Ami Silber

EARLY BRIGHT

 

This reading guide contains spoilers.


Reading Group Discussion Questions

1. Louis shows no one his true self, not even Beatrice, but he feels he can see into everyone else's hearts and exploit them. He calls it "grift sense." "Each sucker and chump I meet is laid open to me, so I see their tiny little hopes, their wants, the rooms they live in and the windows they stare out of, dreaming. Those dreams are the keys that unlock each con, everybody wanting something else. Everyone thinks it's got to get better, there's something more than just this. That's what I sell them: their own secret souls." (Chapter Three) How much do you believe this is true? Similarly, only the reader has access to Louis' interior thoughts. If there is such a thing as someone's real self, how might you describe Louis? What are some indicators that Louis does not see everything inside other people? What are some indications that he does not see everything about himself?

2. How does Louis perceive the families he cons? Contrast this with his perceptions of own family. How are they different, and how are they similar?

3. Louis says of Beatrice: "With other women, it was a single tune, an unadorned melody that had the simple cadence of a nursery chant. Not Beatrice. She had sharp turns, complex rhythms. You couldn't dance to the music she made-it was too hard to keep up without looking like a fool-but if you were after something more, something that held meaning and intricacy, then her sound was that and more." (Chapter Four) How would you characterize Louis' relationship with Beatrice? If the barrier of race was not there between them, do you think they could be happy together in a normal relationship? Why or why not?

4. Louis says, "There wasn't much in this stinking trap of life that I really believed in. Everything had a way of falling apart, nobody was as good as I wanted them to be, including myself. But the piano was so pure and clean-its strings and hammers, wood and brass-I felt it held something right, something that could wash all the other garbage away." (Chapter Seven) What is his relationship with music, and jazz, specifically? What does Louis need from music, and what does it give him? The origins of jazz music are found primarily within the African American experience, and Louis' musical idols are all black. Does Louis' whiteness complicate his relationship to jazz? Why or why not?

5. Who are the father figures in Louis' life? How would you characterize his relationships with these men? What is it that Louis seeks from them?

6. Los Angeles in 1948 is not an integrated city. What are the different kinds of prejudice that Louis encounters? To what extent is he also prejudiced?

7. Louis says, "When you're a Jew, unless you're walking around with payes curling over your ears and tzitzit hanging from under your shirt, the difference wasn't right out in the open. You carried it inside, invisible, and when I walked down the street, I was me first, not a color or race or anything other than just Lou." (Chapter Eight) To what extent does his religious and cultural background influence his identity? How might his story be different if he was another religion?

8. Postwar America was a place of great optimism and prosperity, which Louis describes as "little men and women cheerfully throwing themselves into the grinding gears of ordinary life after the glorious heroism of battle." (Chapter Nine). It also gave rise to the popular phenomenon of what was later termed "film noir," a genre which emphasized anxiety, uncertainty and violence. Is there any basis of truth in these seemingly opposing views of American life? How are these views represented in Early Bright?

9. What does Louis hope to gain by cutting a record? He claims, "Success was the passport to another world. When you were famous, you could say what you wanted, go where you pleased." (Chapter Nine) How much of this hope do you feel is possible? Are his later actions justifiable in order to achieve this goal?

10. What is Louis' relationship with sex? Does he view sex as the same from woman to woman? How do his feelings change?

11. Louis' relationship with Nora is one of the most complex and ambiguous in the whole novel. He says, "I didn't know what I was doing there, with her, only that it wasn't right, not at all. But I couldn't make myself leave." (Chapter Nineteen) What do you think keeps Louis coming back to her? Why does Nora continue to receive his attentions, even after what happens on the studio backlot and the day at the beach? He also says, "My story [about Anzio beach] had bound her tighter to me with ropes I didn't quite know how, didn't quite want to untie." (Chapter Twenty Two) To what extent might this be true?

12. About war, Louis says, "We'd go through basic training and then be hauled overseas to places we couldn't find on maps and then each day face the possibility that we'd be killed, if not that morning, then maybe in the afternoon or at night. But it'd surely come, death, because that's what soldiering gets you. Not freedom, not victory. Just death. The guys who wanted to fight, the ones who bleated patriotism and said we'd show everybody who's boss, they'd already gone and enlisted on their own. As if chucking the meat of their bodies in front of bullets could somehow change things. What did it matter if the country won or lost if you weren't there to see it?" (Coda 1) Did Louis have a responsibility to go to war? Does this responsibility change when he later learns about the fate of European Jews? To what extent do you think his rationalizations about not fighting are justified? How do you feel his father should have reacted to Louis' evasion of the draft?


Ami welcomes book clubs and is available for email or telephone discussions. Please contact Roger Mehl (roger @ tobypress.com) to arrange a book club discussion.