virginity of famous men readers' guide
These discussion questions are designed to enhance your group’s discussion about The Virginity of Famous Men, a collection of short stories about people in varying walks of life trying to navigate different types of relationships.
About this book:
The Virginity of Famous Men, Christine Sneed’s deeply perceptive collection on the human condition, features protagonists attempting to make peace with the paths they have taken thus far. In “The Prettiest Girls,” a location scout for a Hollywood film studio falls in love with a young Mexican woman who is more in love with the idea of stardom than with this older American man who takes her back to California with him. “Clear Conscience” focuses on the themes of family loyalty, divorce, motherhood, and whether “doing the right thing” is, in fact, always the right thing to do.
In “Beach Vacation,” a mother realizes that her popular and coddled teenage son has become someone she has difficulty relating to, let alone loving with the same maternal fervor that once was second nature to her. The title story, “The Virginity of Famous Men,” explores family and fortune.
Long intrigued by love and loneliness, Sneed leads readers through emotional landscapes both familiar and uncharted. These probing stories are explorations of the compassionate and passionate impulses that are inherent in—and often the source of—both abiding joy and serious distress in every human life.
1. Which was your favorite story in the collection and why? Which characters left the most lasting impressions on you, and were your reactions to them positive or negative?
2. How do the stories in this collection explore the question of what compels people to fall in love? (Consider stories like “The New, All-True CV” and “Beach Vacation,” in which this theme might not be immediately apparent.) Do some of the stories present conflicting answers to this question?
3. Did you notice a difference in the stories told from a male perspective rather than a female perspective? If so, what difference(s) seem most significant and why? Did you prefer the stories that were written in first person or third person? Explain.
4. Why do you think Sneed chose “The Virginity of Famous Men” as the title for the collection overall?
5. In “Beach Vacation,” did you sympathize more with Tristan or with Jan? How (if at all) did your feelings change as the story went on? How do you think Jan slapping Tristan will affect their relationship in the future?
6. In “The Functionary,” why do you think Marcus views the dead men he learns about differently than the dead women? Do you think his emotional reactions make him better suited or more poorly suited to his line of work?
7. Discuss the structure of “The New, All-True CV.” In what ways did this structure broaden or narrow the portrait of the narrator?
8. In “Words That Once Shocked Us,” do you agree with Marcie that it’s wrong for Rachel to go and meet Jack, or is she overreacting? Why or why not?
9. Discuss your reaction to “Roger Weber Would Like to Stay.” How did this story compare to the rest of the stories in the collection? Did you view Roger Weber literally, or as a metaphor for something else?
10. In “Five Rooms,” why do you think Josephine opts to drive straight through rather than stopping overnight? How do you think the trip with Mr. Rasmussen will change her? Do you think she has learned anything important from this trip about the nature of romantic love?
11. In “Older Sister,” why is Alex disappointed by the advice Penelope gives her? Do you think she will end up reporting the incident? Why or why not?
12. In “Clear Conscience,” do you think it would be wrong for Michael and Sasha to pursue a relationship? Why or why not? Do you think they’ve already crossed a line? If so, who is more at fault—Michael or Sasha?
13. In the last line of “The Virginity of Famous Men,” Will remarks that his former girlfriend’s “gullibility had so infuriated him” for reasons that are unclear. Why do you think he reacted so angrily?
14. Discuss the significance of the title in “Words That Once Shocked Us.”
15. In “The Prettiest Girls,” do you think Elsa and Jim will stay together? Why or why not?
Little Known Facts, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, and Paris, He Said by Christine Sneed; The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore; Tenth of December by George Saunders; Runaway by Alice Munro; Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Christine Sneed has published the novels Paris, He Said and Little Known Facts, and the story collection Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry. She received the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, Ploughshares’ John C. Zacharis First Book Award, the Chicago Writers Association’s Book of the Year Award, and the Society of Midland Authors Award for Best Adult Fiction of 2013. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, New England Review, and elsewhere.