Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The narratives Ann Beattie has created shift between
various places and times. The title story epitomizes this fluidity: Jane's
ability to remember conversations and events in their entirety allows her to
document her family's story and to attempt to weave the past and present
together. How does the past affect the lives of the various characters? What
does Beattie achieve by incorporating the past into many of the narratives
throughout the collection?
In "See the Pyramids" Cheri says to Erin, "You could get married, go on a
honeymoon, see the pyramids." Trips, visits, moves, migrations many journeys
take place throughout these stories. Often these are a means of escape or a
gateway into something or somewhere new. Discuss how the theme of traveling
surfaces in each story. Why are these characters traveling? Where, or what,
are they moving toward? At the end of these journeys are they satisfied?
As traveling is one of the main themes of the collection, then place is
also significant. Discuss the importance of place throughout the book,
especially in relation to Maine and Key West, where many of the stories are
set. Compare and contrast these settings. What types of people are drawn to
each place, and why are they drawn there?
Why do you think Beattie chose to begin her book with one of nature's most
powerful forces? What relationships do the characters of Perfect Recall
cultivate with their natural surroundings? It may help to begin by discussing
the various scenes that involve water.
The collection is peopled with various pets and wild animals. What does
the coydog mean to Fran? Why does Carleyville keep a menagerie of wizened
animals? Why does the raccoon awaken Hopper's compassion? What other animals
do we see the characters interact with? What is the symbolic significance of
these animals? By placing so much importance on the natural world, what is
Beattie saying about people, about our place in the world, and our
relationship with it?
During "The Infamous Fall of Howell the Clown" we attend a funeral, in
"The Women of This World" we learn of an attempted killing, and in "In Irons"
we learn about the friendship between Derek and a dying man. These stories are
constantly reminding us of the fragility of our existence. Discuss the
different reactions and interactions the characters have with death. How is
death portrayed? Does Beattie provide us with hope? If so, what shape does it
take? If not, why?
In both "Hurricane Carleyville" and "Mermaids" the war is referred to as
the principal defining moment in both Carleyville's and Miles's lives. Discuss
how the presence of war relates to the book's themes of nature, death, and the
Celebrities surface in many of these stories, either in the casual
conversations of the characters or, as in the case of "The Big-Breasted
Pilgrim," the actual presence of a famous personality. How does being close to
someone famous alter Beattie's characters? A few of the characters even attain
their own fame. How, if at all, does this transform these characters and their
Like fame, money becomes a distinction in many of these stories: "Cat
People" and "Perfect Recall" both reflect how people struggle with class and
greed. How does money affect the relationships between the characters? Does it
alter the balance of power? If so, how? Along with money and class comes
travel what distinction if any is made between the local people who live in
a place and the visitors who simply summer there? In "Perfect Recall" how does
Beattie address one of the classic dilemmas of an artist the struggle
between money and art?
Many of the people we meet in Perfect Recall are artists: chefs,
painters, poets, and designers. What are the symbolic meanings of art
throughout the collection? Although these artists hold an important place in
the narratives, they are neither the protagonists nor the narrators instead,
they are the ones caught in the stories, captured in the frames. Why do you
think Beattie has chosen to write about these people and why does she choose
to write about them through the lens of the protagonist or narrator rather
than through their own perspective? What do these characters offer to the
people who surround them?
In many ways Perfect Recall is a study in the modern family.
Discuss the various images of family we are presented with.
In "See the Pyramids," Erin says to Cheri, "I don't want to keep
experimenting. I see where that's gotten everybody else: married to people who
are sort of right for them and sort of wrong for them....I don't know anybody
who found anybody perfect, do you?" From beginning to end this book is wrought
with failed marriages and the dissatisfactions of love. What prevents these
relationships from working? Discuss the many shapes that love takes throughout
the collection. Which of these relationships are successful and what makes you
On many levels this book extols friendship, particularly the friendship
between men. These platonic relationships seem to provide the most comfort.
Discuss the last sentence of "Coydog" in relation to the entire collection, "I
remember the day the poor lonesome coydog got a broken heart when it went and
fell in love with animals not quite its kind." What do you think Beattie is
saying about our need for companionship and belonging?
Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 by
Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right of
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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Scribner.
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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