Reading guide for Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

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Beat the Reaper

A Novel

By Josh Bazell

Beat the Reaper
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2009,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2009,
    336 pages.

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. There are many dramatically charged scenes in Beat the Reaper, but the story is also broadly humorous. What was the funniest moment in the novel for you, and why?
  2. Near the end of the novel Pietro Brnwa/Peter Brown's mentor Prof. Marmoset tells him, "Any time you can tell the difference between something you can do something about and something you can't, you should thank God. Particularly if it turns out to be something you can't" (page 304). How effectively does Pietro/Peter "tell the difference" throughout the novel? What do you think he's learned by the story's conclusion?
  3. "As any other American child would, I picked Batman and Charles Bronson in Death Wish as role models" (page 26). In what ways is Pietro's early life a typical (or atypical) American childhood? Discuss his teenage induction into crime as a way of life.
  4. The footnotes that the author uses throughout Beat the Reaper are at times informative, at times humorous, often both. Identify your favorite footnote and explain what you like about it.
  5. Early in the novel Dr. Peter Brown observes that "humans hate being mentally strong and physically weak" (page 28). Do you agree? By the story's end, is it Pietro/Peter's mental or physical strength that has served him best?
  6. Who was your favorite character in Beat the Reaper: Pietro Brnwa/Peter Brown? Skinflick? David Locano? Magdalena? Eddy Squillante? Did you find that your favorite had changed by the end of the novel?
  7. Why did Pietro's trip to Poland in 1994 (chapter 8) become a significant turning point in his life? What surprising discovery about his grandparents did Pietro make on that trip? What did he learn about himself?
  8. When Pietro meets Magdalena's parents for the first time, her father tells him, "You appear to have nothing in common with my daughter at all" (page 173), and yet in many ways Pietro and Magdalena seem a perfect couple. Why do you think they are so well suited to each other?
  9. Discuss the character of Skinflick. Ultimately, how does Skinflick influence Pietro Brnwa's transformation into Peter Brown? How does Magdalena?
  10. Beat the Reaper is filled with examples of doctors (and other members of the medical establishment) behaving badly. Name a few such episodes. How unlikely or outrageous do these episodes seem to you? Could there be a kernel of truth in any of them?
  11. As a young hit man, Pietro Brnwa took pains to make sure that his victims were "killers whose deaths would improve the world" (page 108). Do you think murder is ever justified? Reconcile your answer with Pietro's observation that "murdering someone is bad for you. It murders something in yourself, and has all kinds of other consequences you can't possibly foresee" (page 59).
  12. What do you think the future holds for Dr. Peter Brown? Do you think he will quit crime for good, or will he leave medicine and return to his old habits? What would you like to see happen?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Back Bay Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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