This reading group guide for Thank You, Goodnight includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Andy Abramowitz. 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
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Teddy Tremble is nearing forty and has settled into a comfortable groove, working at a stuffy law firm and living in a downtown apartment with a woman he thinks he might love. Sure, his days aren’t as exciting as the time he spent as the lead singer of Tremble, the rock band known for its mega-hit “It Feels like a Lie,” but that life has long since passed its sell-by date.
But when Teddy gets a cryptic call from an old friend, he’s catapulted into contemplating the unthinkable: reuniting Tremble for one last shot at rewriting history. Never mind that the band members haven’t spoken in ten years, that they left the music scene in a blazing cloud of indifference, and that the only fans who seem to miss them reside in an obscure little town in Switzerland—can Teddy manage to snooker his bandmates out of their adult lives and find his way back to the top of the charts? Questions and Topics For Discussion
1. What motivates Teddy to return Warren’s call and visit the Tate Modern museum in the first place, instead of ignoring it? How do Teddy’s motivations change throughout the course of the novel?
2. How appropriate is the title of Heinz-Peter’s exhibit, “Faded Glory: Where Do They Go When They Have Nowhere to Go?” Consider how the novel portrays Teddy’s idea of legacy and our societal fascination with the cult of celebrity.
3. Teddy is a great observer of character of the people around him (“When she’s not busy composing tripe, Barbara enjoys a preoccupation with her gluten allergy,” page 75), but has trouble seeing himself clearly, insisting that he was “nothing special” despite his earlier success. How does the way other people see him affect how he values himself? In what ways does his journey throughout the book change and/or clarify his self-perception?
4. Consider this excerpt, as Teddy describes the beginning of his relationship with Sara: “I was an open door, that’s all, and she walked through it” (page 70). How does their relationship evolve over the course of the novel? How does it compare to Teddy’s relationships with the other women in his life, Lucy, Mackenzie, Alaina?
5. Although Teddy and Sara have lived together for many years, they seem very separate. There are a lot of things they don’t do as a couple, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of healthy communication between them. Who do you think is more to blame for the distance in Sara and Teddy’s relationship?
6. How do Teddy’s more ridiculous (and hilarious) antics, such as his fight with Heinz-Peter or drinking whiskey in a high school gymnasium with Warren, affect the tone of the novel? Which of Teddy’s absurd behaviors was your favorite?
7. Mackenzie says, “I didn’t think it would be this hard to look you in the eye” (page 193). Compare and contrast how each character regards the past: Teddy, Sara, Warren, Mackenzie, Jumbo, Alaina. How does each character react to the intrusion of the past into their present life?
8. Consider Teddy’s observation: “The lanes of the highway were thick with cars, each one driven by some poor son-of-a-bitch doing very little other than growing older” (page 129). What does this reveal about Teddy’s attitude toward aging? Compare and contrast how each of the characters approaches aging, either reconciling or fighting it.
9. “If our first two albums were about the youthful disturbances of desire, claiming what the universe owed me and showing my God-given entitlement to it by slinging a guitar strap around my neck, this third album was about finding my way back, reclaiming myself” (page 300). Is Teddy successful at “reclaiming” himself? Why or why not?
10. How does Sonny Rivers’s legacy help Teddy find his own? What do you think Sonny wanted to tell Teddy, but never had the chance to?
11. Why do you think Teddy never confesses to his bandmates that it was his ego and feelings for Mackenzie that kept Tremble from touring with Junction in the nineties? Do you think he’s able to fully reconcile with his past while keeping that to himself? Why or why not?
12. What effect does the epilogue have on Teddy’s journey? Were you surprised at the novel’s conclusion and Teddy’s final legacy? Did you find yourself disappointed or satisfied with the direction he chose for his life? Enhance Your Book Club
1. From the one and only Death Cab for Cutie song on Teddy’s iPod, to the Oasis album in his glove compartment, to when Sara “brought her own copy of Bitches Brew
to the relationship” (page 73), listening to and being surrounded by music is a huge part of Teddy’s life. Set the mood for your book club by creating a playlist of the music mentioned in the book or songs inspired by Teddy’s adventures. What songs remind you most of Tremble’s hits? Ask your book club members to suggest songs for the playlist.
