Catherine C. Heywood
Book Club Discussion Questions for The California Limited
Updated: Feb 10, 2018
BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for The California Limited
Warning: contains spoilers!
Jack O’Drassen nearly misses the train in Chicago. “He had just made it. Wouldn’t that have been a story to tell: his abortive move to California. No, he would never tell that story. A story where he was anything less than perfect he would not write and his parents would never hear.” What does this tell us about how Jack sees himself? What, if anything, does this tell us about why he’s moving to California?
Jack’s experience with women runs from one extreme to the other – “‘the fine and decent girls’ from St. Aiden’s parish” and “light skirts from Bay Village.” How does this dichotomy impact Jack and Minnie?
“These are the hands of someone who doesn’t own gloves.” What was so nakedly intimate about this scene? What do Minnie’s hands reveal about the caustic comments she makes about Jack’s obvious wealth? Do you think less of him in this moment? Her?
“I gave you my virginity because it was truly my own to give…” Given the nature of birth control in that era and Minnie’s plans, what do you think of her decision to have sex with Jack? What does it reveal about the limits of her life up to that point?
At La Grande Station, Jack is reporting Minnie missing. The author uses a “red herring” here when the porter and the bottle-blonde, two characters who should remember Minnie, do not. Where is the author leading Jack and the reader? Why?
Discrimination is a dominant theme throughout the story. Why do you think it was important to the author that Seamus and Jack O’Drassen use bigoted language even as they were being discriminated against? How do you think Jack really felt about the societal compact between Brahmin Boston and her Irish Catholics? Given this background, why do you think he was surprised by the racial slur used against him in LA?
“If it’s possible to admire and resent the same man…well.” Jack’s relationship with his father is complicated and part of what propelled him to move across the country. Consider his reaction when, on the worst day of his life, he saw Seamus waiting for him. Was it consistent? If you were Jack, who might you want waiting for you?
In the sanitarium, Seamus tells Jack the story of J.P. O’Drassen. Why does he tell his fragile son this story? Do you think it helps? If so, who does it help?
Jack tells his friend, the director John Ford: “I don’t sleep with the girls when they make the main stage.” To which Ford replies: “Why not?” Jack responds: “They’re not grateful enough. I want them begging for it.” What does this exchange reveal about how Jack’s character has changed in the years since he lost Minnie?
When we finally learn Minnie’s story, the author moves from 3rd person POV to 1st person POV so we hear Minnie tell her own story. Why do you suppose the author does this?
Minnie’s mother Margaret Ward said her husband George had an “old Irish sensibility for famine.” They used to remind their children, “You reap what you sow.” Do you think George and Margaret actually believe this? How does this play out for them?
What did the drudgery of laundry represent to Minnie? How did her gig at the Lucky Lounge impact her life?
Jack owned other nightclubs and hotels, “But the Canary Lounge…was where his heart lay. It was Jack Drazen’s kingdom.” Do you agree with his decision to give the Canary Lounge to Frank? What else might he have done in that moment?
If the author were to expand the novella into a novel, write a prequel or a sequel, about what or whom do you wish to know more?
If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?