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Before You Go: A Novel
by Tommy Butler

Published: 2020-08-11T00:0
Hardcover : 272 pages
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PopSugar's "26 Incredible New Books Coming Your Way This August"
Good Morning America's "25 Novels You'll Want To Read This Summer"

In this "dazzling debut" (Publishers Weekly), the moving story of one man's quest for happiness is interwoven with speculative tales of the Before and ...

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Introduction

PopSugar's "26 Incredible New Books Coming Your Way This August"
Good Morning America's "25 Novels You'll Want To Read This Summer"

In this "dazzling debut" (Publishers Weekly), the moving story of one man's quest for happiness is interwoven with speculative tales of the Before and After, resulting in a profound yet playful literary journey into the ache and wonder of being human.

In the Before, humankind is created with a hole in its heart, the designers not realizing their mistake--if it was a mistake--until too late.

Elliot Chance is just a boy, and knows nothing of this. All he knows is that he doesn't feel at home in this world, and his desire for escape becomes more urgent as he grows into adulthood, where the turbulence of life seems to offer no cure for the emptiness. Desperate and lost, he stumbles upon a support group on the edge of Manhattan. There he meets two other drifting souls--Sasha, a young woman who leaves coded messages in the copy she writes for advertising campaigns, and Bannor, whose detailed depictions of the future make Elliot think he may have actually been there. With these two unlikely allies, Elliot launches into the business of life, determined to be happy in spite of himself.

Yet the hole in the heart is not so easily filled.

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Excerpt

Before
In a room that is not a room, with walls that are not walls and a window that is not a window, Merriam considers her handiwork. The finished form lies on a table (that is not a table), illuminated by a divine light that Merriam dialed to peak radiance so that she could tend to the last, delicate touches. The brass call it the “vessel,” because it is both the container into which the travelers will pour themselves and the ship that will bear them on their journey. Merriam prefers a different name, one she believes the travelers themselves will use. Humana corpus. The human body. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. What is Elliot searching for? Where does he look? Does he find it? Do you think he could have found it somewhere else?

2. One of Jollis’s tasks it to catalog all of the scars inflicted on the human vessel during its journey, giving a check mark for each pain, mishap, hurt, failure, etc. He says the most rewarding journeys are often evidenced by the most check marks. Do you agree?

3. Is Dean a bad person? Do you think he loves Elliot? In either case, based on what evidence?

4. “If you’re lucky,” says Esther, “people will love you in the way they know how. And if you’re really lucky, the love they can give will be the love you need.” Have there been people in your life that have loved you, though not in the way you feel you needed?

5. Elliot and Sasha visit a priest, a neurologist, and a monk so that Sasha can ask about what happens after we die. Each of these three people has a unique answer to Sasha’s question. How are the answers different? How might they be seen as the same? How does the final chapter of the novel incorporate all three of these answers?

6. Bannor says that in the future there’s a pill for everything, even ones that can prevent unwanted emotions. If you lived then, which pills would you take? Which ones would you not want to take?

7. What does Jollis think of human desire? What do the brass say about it? What do you think? Do you have any desires you’d rather not have? Do you have any desires that you’re glad you have and wouldn’t want to lose?

8. Do you think Elliot’s experience of life is a happy one? A tragic one? A special one? How else might you describe it? What do you want your experience of life to be?

9. What do you think Elliot does after the book ends? Why do you think so? Are there reasons to think otherwise?

10. Sasha believes we place too much importance on endings. Do you agree? Why do you think we might tend to do that?

11. For the Easter egg hunters: There are bits of the novel (whether a line, a concept, a name, etc.) that are inspired by, or indirectly evoke or allude to, the following works. Can you find them? “After Apple-Picking” and “The Trial By Existence,” by Robert Frost. Rain Man (the film). If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Diamond Sutra, by The Buddha. “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath.

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