BKMT READING GUIDES

Still Life with Monkey
by Katharine Weber

Published: 2018-08-21
Paperback : 275 pages
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“Stark and compelling . . . Rigorously unsentimental yet suffused with emotion: possibly the best work yet from an always stimulating writer.”?Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Katharine Weber’s Still Life With Monkey is a beautifully wrought paean of praise for the ordinary pleasures ...
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Introduction

“Stark and compelling . . . Rigorously unsentimental yet suffused with emotion: possibly the best work yet from an always stimulating writer.”?Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Katharine Weber’s Still Life With Monkey is a beautifully wrought paean of praise for the ordinary pleasures taken for granted by the able-bodied. In precise and often luminous prose, with intelligence and tenderness, Weber’s latest novel examines the question of what makes a life worth living."?Washington Post

“A brilliantly crafted novel, brimming with heart.”?Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

“Rich and compelling . . . Her characters are vividly, achingly real, including the tiny, furry one at the novel’s center.”?Ann Packer, author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier


Duncan Wheeler is a successful architect who savors the quotidian pleasures in life until a car accident leaves him severely paralyzed and haunted by the death of his young assistant. Now, Duncan isn’t sure what there is left to live for, when every day has become “a broken series of unsuccessful gestures.”

Duncan and his wife, Laura, find themselves in conflict as Duncan’s will to live falters. Laura grows desperate to help him. An art conservator who has her own relationship to the repair of broken things, Laura brings home a highly trained helper monkey?a tufted capuchin named Ottoline?to assist Duncan with basic tasks. Duncan and Laura fall for this sweet, comical, Nutella-gobbling little creature, and Duncan’s life appears to become more tolerable, fuller, and funnier. Yet the question persists: Is it enough?

Katharine Weber is a masterful observer of humanity, and Still Life with Monkey, full of tenderness and melancholy, explores the conflict between the will to live and the desire to die.

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

Her long fingers caressed his cheek for a moment, as she traced her way down to his jaw, her cool touch just grazing the stubble of Duncan’s five-day beard. She studied his face, seeking his gaze. He met her eyes for an instant before looking away, strangely embarrassed by his inability to match the intensity of her insistent stare. Ottoline smacked little air kisses as she reached up to touch his face again, and he was surprised by the gentle precision of her tiny fingernails sorting through his whiskers as she investigated up the contour of his cheek from jaw to upper lip. She pressed two fingers to his lips, and he nearly kissed them, but he didn’t, and then she contemplated her fingertips, sticking out her tongue daintily for the tiny flake of something she had found on his lip. She nibbled at it contentedly while continuing to stare up at him, making a sweet, soft, peeping sound. She repositioned her springy little body constantly, and now she shifted again, peering up at his chin, plucking with fascination at the bristles that speckled his face. They had been alone together for five minutes. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1.Why does Duncan agree to have Ottoline the helper monkey come into his life?

2.Do you think it is morally acceptable to train capuchin monkeys as helper monkeys? Is it any different from seeing-eye dogs?

3.Why does Duncan keep secret the details he recalls of the events leading up to the car accident? Why does he feel so responsible for Todd’s death? Did Todd have awareness of Duncan’s feelings?

4. What might have happened if Laura was pregnant and able to carry the baby to term? Would Duncan have made a different choice?

5. Do you think Duncan and Laura had a good marriage before the accident?

6. Duncan and Gordon were both profoundly affected by the house they grew up in. How do you think this affects their stories? Is this equally true for most people?

7. Would Duncan and Gordon’s sibling relationship be different if they were not twins?

8. Why did Laura conceal the breakage of the pre-Columbian figurine? Did she do the right thing when she agreed to create a false report about the pair of bowls for the Cavendishes as part of a deal to get Duncan’s Four-Square house built?

9. What do you think actually happened that day in Laura’s childhood at the Ohio State Fair?

10. What do you think will happen to Gordon in the next few years? What do you think Laura’s life will be like from now on? Will Gordon and Laura be at peace with Duncan’s choice?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by ebach (see profile) 09/19/18

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY may not be what you expect. But it is such a lovely novel I give it my highest rating, and I seldom do that.

The story opens with Duncan, a quadriplegic architect i

... (read more)

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