From the New York Times bestselling author of A Million Little Pieces and Bright Shiny Morning comes Katerina, James Frey’s highly anticipated new novel set in 1992 Paris and contemporary Los Angeles.
A kiss, a touch. A smile and a beating heart. Love and sex and dreams, art and drugs and the madness of youth. Betrayal and heartbreak, regret and pain, the melancholy of age. Katerina, the explosive new novel by America’s most controversial writer, is a sweeping love story alternating between 1992 Paris and Los Angeles in 2018.
At its center are a young writer and a young model on the verge of fame, both reckless, impulsive, addicted, and deeply in love. Twenty-five years later, the writer is rich, famous, and numb, and he wants to drive his car into a tree, when he receives an anonymous message that draws him back to the life, and possibly the love, he abandoned years prior. Written in the same percussive, propulsive, dazzling, breathtaking style as A Million Little Pieces, Katerina echoes and complements that most controversial of memoirs, and plays with the same issues of fiction and reality that created, nearly destroyed, and then recreated James Frey in the American imagination.
This readers group guide for Katerinaincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your readers group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book
In 1992, a young writer named Jay arrives in Paris, ready to live the bohemian dream. Against a scene filled with bars, drugs, and sex, he meets a young model on the verge of fame. Both are reckless, impulsive, and deeply in love. Twenty-five years later, Jay is rich, famous, and numb, reflecting on the exciting life he once had, when he receives an anonymous message that draws him back to the life, and possibly the love, he abandoned years prior. Percussive, propulsive, and powerful, Katerina is a love story oscillating between memory and reality that will give readers much to discuss.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. For decades—centuries, even—Paris has been a city that represents creativity and the bohemian dream. How does that idea link up with Jay’s experience? How is it different?
2. Jay’s life in 2017 is very different than the life he leads in 1992. How might someone’s expectations of later life differ from the reality? Have you ever had something turn out differently than you expected?
3. How are young Jay and old Jay’s outlooks similar? Different? Do you identify with one or the other? Both, to some extent?
4. “Life is waiting” is a phrase repeated throughout Katerina. Do you think it’s a helpful or hurtful reminder to the narrator? The reader?
5. Though we don’t spend much time seeing Los Angeles as a place, how are the moods of that city and Paris similar or different? Do they each have a specific impact on Jay’s lifestyle?
6. What other books (or writers) does Katerina (or James Frey) remind you of? Does this novel join a canon of others about the artistic experience?
7. Discuss the way Jay approaches women, sex, and relationships at the different stages in his life. Does it change over time?
8. Katerina is a young model when she and Jay meet, and they have a lot in common: they’re reckless, artistic, in search of something bigger—and it’s obvious that they have a lasting impact on each other. Do you think that one great love shapes who we are and how we approach life? Can young love be lasting love?
9. A recurring theme throughout Katerina is memory, and how truth and fiction both factor into it. To what extent do you think Jay’s story line in Paris, and his relationship with Katerina, are based in fact? In nostalgia? How does that inform his mental state as an older man?
10. Throughout the book, Jay links his creative capabilities with dysfunction—the more he experiences pain, the better he thinks his work is. Do you agree with this mind-set? Are there other writers or experiences you can think of that support or disprove this belief?
11. In Katerina, the structure is split between transcript/quick messages (2017) and longer, narrative prose (1992). Which did you enjoy more? Which is more effective in conveying the story’s emotion and tension, and the relationship at the story’s core?
12. While in Paris, Jay has a group of friends—Greg, Kevin, Philippe—who play a large role in his life. What role does each friend play? Which one did you relate to the most?
13. Would you get in touch with your first love? In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of connecting with former relationships, and what do we—and Jay—learn from them?
14. Think about and discuss the final scenes of Katerina. What did you think? Does the reality of Katerina live up to the memory?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer plays a huge role in Jay’s life. After reading Katerina, read Miller’s classic and see if you can compare, contrast, and discuss the influences it had.
2. Plan a real or imaginary trip to Paris, or other parts of Europe mentioned in Katerina. Which of Jay’s favorite spots are on your itinerary?
3. Think about a period of your life (like the early 90s, for Jay) that impacted you most. Have everyone bring a photo or a memento from that time, and share some memories with one another about how your life changed because of it.
James Frey is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. He is the bestselling author of A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, Bright Shiny Morning, and The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. He is married and lives in Connecticut. He has sold more than twenty million books and his work is published in forty-two languages.
“American author James Frey’s novel uses beautiful prose to tell an enchanting story about love, addiction, artistic struggles and guilt . . . Frey has a gift for controversy, but also undeniable talent.”