Long for This World by Michael Byers
About Long for This World
“A piercing scientific and familial romance . . . Byers effortlessly conveys the quick pivots and non sequiturs of familial byplay.” — New York Times Book Review
“A medical-ethical thriller with a warm domestic heart . . . accomplished . . . sympathetic and engaging.” — O, the Oprah Magazine
“Feels like a blessing, a gift . . . Byers’s metaphorical language brilliantly captures a host of elusive, evanescent feelings . . . Poignant.” — Newsday
A Book Sense 76 Selection
In his acclaimed first novel, Michael Byers delivers a thoroughly contemporary family drama that hinges on a riveting medical dilemma. Dr. Henry Moss is a dedicated geneticist who stumbles upon a possible cure for a disease that causes rapid aging and early death in children. Although his discovery may hold the key to eternal youth, exploiting it is an ethical minefield. Henry must make a painful choice: he can save the life of a critically ill boy he has grown to love — at the cost of his career — or he can sell his findings for a fortune to match the wealth of his dot-com-rich Seattle neighbors. Henry turns to his family for support, and in their intimately detailed lives unfolds a story of unforgettable characters grappling with their own demons. “Intelligent and passionate, ‘Long for This World’ makes the reader appreciate the sweet and terrible blessing of time” (Times-Picayune).
Michael Byers received his MFA from the University of Michigan and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for his story collection The Coast of Good Intentions. His stories have been selected for both The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. Byers lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and two children.
We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and provide a deeper understanding of Long for This World for every reader.
1. Henry Moss has to decide whether he will treat William Durbin illegally. What would you have done in his place, and why? Why does Henry do the things he does with the treatment?
2. Darren keeps most of his important dealings with William Durbin to himself. Why is this? Darren admits that he is afraid of William — but what, aside from an instinctive physical distaste, does Darren have to fear from William?
3. For much of the novel, Ilse Moss feels her happiest days are in her past. How does she find her way back to a measure of happiness and contentment? How do her relationships with her parents and family affect her progress?
4. Thomas Benhamouda’s mutation appears to make him capable of living a very long life. How would the world be different if the human lifespan were vastly extended? What new opportunities would arise? What problems would we encounter? What new obligations would we discover?
5. Why is the novel in four parts? Why is it told from four points of view? What are the connections between the first chapter and the last one?
6. Many of the novel’s characters are in possession of some secret information. Some choose to keep their secrets; others choose to divulge them. What secrets do the major characters have? Why do they choose to divulge what they do? What lines of communication open unexpectedly? What lines remain closed?
7. This story takes place during the high-tech boom of 1999. In what ways is this a historical novel? How would you define a historical novel? And in what ways are its themes universal? Why is the novel set during this particular period?
8. The novel contains a large number of minor players: neighbors, coworkers, friends, relatives, and other incidental participants. What do these minor characters do for the story? What’s the difference between a minor character and a major one? Who is minor, and who is major?
9. Saul Harstein’s action at the end of Chapter 9 affects different people differently. To what extent does his action insinuate itself into people’s lives? How does his action echo down the course of the novel? What running themes does his action end up commenting on?