This reading group guide for
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Mouth to Mouth includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Antoine Wilson. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading 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. Introduction
Marooned at JFK in between flights from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, our nameless narrator hears a name over the loudspeaker. It’s Jeff Cook, a fellow UCLA alum who stands out in the narrator’s mind despite their barely being acquaintances. Formerly a “thrift-store Adonis,” Jeff now embodies a familiar relationship with luxury, and after a warm reintroduction to the narrator, he invites him to the first-class lounge. Seated by the window drinking the bar’s complimentary beers, Jeff begins to recount a dramatic turning point in his life. One day before dawn, fresh from a breakup with his college girlfriend, he drove to the beach, where he happened to see a man floating facedown and motionless in the early morning surf. He saves his life, and the man is whisked away by paramedics. Once stagnant, Jeff becomes fixated on the person he will learn is Francis Arsenault, a notorious, high-powered art dealer in Beverly Hills. His obsession leads him to a receptionist job at Francis’s gallery, setting off a series of favors, chance encounters, and deceptions that leave the narrator—and the reader—second-guessing all that came before. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Mouth to Mouth
opens with the narrator reflecting on his recent red-eye. Soon after that, he and Jeff Cook reunite, and the latter shares a story of a woman who only flies unconscious, as well as his feelings about going under general anesthesia for a surgery. How do the themes of these narratives—and the rest of the lead-up to Jeff’s saga, including the narrator’s memories and observations—echo throughout the novel?
2. What words would you use to describe Wilson’s writing style? How does his attention to detail impact your reading of the book and its ideas?
3. Two paintings command longer descriptions in Mouth to Mouth
: the one that hangs in Francis’s office, and the large diptych that catches Jeff’s eye in Sotheby’s (p. 97 and p. 130). Perform a close reading of the passages in the context of both characters. Is there a deeper meaning to be gleaned?
4. Compare and contrast airport-lounge Jeff with younger Jeff. What adjectives would you use to describe him? Can you pinpoint moments when the younger Jeff starts to resemble present-day Jeff? Even if Jeff was obscuring the ways in which he and Francis are similar, can you identify traits the two men might share?
5. Although the central drama of Mouth to Mouth
is between Jeff and Francis (and arguably the narrator), other characters—specifically women—play a major part in the book. In what ways do G, Chloe, Alison, and Astrid affect the trajectory of the plot? How do they each exercise control?
6. Brainstorm some minor characters—for example, Andrea, Saskia, Dennis, and Alex Post. Fill in their lives; what kind of people are they?
7. Consider if, instead of the narrator mediating Jeff’s story, Wilson wrote Mouth to Mouth
only from Jeff’s perspective. Does the inclusion of a narrator make it easier or more difficult to form your own opinions? Do you find him trustworthy?
8. Jeff is obsessed with his perceived goodness, and he provides few details that make Francis out to be anything other than an asshole. Do you think the novel makes a case for what makes a moral or corrupt person? How does it comment on the human condition?
9. Jeff’s story seems to have many endings: when he leaves Francis on the mountain, the immediate aftermath of the man’s death and its consequences in Jeff’s life, and the novel’s final line. Knowing all this information, what do you think really happened? What does it mean for your reading experience that the reveal is left ambiguous?
10. Find a sentence or scene in Mouth to Mouth
that especially struck you. What is it about this moment that affected you? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Put together a list of other novels that explore art, identity, corruption, and the tangled webs we weave, and discuss how these selections connect to Mouth to Mouth
. How does form affect your reading? What did you appreciate about Wilson’s approach?
2. Split up into pairs and imagine you find yourself in Jeff and the narrator’s position: happening upon a person from your past. Write a scene about a pivotal moment in one character’s life in the style of Jeff’s story and the narrator’s commentary. Bonus points if you cast doubt on the storyteller in subtle ways. When everyone is finished, take turns sharing with the rest of the group.
3. Cast the film or miniseries adaptation of Mouth to Mouth
. Would Mick Jagger make a cameo as himself?