CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER
BY Tom Franklin
Book Club Discussion Questions:
to spell Mississippi with “M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I crooked
letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I” is an old Southern
verse. My favorite memory, besides
the learning of it myself while growing up in Florida, is in The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn. What memories
does this rhyme bring back for you?
Mississippi, as a fictional setting in this story, seems filled with a lot of
crooked letters, i.e. people.
Everyone has a back story and everyone seems to have something to
hide. Even the period is a
mishmash of hidden meanings and secrets based on racism, segregation, prejudice,
shame, infidelity, murder, bullying, and social tensions. How did the setting of this small town
lend to the overall complications of the characters involved?
does this story tell us about ourselves as a society and how we judge people
and committed crimes? (The
paranoia of people, the prejudging and condemning?) Can you think of some
modern day scenarios? Ex:
Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman
or Casey Anthony or O.J. Simpson / Nicole.
uses the word “bobwire” fence, is that how you say it too? Or, do you say “barbed wire”? According to Wikipedia, The
"Big Four" in barbed wire were Joseph Glidden, Jacob Haish, Charles Francis
Washburn, and Isaac L. Ellwood. Glidden, a farmer in 1873 and the first
of the "Big Four," is often credited for designing a successful
sturdy barbed wire product, but he let others popularize it for him. Glidden's
idea came from a display at a fair in DeKalb, Illinois in
1873, by Henry B. Rose. Rose had patented "The Wooden Strip with Metallic
Points" in May 1873. (For more go to en.wikipedia.org)
shooting of Larry Ott is quite early in the story, setting the stage for the
mysteries yet unsolved, like those of Cindy Walker and Lisa Rutherford. Yet Larry finds forgiveness in
his familiar shooter. Do you think
it is because Larry is a rather gentle giant having been misunderstood all his
life by those around him?
story is written mostly from Larry’s point of view as the victim, yet he is
demonized. Were you able to
sympathize with him?
knew more and was more involved than he ever let anyone know, both past and
present. And it was at the
lifelong expense of the townspeople and Larry Ott. Do you think his eventual confession of events was dealt
quote I pad pg 251: “When he left,
Larry lay amid his machines thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over
the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest,
tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and
shielded from weather. But then a
saw screams in and the tree topples and the circles are stricken by the sun and
the sap glistens and the stump is laid open for the world to see.”
the end, Silas (who has been caring for Larry’s land while he was hospitalized)
takes Larry home and in passing the old Walker place now with an overgrown
driveway with privet and kudzu, Franklin writes, “The land had a way of
covering the wrongs of people.” Do
you think the land in Chabot, Mississippi did the same for the people of this fictional
novel is dedicated to Jeff Franklin and in loving memory of Julie Fennelly
Trudo, of which I could not find any details, except perhaps at 39, Trudo - a
resident of Chicago - died Oct. 14, 2008 at home. She is mentioned as a “last good-by to family and friends
taken much too early”.
epigraph reveals the origins of the novel's title. Why do you think Tom
Franklin chose to use "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter"? What significance
does it hold for the story?
2. Describe the boys Larry
and Silas were, and the men they became. What drew Larry and Silas together as
children? What separated them? How did you feel about both characters?
3. What elements of Larry's
life set him apart from others? Could he have done anything to change people's
opinion of him? Would you call Larry a "loser'? What about Silas?
4. When Larry is shot at
the beginning of the novel, he is sympathetic to his attacker. "Larry felt
forgiveness for him because all monsters were misunderstood." Does Larry
consider himself to be a monster? Why? Why isn't he bitter? Could you be as
charitable if you were in his place? Why does he say all monsters are
misunderstood? Do you think he feels the same way at the end of the novel?
5. During the attack, the
shooter is wearing an old monster mask that Larry recognized. What did that
mask symbolize for both the victim and his attacker?
6. Tom Franklin goes back
and forth between past and present to tell his story. How are Larry and Silas
prisoners of their childhoods? How can we break the past's hold on us?
7. Describe Larry's
relationship with his father, Carl. How might things have been different if
Larry knew the truth about his family sooner? Why did Carl force Larry and
Silas to fight as boys? What impact did that fight have on their friendship? Do
you think the outcome was Carl's intent? How did Silas feel about Carl?
8. Talk about both boys'
relationships to their mothers. How did their mothers shape them? Were they
good sons? What kind of people were their mothers? Why does Silas go to see
Larry's mother in the nursing home?
9. When Silas visits Mrs.
Ott, he's reminded of the past when he first arrived in the town with his
mother, both of them coatless in the cold. "Sometimes he thought how
Larry's mother had given them coats but not a ride in her car. How what seemed
liked kindness could be the opposite." How was this behavior cruel? Can
you think of other examples from the book where kindness and cruelty were
10. Was Larry treated
fairly by the community or the law? We're supposed to be a nation of laws in
which people are innocent until proven guilty.
11. Why did Silas remain
silent when he could have helped Larry when they were teenagers? Why does he
finally come forward with the truth? How might both their lives have been
different if the truth were known?
12. When he was a little
boy, Larry's mother used to pray for God to send him a special friend,
"one just for him." Were her prayers answered?
13. After Silas, Larry
considered Wallace Stringfellow to be his friend. What was the bond between
Larry and Wallace? What attracted one to the other? Were they really friends?
What is a friend?
14. As an adult, Larry also
prayed to God. "Please forgive my sins, and send me some business. Give
Momma a good day tomorrow or take her if it's time. And help Wallace, God.
Please." What were Larry's sins? Why did he pray for Wallace? What did
Larry see in Wallace?
15. When Larry is in the
hospital after the shooting, Silas goes to visit. "He wondered how broken
Larry was by the events of his life, how damaged." How would you answer
16. Was Larry broken? Was
he damaged? What kept him from becoming the monster everyone believed he was?
Silas, too, wonders about himself. "What's missing out of you Silas?"
Does he discover his missing self? How? Is Silas a better man for the
knowledge? How does that insight affect Larry's life?
17. Larry felt he was to
blame for Wallace's tragic choices. Do you think he was responsible at all?
What about Silas? How much responsibility do we carry for others? For family?
Friends? Strangers? How much responsibility does the community bear for the
18. How does Larry react
when Silas tells him the truth about their childhood? Can true friends overcome
betrayal? How? Do you think they will be part of each other's lives going
19. Silas left Southern
Mississippi then returned. Larry never left. Why did they make the decisions
they did? What was it about their small town that drew and kept them there? How
does place shape the novel? Could this have happened in any small town?
20. How is racism a part of
the story? Use Larry and Silas's experiences to support you response.
21. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is also a coming of age
story. How did the characters come into themselves as the story progressed?
What possibilities might the future hold for Larry and Silas?
22. At the novel's end, Tom
Franklin writes, "the land had a way of covering the wrongs of
people." What does he mean by this?
23. What did you take away
from reading Crooked Letter,