Reading Group Guide

In addition to being discussed in many book groups around the country, Corpus Christi: Stories was the inaugural selection of Corpus Christi Reads, an annual citywide reading project in Corpus Christi, Texas. Whether you’re interested in starting a book club for five people who meet in a living room or for a whole city, we hope the following Reading Guide will enhance your reading experience. If you would like more information about having Bret participate in your discussion, via conference call or in person, please contact us at: info at bretanthonyjohnston dot com

Reading Group Questions and Topics For Discussion

by Jacob M. Appel


  1. In “Waterwalkers,” Sonny and Nora each remember the hurricane party at which they
    met very differently. What do their different memories reveal about each of them? What
    larger implications does this have for their current relationship?
  2. Nora tells Sonny: “We’re not wired to remember what hurts us. Our bodies have no
    memory for pain.” Is this true of Sonny’s own experience? Of Nora’s?
  3. Why does the author choose to end this story with an up-beat flashback to the Atwill
    family’s trip to the company picnic. What insight does this give us into who Sonny was
    before his son’s death? How has he changed?

“I See Something You Don’t See”

  1. Minnie reflects in “I See Something You Don’t See” that “she’d always believed Lee
    would make a good doctor.” Is this an accurate assessment? How might Lee have
    compared with Minnie’s actual physicians, Dr. Rama and Dr. Wood?
  2. Is Lee correct in trying to hide the metastasis from Minnie?
  3. In her final weeks, Minnie starts to wonder “what kind of mother she’d been.” In what
    ways has Minnie been a good mother? In what ways, if any, has her mothering fallen

“In the Tall Grass”

  1. Are the narrator’s parents in “In the Tall Grass” a good match for each other?
  2. The narrator’s father, George Kelley, tells his son that, “A person can care too much.”
    What might he mean? How does it explain the events that follow?
  3. The narrator in “In the Tall Grass” says that his father “saw that he’d led his family into a different life.” Do you think the narrator’s father regrets this decision? Do you think the
    narrator ‘self-described as “a happily married, college-educated man who’s never known
    violence”‘ regrets his father’s decision?

“Outside the Toy Store”

  1. Why does the narrator in “Outside the Toy Store” tell Anna: “I hope it never happens to
    you?” Is Anna’s response reasonable? Do you think he understands that she will
    respond in the way that she does?
  2. The narrator in “Outside the Toy Store” describes his encounter with Anna as an effort
    “to incite a drama that could open a new door, or an old one,” but that had failed. Is their
    encounter entirely a failure? Are there any ways in which it might be considered a

“Corpus Christi”

  1. What role do coincidence and/or fate play in “Corpus Christi?”
  2. Charlie in “Corpus Christi” thinks, “How easy…to underestimate the wounded.” How
    does this apply to Edie? To Donnie? To Charlie himself? In what ways might this be

“The Widow”

  1. Is there a turning point in Minnie and Lee’s relationship in “The Widow”? How does
    their relationship change as Minnie’s condition deteriorates?
  2. Why does Minnie insist on planning her own funeral? What light does this shed on her

“Anything That Floats”

  1. What is the significance of the title, “Anything That Floats”? How might this apply to
    Colleen’s life?
  2. Colleen says, “I’ve failed and wounded all of these men who need me.” Is this fair? Does
    it apply to Tyler too?
  3. Is “Anything That Floats” a love story? Does it have a happy ending?

“Two Liars”

  1. Is Robert Jackson in “Two Liars” a good father?
  2. Why does Toby punch Olaf Hollins?
  3. Toby, at the end of “Two Liars,” says he felt “betrayed and alone, as if someone had set
    fire to my house and I was too far away to do anything but watch it burn.” How should
    we, as readers, interpret this?

“Birds of Paradise”

  1. Curtis, the narrator in “Birds of Paradise,” says that none of what happened on the
    afternoon of the story is “beyond forgiveness.” What is there to forgive? Is it all truly
  2. Is Phillip Bundick deserving of our sympathies? Is Luis Ortega deserving of our
    sympathies? Which man is a better match for Fancy?
  3. What is the nature of the relationship between Curtis and Fancy? How do you think it
    might end?

“Buy for Me the Rain”

  1. Are Lee and Moira in “Buy for Me the Rain” in love with each other? Is there any
    possibility they might have a future together?
  2. Lee says that he would hurt someone who didn’t deserve it if Moira or his mother asked
    him too. Is he capable of this? Why does Moira ask him?
  3. Lee in “Buy for Me the Rain” imagines his mother as a child. Do we have any sense of
    who Minnie might have been as a child or a young woman? As a wife? How has her
    husband’s death changed her?

General Discussion

  1. What role does the setting of Corpus Christi and its environs play in these stories? Is
    there something distinctly Southern or distinctly Texan in these stories? Also, the
    characters and residents of Corpus Christi always refer to the city simply as “Corpus”, so
    what might the significance of the book’s title be? After reading the book, do you think
    of the city as “Corpus” or “Corpus Christi”, and how might this have factored into the
    author’s decision about the title?
  2. Class and economic security ‘the loss of wealth, the fear of poverty’ plays a large role
    in most of the stories in Corpus Christi. What is the author trying to tell us about the role
    of money in contemporary society?
  3. Many of the characters in Corpus Christi offer up wisdom on the keys to living a happy
    life. What are some of these suggestions? Would any of the characters in the other
    stories have benefited from these suggestions?

Jacob M. Appel’s short fiction has appeared in Agni, Boston Review, Colorado Review,
Southwest Review and elsewhere. He currently teaches at Brown University in Providence,
Rhode Island, and at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City.