This sly and subversive collection of thirteen interlinked stories exposes the underlying misery and crisis in the community of Newport Beach, California. Things are not always as they appear on the polished or tarnished surface — as the reader learns by getting to know the dark secrets of the seemingly well-off and the virtues of the outcasts. Rosie, a troubled teenager who becomes an alcoholic college student, acts as the story’s common thread, and the cast of characters she encounters includes a skateboarding drifter named John Wayne, a lesbian psychologist who falls for Rosie’s mother, a duplicitous trophy wife, and a damaged but caring transvestite. Mingled with the glitz and glamour of the wealthy residents are the misfits who carry the soul of the book: wait staff, drunks, homeless, drug addicts. Self-destruction, being used, and being in love with someone who does not love back are the types of subjects that infuse this book as it drifts effortlessly from one story to the next.
- With so many different stories presented, naming a collection can be challenging. Why do you think the author decided to name this collection Drift? How does the title reflect the stories in the book?
- The first story begins with the narrator sitting in the quiet waiting room of a restaurant with other job applicants. He notes the silence of his companions in relation to the noise of the bustling restaurant: loud businessmen trying to sound important and women speaking loudly into cell phones. Why might the author have chosen to open the book this way? How does this contrast of the noisy elite and the quiet service applicants resonate throughout the stories?
- The name of the first story is “Remoras.” In one scene, an expert explains how remoras latch onto sharks and live off their scraps. Discuss how this metaphor reflects the societies the author explores in the book.
- We first meet Rosie in “Holloway’s: Part Two.” Kat, her older coworker, tells her about a dream she’s had in which Rosie has been used by a man, then discarded. Do you think Kat’s dream reflects her own past or a concern for Rosie or both? Do you think this dream becomes a reality for Rosie as the story progresses? Why or why not?
- “Castaways” opens with Michael, a young man, waking to remember that today is the day he has to explain his divorce to his five-year-old son. When Michael’s sister, Lisa, tries to console him, he tells her, “I used to imagine Dad had a timer on his shoulder. I had sixty seconds to say what I wanted before I lost his attention” (page 54). Discuss how this experience affects, or doesn’t affect, how Michael relates to his own son.
- On page 60, Michael’s father-in-law, Mr. Deader, tells Michael, “Disappointments . . . shape us.” Do you think that’s a fair assessment of Michael’s situation? Mr. Deader’s? How about other characters in the book? Do they tend to be shaped by disappointments? Use examples to support your opinion.
- In “John Wayne,” Rosie meets the brain-damaged, homeless drifter of the same name, and longs to help him. What does she do to try to help John Wayne? Is she successful? Do you think she helps herself in the process? Why or why not?
- On page 87, Rosie explains to John Wayne, “Sometimes I feel like everyone is telling me to be dead inside, because then I’ll be happy.” What do you think she means by this? Discuss Rosie’s belief that people who don’t worry are the “chosen ones.”
- Believing that wealth is wasted on the wealthy, Kat, in “Henry’s House,” persuades her friend Melody to marry a rich older man. On page 110, when she apologizes to Melody, Kat realizes that “she’d forgiven me long before I’d grasped what I’d done.” Compare and contrast how you viewed Melody as a character before and after this revelation.
- On page 114 and 115, Melody tells Kat about seeing two teenagers making out in a car and reflects on her own adulthood and marriage. How is “growing up” sometimes like “giving up” on childhood dreams? Is Melody really disappointed in more than just her marriage? Why or why not?
- In “John Wayne Loves Grandma Dot,” John Wayne just wants to feel. On page 120, he laments that his parents and siblings “didn’t know what it was like to let the ocean come inside you.” He believes that it’s “okay to be nothing because nothing is everywhere.” Does John Wayne make a convincing case for the life of a homeless drifter? Why or why not?
- In “Holloway’s: Part One,” Harriet makes a copy of the safe key for Willy Holloway. How does doing so make her feel as if she’s still trying to save her dad, who died of a drug overdose?
- Early in the book, Rosie’s mom, B, expresses the philosophy “la di da di da — we live and die and that’s it” (page 73). In different stories, Rosie both admires and resents the ability to not care. In “The Locket,” B’s friend who has fallen in love with her, Anne, sees this attitude as her way of coping with grief. Do you believe B really takes everything so lightly, or is it something else? Do you think this ability is something Rosie should admire or resent? Explain your opinion.
- On page 214, Rosie reflects on her rebellion: “some of it was good and necessary; most of it was awful and relentless.” Her actions and motivations were so mixed she couldn’t tell the difference. How does this realization help to set up the concluding story, “The Morning After”? Do you believe Rosie will stick to her decision to change? Why or why not?