Free Discussion Guide - The Strangeness of Men
1. In The Strangeness of Men there are many different characters. Stories are told from elderly men, teenage girls, and everyone in between. Could you identify with any of the characters? Did you find yourself identifying with a character completely different than yourself in sex and age? Why or why not?
2. Many of the stories focus on issues connected to women and their lives in a modern life of balancing work and family while dealing with engrained social injustices. Have you ever been placed in a similar position? Did you feel unnoticed or not taken seriously? How did you solve the issue or did you just push through it with no resolution?
3. While several of the stories focus on women issues, many are alternatively told from a male perspective. What was the overall effect of the juxtaposition of these different points of view within the collection? Did the characters’ themes start to become universal?
4. The collection contains both prose poetry and short fiction. What differences did you notice in each form? What did you like about each? Not like? Did you prefer one form to the other?
5. Were there any stories that made you cry or laugh? Have any of the stories stuck with you or made you reexamine something in your own life, or in the world in general and how we live? Did anything surprise you in the collection?
6. Two of the stories in particular touch on the subject of psychological sufferings. In “Stuck on You” and “Junk Mail” we see the daily effects of living with a mental illness or obsession, one from the viewpoint of the person suffering with it and one from a significant other. Do both suffer to the same degree? Have you ever known someone with a psychological illness? Would you have handled the situation in these stories differently?
7. “Daily Ration” and “Heart’s Artillery” are both set in a near-future dystopian society. What similarities did you discover between their world and our current one? Can you imagine living in either of the worlds in those stories?
8. Alternatively, several of the stories are historical fiction. “Altavista,” “Tighter,” “King of the Heap,” and “Last Chance Nightclub,” take place in the first half of the twentieth century. What social norms are still in place almost a hundred years later? What have we accomplished since then as a society that is noticeably different than in the stories?
9. One theme that runs through the collection is a satirical juxtaposition of our expectations versus reality. “American Holiday” and “Dog Tired” play on our sense of the perfect tradition. “Wonder Woman in Suburbia” and “Andromeda Looks at Fifty” underscores the traditional role of women in America and also our youthful expectations for an exceptional life. Did you find yourself laughing through those stories? How have your expectations changed as you’ve gained life experience?
10. Many of the stories touch on our relationships with people both present and past and how those shape our lives. Some are small encounters that inform us to a deeper knowledge of who we are or could be, like in “Ain’t Nothing but a Chicken Wing.” Other encounters open us up to new beginnings like in “The Ice Swimmer.” In “Lessons in Remembering” a woman questions how her life would be different if she had married her high school boyfriend. Then there are relationships with the people we see every day and take for granted, as in “How My Day Went,” “Pretty Enough,” or “Wish You Were Here.”
Think about the relationships you have with your parents, siblings, spouse, friends, and neighbors - how they affect what you think and feel about yourself? Do you know people who take those relationships as a given? If you could magically zap somebody in your life into treating you differently, who would it be and what would you change?