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Reading Group Guide for Bow's Boy
by Richard Babcock
1. "G. Bowman Epps and Ginger Piper died the same day, the same morning -- maybe, I sometimes imagine, at the same instant." (1) What is the effect of this opening sentence? Why do you think Babcock chose to reveal such crucial information about the end of his story at the outset?
2. Charlie first encounters Ginger Piper as a small child. "He was staring at me intently. His face had a kind of glow, as bright as a new dime, so full of interest and candor that I had to fight an urge to explain to him why I had barged into his family's house during dinner." (4) What does this first description of Ginger reveal about him? What does it reveal about Charlie?
3. "Some people say this country changed course when John Kennedy was shot, others say it happened with Vietnam. A case can be made for either, but for a little place like Laroque, the change didn't come so much from an event as from a feeling, a slow-turning, unarticulated revision of attitude." (5) To what extent is Bow's Boy
a story about Laroque? To what extent is it a story about America in the 1960's? At which points in the novel do the local, individual stories intersect with a broader, historical narrative?
4. All of the fathers in Bow's Boy
are, essentially, failures. How do Bow, Charlie and Ginger deal with the different ways in which they have been let down by their fathers? How do they attempt to compensate for this loss in their relationships with each other? Are they successful?
5. Who is Archie Nye? What is his role in the novel?
6. To what extent are the lives of the characters in Bow's Boy
shaped by Vietnam? What do you make of the fact that Bow and Ginger ultimately reverse their positions on the war?
7. At the beginning of the novel, Charlie tells us, "my beloved Lucy, who knew me through this time, thinks Bow stole years of my life, but though I respect Lucy's judgment on virtually everything else, she never really understood how it was between Bow and me." (3) Is Lucy right? What does Charlie mean by "how it was between Bow and me"? How would you describe Bow and Charlie's relationship?
8. Early on, Marcus Laney tells Bow that his problem is that he "doesn't have a stake in the future." (32) What is Bow's relationship to time? What does this have to do with his interest in Ginger? How does Bow's sense of the future change over the course of the novel?
9. Is Charlie a reliable narrator? Are there any indications that he may not be entirely trustworthy?
10. Chapter 33, which follows Charlie's decision to quit working for Bow, is devoted entirely to a flashback to Charlie's father's production of A Merchant of Venice
years earlier. How do you interpret this digression? What is the relevance of the theme of acting to the rest of the novel?
11. Why does Anna tell Charlie that Ginger smuggled the knife to Fontenot?
12. After drinking too much one night, Charlie's friend Ox wades into the Agnes River after an abandoned row-boat. When Ox nearly drowns, Charlie goes in after him, and the incident nearly kills them both. What do you make of this scene? Is Charlie changed by this experience?
13. Bow's Boy
ends with a description of a photograph of Ginger, just after making his famous winning shot. "?The picture in its objective genius caught his uneasiness, his disconnection, standing at center stage, staring into the wings. I'd seen that look on others -- on Bow so often, even on my father. Heroes, all of them, measuring their lives in misses." (326) How do you interpret the final sentence? What does Charlie suggest about heroism?
14. In moral terms, do you think Ginger is guilty? What is he guilty of?
15. Though Bow's Boy
is largely about the lives of three men, women figure into the story as well. Discuss the roles of Lucy, Anna and Macy. To what extent do these women serve similar functions in the novel? To what extent do their roles differ?
16. What role does Charlie's alcoholism play in the novel?
17. During his initial interview with Bow, Ginger quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: "The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience." (54) What is the relevance of this opposition between "logic" and "experience" to the novel?