Study Questions for "Pretending" and "The God of Dark Laughter"

As we do with all of our stories, we will begin each discussion by identifying the setting and the style of narration, then move on to narrative structure, plot, conflict and a discussion of the extent to which each story fits our developing definition of slipstream fiction.

"Pretending" [2001] by Ray Vukcevich

  1. How does the characterization of Marilyn in the story's first two pages prepare us for Stuart's actions later in the story?
  2. Given that the story is focalized through Stuart, are we able to determine, through the presented details in the story, whether or not Stuart planned his action against Marilyn from the very beginning? Does the third person narrator provide us with enough information to understand Stuart's full motives in picking the silo for their holiday celebration and posing "an exercise in creative belief" [68] for their party?
  3. How does the title, "Pretending," direct our attention to issues of value and belief? Who is pretending? How is the attempt by these characters to "believe the unbelievable" [69] a comment on particular belief systems in our culture?
  4. At the end of the story, what is the specific relationship between Stuart and Marilyn? Who is pretending now?

"The God of Dark Laughter" by Michael Chabon, initially published in The New Yorker, 9 April 2001

  1. When we discussed "Death and the Compass" by Borges, we suggested that his story could be considered slipstream fiction because it both relies on and subverts traditional detective fiction expectations. To what extent does Chabon's story both rely on and subvert generic expectations associated with detective fiction?
  2. Why does the District Attorney, Edward D. Satterlee, resign his position? What about this case has caused him to lose faith in his profession, or to lose interest in continuing to pursue criminals?
  3. How did Satterlee's relationship with his mother and his history with his son and wife cause him to view his job as a detective and district attorney as important?
  4. Does the end of this story link it to any of the others that we have covered? For example, can you see any similarity between this story and Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God"?