2. Teddy gets Tremble back together for one more album, to tie up what he feels is unfinished business. Is there anything in your life that you feel is unfinished? Or, is there something that you’ve always want to do, but haven’t yet? Share with your book club.
3. Have you ever read a musician’s autobiography? If so, were there any similarities to Thank You, Goodnight
? What about the autobiographies of popular eighties and nineties rockers, such as Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir
by Cyndi Lauper, Sinner’s Creed
by Scott Stapp, or Makeup to Breakup
by Peter Criss? Ask several members of your group to bring autobiographies to compare to the novel. A Conversation with Andy Abramowitz How did you come to write this novel? What inspired you?
The idea for this book came to me while I was actually visiting the Tate Modern in London and I came across a photography exhibit. The people in the photos appeared to be unwitting participants in the artist’s work; they didn’t seem to know their picture was being taken. I began to imagine what it would be like to happen upon a photograph of myself hanging in a museum or art gallery and, depending on what I saw reflected in that shot, how it might affect me. I envisioned the chain of events that an experience like that might set in motion—coming face to face with a depiction of how the world perceives me, and then resolving to do something about it, to change that perception. An ordinary person with an extraordinary past seemed like the right type of character to follow on such a journey. Are there any autobiographical components in the novel? Are any of the characters or events inspired by real life?
I certainly wish Thank You, Goodnight
were more memoir than fiction, but alas, no. I have a very satisfying but thoroughly unceremonious past in music. I played in bands, performed in many different venues, and even recorded an album, but whereas Teddy Tremble is a one-hit wonder, I’m a no-hit wonder. I was, however, able to draw upon the experience of recording and of lugging equipment in and out of fraternity houses and bars in order to construct some of the scenes in the book. The guitar player in the band I played in was and is a stellar musician, a great friend, and an all-around terrific person. He’s nothing like Jumbo Jett. As Teddy is drawn back into his music, he can’t get the melody and lyrics out of his head that will turn into “Whereabouts,” his first original song in ten years. How does a song that wants to be written compare with starting a novel? Was there a character, or scene, or voice, that originally drew you into this novel?
In my experience, a song that wants to be written can be written, sometimes fairly quickly. The time investment could be an afternoon or it could be a half-hour, though it can take months to fully realize a song. A novel is much more of a commitment and requires more thought and planning at the outset. Unlike a song, a novel has to connect—at least on some level—to reality or I think the reader will [grow] weary of it fairly quickly. As the novelist, you have to live with your characters for a much longer period of time, you have to continue to return to them, and you have to take them places.
Two things drew me into writing Thank You, Goodnight
. First, there was the Teddy character, a person who’d accomplished something great a long time ago and then had to adjust to life as a regular guy. Second, there was the scene in Switzerland. I knew that Teddy would never have set out on his journey to put the band back together and restore his “legacy” had he not run headlong into this little pocket of rabid fans with which he was forced to share an evening. For some reason, this scenario played out in my head before any of the rest of the novel materialized, and it served as a great starting place for writing the rest of the novel. The scenes when Teddy and the band are recording in the studio and working with Sonny to make a record together are incredibly detailed. Did you do any research into the music industry and recording process, or were those scenes based on personal experience?
I am fortunate enough to have done some recording. A guy I played in bands with for many years—who happens to be a very close friend—and I spent three weeks in San Francisco making an album when we were in our mid-twenties. In addition to being a total blast, the experience made a huge impression and provided a wealth of detail, such as how the placement of instruments and microphones affects the sound, the way the producer looks while sitting in front of the mixing board, the long stretches of tedium as another musician lays down his or her tracks, the rises and falls of everyone’s moods over the course of a long day. It’s a unique environment, and not always conducive to creativity. Thank You, Goodnight is your first novel: what about the writing or editing process did you find surprising? What did you find challenging?
I was surprised that the editing process never felt done. I was ultimately able to get the narrative in a place that felt comfortable and complete, but with every read-through, there were words and sentences on nearly every page that I felt compelled to revise.
