Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What makes Stanley Elkin’s style so distinctive? How is a typical Elkin sentence or paragraph structured?

Elkin’s plots tend to accrete rather than develop. Locate places in his work where plot is most clearly subordinated to Elkin’s interest in language and jazzlike riffs.

Elkin’s fiction depends on his characters’ occupations: the language, rhythms, and activities of their jobs, whether franchiser or widow. How does this interest in occupation manifest itself? How does it demonstrate the author’s command of different kinds of work?

How and how well does Elkin draw his characters? How well can readers “see” them? Are they more seen or heard?

Voice—that of author and character—is especially important in Elkin’s work. What does this voice sound like? Is the voice that of Elkin, or does he modify his narrative style to fit a particular character?

Elkin’s characters have been described as obsessed. What exactly are they obsessed about? Find passages in which their obsessions and obsessiveness are especially apparent.

Elkin said on more than one occasion that “The Book of Job is the only book.” In what ways do his characters suffer? What justification is there for their suffering? What reward?

Rage and the desire for revenge often fuel Elkin’s characters. Over what do they rage? At whom do they direct their revenge?