Starting Out in the Evening
About the book:
About the author:
1. How does the opening line, “Heather was wearing the wrong dress,” set the tone for this story? What does the first chapter tell you about Heather? Is this first impression supported by the rest of the novel?
2. What is the significance of Schiller’s strange gesture—putting his hand over Heather’s eyes—on page 15?
3. On the surface Heather and Ariel seem to have opposing philosophies and personalities. Do you think that these two women are really so different? Why or why not?
4. After much bitter musing, Ariel is able to narrow her misgivings about Heather down to one issue: She is filled with a sense of superstitious dread because of Heather’s presence. She feels that Heather is an angel of death. How is this impression proved or disproved?
5. The desire to leave something behind for future generations, to mitigate the loss of a world by carrying some piece of oneself forward, is a major theme in this novel. Which characters are most concerned with this idea? In what ways do they deal with this pressure? Are they successful? Why or why not?
6. On page 55 Heather thinks, “If you know what you want, you can get it.” This seems like a response to Ariel’s observation that Heather is smug in the manner of people for whom everything in life comes easily. Do you agree with Heather? Do you share Ariel’s distaste for her? Why or why not?
7. Schiller and Ariel love each other very much but their relationship sometimes suffers because of their very different worldviews and philosophies. Why does Ariel’s plan to leave their coffee out in the street to cool affect Schiller so deeply? Discuss how other relationships in the novel also suffer because of differing viewpoints.
8. Many of the characters in this novel struggle with concepts of what it means to be a true artist. Identify the opinions of Heather, Schiller, Levin, and Ariel on this subject. With whom do you most agree, and why?
9. Heather wants Schiller to fall in love with her. Schiller wants Heather to fall in love with him. Yet neither of them seems to want a romantic relationship. What is it they each hope to gain from the love of the other? Compare their equally conflicted feelings about their relationship and give examples to support your opinion.
10. Why do you think the author refers to everyone in this novel except Schiller by his or her first name?
11. Heather finds herself waffling back and forth between the mentorship of Leonard Schiller and that of Sandra Bennett. Compare and contrast these two older literary idols and what they each have to offer Heather in the way of guidance.
12. The author writes that the body remembers things in its own way. Physicality—appearance, well-being, and touch—are important elements throughout this story. Describe some of the ways in which bodies and the corporeal take on special significance in this novel.
13. While sitting at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Schiller remembers that no matter where you go in the city, you can always see the steel peak. He thinks that his late wife, Stella, had a similar force. How is Stella ever present in Schiller’s life and in the novel?
14. Schiller is the author of four books; it seems that most readers either love the first two and hate the third and fourth, or vice versa. Which characters like which books best, and what does their choice reveal about them? How does Heather’s assessment of Schiller’s fifth and final book reflect her opinion of him? Do you agree with her? Do you think Schiller would agree?
15. In the end Heather returns to see Schiller, when he is a much-diminished version of his already-aging self. Why does Schiller slap her? What does their relationship ultimately do for each of them? Was it what you expected? Do you think it was what they expected? Why or why not?
16. What does the title, Starting Out in the Evening, mean to you? Who is “starting out in the evening” in this novel?
17. The ending is somewhat open-ended and purposely vague. What do you make of it? What do you imagine will happen to these characters after the last page is turned?