Study Questions for "Heartland," "Music Lessons," and "Light and the Sufferer."

Once more, begin your inquiry into the nature of each story by considering narration, setting, and character. Then proceed to consider how each story might contribute to an understanding of slipstream as a genre or literary movement. Here are a few study questions about each story to further prepare you for our discussions of the stories; as you consider the stories individually, also think about what features they might have in common:

"Heartland" by Karen Joy Fowler, initially published in 1988 in Interzone 24; this is the only story included in LCRW that was first published elsewhere.

  1. What familiar restaurant forms the basis for the setting of this story? What details make this clear to you?
  2. What popular film is referenced by the final images of the story? How do these allusions function to establish the story as something other than realism?
  3. How do you characterize the male customer with whom Willina becomes infatuated? Exactly who or what is he?
  4. What elements of this story, if any, establish it as slipstream?

"Music Lessons" [2004] by Douglas Lain

  1. What is the function of the Q & A sections of this story? Are the questioner and answerer the same is each of these sections?
  2. On pages 225-26, the musician protagonist explains "phase shifting" in his musical compositions. Does phase shifting in electronic music compositions somehow also explain the narrative structure of this story? Is the narrative form of the story what makes it an example of slipstream?
  3. Musical compositions are often structured by musical themes or motifs--recurring sound images. What motifs appear in this story? How many recurring images can you list?
  4. By the end of the story, what do we learn has been happening to the protagonist? Who is questioning him in some of the scarier Q & A sessions and what does this situation have to do with the book, Communion [page 241].

"Light and the Sufferer" by Jonathan Lethem, initially published in the March/April 1995 issue of Century #1

  1. Like most of the stories in our two anthologies, Lethem's alludes to a number of other popular texts or popular culture situations. How many can you identify as at work in this story?
  2. Although there are aliens in "Light and the Sufferer," I doubt that most readers would call this a pure SF story. How does the presence of aliens impact the story's conflict and our response to the story? Do you see any similarities between these aliens and the angels in Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God"?
  3. How would you characterize the aliens called sufferers?
  4. What social or cultural issues does Lethem investigate? Is he engaging in some kind of cultural critique? If so, what is his point?