[The Comics Journal intern Brittany Matter put together this series of discussion questions about Monte Schulz's novel The Last Rose of Summer for use in book clubs. This is intended for those who have read the book and contains spoilers. – Ed.]
The second book in Monte Schulz’ Jazz Age trilogy (the first, This Side of Jordan, was released in 2009; the last, The Big Town, will be released in 2012), The Last Rose of Summer examines the relationships among three women under the same roof in late 1920s Bellemont, East Texas: Maude, Marie and Rachel. Marie and her two small children, Cissie and Henry, are sent by her husband Harry to live with his mother Maude while he is on business elsewhere. Marie observes her sister-in-law Rachel’s tempestuous love life while trying to abide by Maude’s house rules, keep track of her children and provide for her family. When a boy is found dead in the river, Marie worries that his killer may still be lurking in the shadows. As a Northerner, she is also disturbed by the town’s overt racism, especially that of her in-laws. Meanwhile, she resists the advances of her boss, Jimmy Delahaye.
Is Marie justified in kissing another man as her husband has, in a sense, abandoned her and her children to the care of his mother?
Marie and Harry aren’t in communication throughout the book; Harry’s character is developed through old letters and the characters’ memories. What effect does this have? Describe the character of Harry and what he represents.
How are Maude, Marie and Rachel defined by their relationships with men? How do these women change in the absence of men?
Are Rachel’s, Maude’s and Marie’s actions at the end of the book “in character” with their behavior at the beginning of the book? Why or why not?
Compare and contrast how Schulz portrays Southern and Northern whites’ attitudes toward race in the 1920s.
What is the significance of automobile and airplane accidents (i.e.: the auto accident at the restaurant where Marie works; Marie’s son, Henry, getting nearly run over by the green Franklin and CW in his aeroplane)?
What do you think Cissie’s miniature circus signifies?
The Last Rose of Summer and This Side of Jordan
The first book and the last book in this trilogy are stories about boys and men; what effect does it have for the middle book to be about female protagonists in three different stages of their lives?
All three books occur just before the Great Depression hits. How did that affect your reading? How does Schulz use the past to comment on the present?
Schulz calls back to This Side of Jordan with Mr. Laswell’s circus and Cissie’s adventure under the house. What effect does restaging these events with different characters and from a different point of view have?
Why do you think the author has his characters leave their hometown of Farrington, Illinois to discover themselves and experience life, just to return at the end of his stories?