence always lurk beneath the surface even when it is not overt? What does Daley see in his language about "girls" and their bodies? Are you as shocked as she is when he ultimately turns his savagery against his daughter?
15. Is Daley's commitment to taking care of her father an act of filial responsibility? She says it is her "duty not just as a daughter but as a human being" (page 219). But both Jonathan and Julie tell her she is indulging in a need to be needed ... and throwing away her life. How do you see it? What is Garvey's opinion on her staying on in Ashing? Is she still trying vainly to rewrite the past? Is her attempt to "save" her father ultimately selfish or altruistic? What is an adult child's responsibility to a parent who has been negligent or even abusive? The Bible advises: "Honor thy father and thy mother." Are there any exceptions?
16. How has Jonathan been raised to deal with white people? He recalls going to a movie in a crowd of white people when he was terrified but also exhilarated "because the world was different from what I had thought" (page 138). How does loving Daley represent such a huge step for him? What do you think Jonathan sees in Daley, what about her interests him? What does she see in him? How do you think their children will fare with Jonathan and Daley as their parents? Is our world becoming "post-racial"?
17. King is sometimes stunningly graphic about sex. For instance, Daley is perplexed and horrified by accidental sightings of Gardiner and also Garvey. But what about her own explorations and lovemaking? "My mother had told me not to make love without love, but I had become a freakish air-traffic controller, determined to land the two, love and sex, at precisely the same time ... With Jonathan I lost interest in control, lost the ability to control" (page 139). What has happened by the lake? How has she been lucky enough to find exuberance and celebration in sex? (How does alcohol figure in the two really successful relationships, those of Daley and Jonathan and her mother and Paul?
18. Do you think Daley has met her match in Jonathan? For intelligence? Education? For sass and fun? Bedrock devotion? Integrity? Libido?
19. How is the Obama election a touchstone for various characters? Which ones? Any surprises? Is Daley celebrating for both herself and her family as well as for her mother?
20. In the end of the novel Gardiner the old reprobate shows a change of heart. How? Is his late transformation credible? What has caused it? His relationship with Barbara? With Daley's children? Are his last moments of grace as much a gift to himself as to Daley and her family?
Read O's review
Get more reading guides