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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas

1. How do you think the Buddhist concept of “right livelihood” (making a living without harming others) plays out in these three novellas? For instance, did Dr. “Jamie” Van Deusen see his work at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (page 25) as having a virtuous effect? Do you? Are Ellie Knight- Cameron and Kevin Lee proud of their jobs as office manager and journalist, respectively?

2. In what ways are the three novellas linked by a post- 9/11 national psychology? In “The Omega Force,” Dr. Van Deusen thinks he’s involved in “a conspiracy that threatened not only the island [where he lives] but the very liberties we so cherish.” Ellie of “K&K” believes an unknown predator is threatening her and her office. In “The Albertine Notes,” lower New York has been leveled by a blast, and the survivors self- medicate with a mind- altering drug. Are paranoia and self- delusion natural reactions to disasters? Is self- destruction?

3. Which did you respond to most: the realistic rendition of post- traumatic emotions in “K&K”? The seriocomic approach of “The Omega Force”? Or the futuristic elements of “The Albertine Notes”?

4. The protagonist of each novella attempts to transcend the distressing realities of his or her life and times. How are the coping mechanisms of all three protagonists similar? Is Van Deusen’s belief in the “Dance of the Stick” similar to Ellie’s misguided hope for reviving a long- ago love affair, and to Kevin’s desire to revive only the best memories of the past, erasing reality?

5. All three novellas are set in the American Northeast, but their backdrops are entirely distinctive and particular. How does each of the main characters reflect his or her place of residence? Are Van Deusen’s patriotism and addiction, Ellie’s rootless loneliness, and Kevin’s ambition typical of their respective places?

6. How is reading and misreading key to each story? Meaning and misunderstanding?

7. Ellie is the only main character who doesn’t use mind altering substances, and yet she is arguably the least self aware of them all. Do you think her parents contributed to her state of solitude and denial?

8. Does Kevin Lee’s being of Asian ancestry inform the way he is perceived by the author or by you, the reader?

9. Do you consider Dr. Van Deusen a likable character, even given his foolishness? If so, how has Rick Moody managed to elicit this positive response?

10. If 9/11 were a more widespread catastrophe --- if four million had died, as in “The Albertine Notes” --- how would your reactions to the event differ?

Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas
by Rick Moody

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316166340
  • ISBN-13: 9780316166348