Reading guide for Fall of Frost by Brian Hall

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Fall of Frost

A Novel

by Brian Hall

Fall of Frost
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2008, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2009, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Frost is so strongly identified with New England that it may come as a surprise that he was born—and spent his early years—in San Francisco. How does Frost’s origin and heritage as a Westerner come into play in his identity? Are there elements of this heritage that remain within him even after his long association with the East?

  2. Frost admires Khrushchev, calling him a “Russian Yankee.” What does Frost like and respect about Khrushchev? How does his preconception of Khrushchev shape their eventual meeting? What does Frost’s admiration of Khrushchev say about his own values? How do his feelings toward the Soviet premier contrast with his feelings toward John F. Kennedy, whom he describes as “Galahad”?

  3. The meeting between Frost and Khrushchev is one of the narrative climaxes of the book. What do you think of Frost’s speech urging Khrushchev to “cut the Knot” (202) of Berlin and “usher in the golden age” (206)? Does Frost have anything legitimately helpful or insightful to say, or is he on a fool’s errand?

  4. Hall implies that of all the personal tragedies that befell Frost, the hardest to take was the death in combat of his friend Edward Thomas, whom Frost called “the only brother I ever had” (142), and for whom he wrote “The Road Not Taken” (184). What is the basis of Frost’s deep love for Thomas? Why does Thomas decide to stay in England and fight rather than follow Frost to America?

  5. Frost’s wife of forty-three years, Elinor, is a somewhat shadowy presence in the book: Frost describes her as “fragile and silent and black-eyed and beautiful” (82) with “a haunted look in her eye” (84). Are Elinor and Frost a well-matched couple? Why or why not? How are their reactions to the deaths of their children different?

  6. Frost’s lover, Kathleen Morrison, is introduced gradually and nearly always called “K.” Does the elliptical nature of these references shadow the secretiveness with which Frost treated their affair? Does Frost’s affair with a married woman color your perception of him? Hall has Frost tell Morrison that he hopes his biography will “do her the honor of telling the true story of their relationship” (320). What does Frost’s desire to reveal the “true story” of their affair say about him? Why does Morrison reject this “honor”?

  7. The novel takes its title from a lacerating lyric about death by Emily Dickinson: “A further afternoon to fail / As Flower at fall of Frost.” How is the poetry of others used throughout the book to underscore its themes? The source of the poetry is not always made completely explicit. Does this add to the appeal of the verse included? What do you make of the choice of poets Frost quotes or thinks of?

  8. Frost observes that “America is where the famous make themselves endlessly available . . . or are scorned for their arrogance” (17). What does this statement say about Frost’s relationship to his own celebrity? Does he make himself “available,” or is he “scorned”?

  9. Frost tells himself that he has survived the deaths and insanity in his family “by believing that all times are equally perilous” (48) and that “no era is much worse or better than any other” (164). Is this fatalism characteristic of Frost’s “Yankee” mind-set? Does the sentiment strike you as noble or cynical? How does this attitude affect Frost’s own beliefs about history? How does it help him cope with his personal tragedies?

  10. How do Frost’s interactions with the various “Younger Poets” employed by the author advance the narrative? Daniel Smythe’s encounter with Frost is told twice, once from the point of view of the awestruck Smythe (4) and, much later, from the perspective of Frost (296), heartbroken by his son Carol’s suicide. How do the two accounts of this encounter differ? What is gained by presenting the episode from both men’s vantages? Why does Hall separate the two versions by nearly the length of the book?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin 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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