The Salt Palace – Book Group and Study Questions

  1. One of the most immediately discernible aspects of this novel is its use of footnotes. At first the footnotes appear to offer little more than what “traditional” footnotes offer, but DeFrain has stated that they are intended to both create competing narratives and reflect certain aspects of watching an NBA game on television. Does the addition of footnotes succeed in either endeavor and how and where do you see that happening?
  2. As with most road novels a sense of place figures prominently in the narrative. And yet as Brian moves from one place (Michigan) to another (Utah), he seems to pine proportionally for the place he’s not in. How does this shape Brian’s character and does it reflect on any kind national character trait?
  3. Randy has been described by writer John Dufresne as “a one-armed Mormon Lone Ranger.” How is that an apt comparison for Randy and what does his missing arm contribute to our sense of who he is?
  4. The opening paragraph is said to be an homage to two of the greatest “road novels” of all time (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road). If you’re familiar with those works, consider how the writer weaves those influences into the opening and then discuss what effect that might have on the novel.
  5. Why does Brian end up agreeing to take Randy with him on such a long drive when he clearly has immediate apprehension about spending any time at all with such a person?
  6. Throughout the novel Brian is pulled by polarities of his own invention. He is clearly serious about his interest in Rhoda and yet he is “haunted” by a flame from years ago. He has pushed away his religion, his family and his home state, and yet he still feels tied to and defined by all of them. Is Brian’s sense of being always caught in the middle of things his own, peculiar problem or is it a more general and necessary part of defining who we are?
  7. The much talked-about ending is as ambiguous as it could be? First discuss what you think happens after the last page and then discuss whether or not you feel the ending is satisfactory and appropriate.
  8. Randy’s character is sketched in partially through moments like where he gets called by another name. What do you think you know about Randy and is he “a good guy”?
  9. The LDS Church, like every larger religious organization, faces continued scrutiny for its past and present. Is the novel fair in its portrayal of Mormons and Mormonism?
  10. As Brian moves toward his former life, Utah, he ironically moves closer to a commitment to Rhoda. What role do Connie and Suzanne play in moderating his transition?
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