In terms of challenges, a major one for me was keeping the dialogue both fresh and realistic. Most conversations that we engage in on a daily basis are very ordinary and unfold in relatively short phrases that are not terribly poetic or even articulate. A lot of the scenes in this book entail two people simply having a conversation, as Teddy visits all his old co-conspirators to pitch the idea of reforming Tremble. It was a challenge to make the dialogue interesting and alive, while at the same time believable. Are there authors or books that have particularly influenced or inspired your writing style?
I’ve always aspired to write like Tom Robbins, but it’s dangerous to try to emulate that kind of writing style because it’s so easy to fail—and so apparent when you do. I’ve been greatly inspired by Dave Eggers and the way he tells stories, particularly You Shall Know Our Velocity
and recently with the understated but very compelling A Hologram for the King
. I also sometimes find myself trying to allow scenes to unfold in the very natural, organic way that I associate with Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing. And Almost Famous
by David Small, with whom I was fortunate enough to take a writing workshop as an undergraduate at Franklin and Marshall, is a great example of well-crafted character-driven fiction. Those are but a few of many influences. Teddy explains that first impressions with a song are paramount. “A maiden voyage through a song is like a first date, painting it with visual imagery that becomes forever inseparable from the music” (page 107). Do you share this romantic notion about how we experience music? What songs have made a successful “first date” impression on you?
I have absolutely found this to be true. If I first hear a song while coasting along a scenic highway at dusk or while sitting on the beach at midnight, it’s going to be easier to like. If I first hear it on a rainy day in the parking lot of a mall, that song has a lot of drab stimuli to overcome. I first heard “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake while walking along a deserted city street in the middle of a snowstorm, and every time I hear the opening strum of that acoustic guitar, I’m back in that peaceful wintry scene. I first heard Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” while lounging around my apartment with my then-girlfriend (now wife) on a Friday night, so that musical first date went very well. I have hundreds of examples. The act of making or experiencing visual art is very powerful or even pivotal at several times in the novel, such as Teddy’s experience with Heinz-Peter and his exhibit at the Tate, Sara’s therapeutic creation of mosaics, and the great impact that the Trans Am with Electric Eel painting has on Teddy. How is art important in your own life? Why did you want to include these other media in addition to the art of creating music in the novel?
I didn’t notice this until I’d finished writing the book, so I can’t claim to have deliberately baked this theme into the batter, but there is definitely a running thread of artistic ventures setting characters free, or at least forcing them to look into the mirror. Teddy’s decade-long musical dormancy overlaps with his general malaise and low-grade bitterness. Writing songs again sets in motion all the events that land him on that beach at the end. Sara needs to be around the chaos of creation at her friends’ studio because it’s the only place where she can allow all her buried emotions to breathe; she certainly can’t do it at home with Teddy. It was important to me that the Trans Am
painting depict motion, and on a subconscious level, when Teddy sees it, he knows he has to move forward. By deciding to name the Tremble album after that painting, he’s—again, subconsciously—recognizing that it’s time to move forward in other areas of his life too. And obviously, Heinz-Peter’s photography exhibit places Teddy literally face-to-face with the laughing stock he is in the eyes of the world. After the experience of writing and publishing your first novel, do you see any similarities between the publishing industry and the music industry?
I have very limited experience in the music industry, but my impression is that there are so many variables that contribute to the success or failure of an artist that the industry has to be concerned with a lot more than just the music. By contrast, the people I’ve dealt with in the publishing industry—easy people to like, by the way—just really love books. A lot of sweat obviously goes into the marketing of a book, but as far as the author is concerned, the focus really seems to be on the work. As Teddy had unfinished business in the music industry, is there anything in your own life that you are dying to try your hand at for a second time?
I’d like to work my way up a major league baseball organization. I haven’t played seriously since high school, but a few afternoons at the batting cage and I’d be ready! Are you working on a second novel? What’s next for you?
I’m finishing work on a second novel. It’s about a brother and sister whose lives are separately falling apart over the course of a summer. The brother is a roller coaster engineer who loses his job and separates from his wife and daughter all in one day, so he takes a job as a lifeguard at his apartment complex pool. The sister is a journalist who starts receiving unsettling emails from an anonymous sender. No one plays in a band.