If your book club or reading group is reading Teller, the following questions may help to stimulate discussion.
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Discussion Questions for Book Clubs
- In Chapter 3, the narrator, Charlie Teller, asks, “What is it that we think we can learn from the story of someone else’s life?” Why do we read memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies?
- Should Charlie have given Eddie Mahler the memory stick and the laptop? Why didn’t he?
- In Chapter 10, Charlie says “If they’ve been together long enough, every couple has one conversation over and over.” Is this true?
- What do the three main female characters (Jill, Page, and Nico) teach Charlie about women and relationships?
- Music is a recurring symbol in the novel. What role does it play in different characters’ lives?
- An epigraph from Kierkegaard appears at the beginning of the novel: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” How does this apply to characters in this novel?
- Why does the relationship between Jill and Charlie fail? What does Charlie mean in Chapter 25, when he says, “there were also hints of the fragility of our acts, of the delicate supports that held us aloft”? Do you think Jill and Charlie will remain together after the story ends?
- What does each autobiography teach Charlie about his own life? What are the parallels between each autobiography and that passage in Charlie’s life?
- The cover photograph portrays a smoking gun, which in modern culture is a metaphor or symbol of conclusive evidence. Is there a “smoking gun” in Teller? What is it?
- Paul Barkley dies suddenly and unexpectedly. All of us, of course, will one day die and could die at any time. How do these simple truths affect our life and how we live?
- Charlie Teller is a flawed character, who has committed adultery, broken trust with Jill, and written a fraudulent biography. In Chapter 18, he physically assaults Page. Can you understand his motivations and feel empathy for him? Is he on a path to repairing his damage? Or, does he seem incapable of living a life with integrity?
- Of Teller, Kirkus Reviews wrote, “A keen sense of redemption pervades.” Which characters seek and/or find redemption? Is it redemption from sin in the traditional sense, or something else?
- In Chapter 6, the ER doctor asks Virginia Hardy the following: “Do you ever think what happens to your characters when they go into the heads of your readers? They live there. In so many heads around the world. They take up residence in the memory. Is that not a most remarkable thing?” Did any characters in Teller live in your imagination after you finished reading?
- In Chapter 40, Page tells Charlie that Paul wanted to start his life over. In Chapter 41, Molly tells Charlie to start over with Jill. At the end of the novel, Jill suggests that she and Charlie “try it again.” Discuss the theme of starting over in the memoirs that Charlie writes—successful vs. unsuccessful, authentic vs. inauthentic. Is starting over possible in our lives?
- Did the biography chapters in Teller make you think of your own path through life? How so?