Discussion Questions: Monsters in Appalachia
- Many of the stories in the collection deal with themes of good and evil. Which biblical allusions and symbols stand out to you most? What, if anything, do you think the author is suggesting?
- Does the title story, “Monsters in Appalachia,” represent the rest of the book? What does the author seem to be suggesting about monsters? In what ways are characters in the book monsters? In what ways are we?
- The stories range in style from realist, historical depictions of Appalachia to magical realism and the surreal. Many of the images are stark or sometimes grotesque or farcical. Is the author pointing up certain absurdities in this cultural landscape? Are these absurdities exclusive to Appalachia, or do they exist elsewhere as well?
- Many of the characters are affected by poverty. In what ways has poverty determined their fates? Would their lives have played out differently under different circumstances? Which characters have been most impacted?
- The author often shines the spotlight on female characters. How are women depicted in the book? In what ways are they limited by their circumstances? Which characters rise above these limitations? Which ones capitulate?
- Characters are often depicted as reckless or dangerous. To what degree does place create a sense of desperation in characters? Are there similarities to how men and women are portrayed? Differences? Is the author playing with stereotypes, or are we given accurate illustrations of the different ways that men and women sometimes deal with the circumstances of their lives? How does gender, time, and place determine characters’ actions?
- Desire and temptation feature prominently throughout the collection. Which characters come to mind? Describe the extent to which desire is synonymous with sin? Why is that?
- Appalachia is often ridiculed and stereotyped. How does the author address certain stereotypes?
- To what degree is Appalachia depicted as a haunted landscape? Why do you think the author paints a portrait of Appalachia that feel worlds apart from anywhere else? Is this an accurate portrayal? Are characters trapped by the landscape, or is the landscape trapped by the characters?
- Many of the stories in the collection are dark, but they’re often punctuated by moments of light. Consider the final two paragraphs of the book. Despite the characters’ sorrows, is there a sense of redemption or hope?