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  1. Book ImageSaint Monkey: A Novel

    Jacinda Townsend

    "[A] compelling debut…Townsend's writing [is] full of fresh turns of phrase and keen insights." —Ayana Mathis, New York Times Book Review

Discussion Questions

  1. The sections in Saint Monkey shift back and forth between Audrey’s and Caroline’s perspectives. How does this shift shape your feelings toward the girls? Did you identify with or favor one girl more than the other, and, if so, did you feel that was the deliberate intention of the author?
  2. Early in the story, Audrey says that Caroline “doesn’t seem to understand the difference between chorus girl and country mope” (15). What does Audrey mean by these categories? Do they mean something different at the end of the novel, when Audrey and Caroline are again back in Mt. Sterling? What difference might Caroline say that Audrey doesn’t understand?
  3. There are many reasons why Caroline could have decided to stop going by her nickname, “Pookie”: to seem older, to honor her mother after her death, to show her independence. Compare these motivations, and other possibilities, to Audrey’s motivations for leaving Mt. Sterling for New York.
  4. Both girls suffer the loss of a parent early in life. How powerful a motivator is the memory of violence in shaping Audrey’s and Caroline’s decisions? How powerful is the possibility of love?
  5. Writing letters is an important part of the novel, and the two girls often describe what the other has written, and speculate about what they may have left out. What do we learn about Audrey from her own account, and what do we learn about her from Caroline’s account, and vice-versa?
  6. Caroline also reads letters from her father, Stanton Wallace, sent from the State Penitentiary, and from those letters we learn about Audrey’s father, Lindell Martin. What does Caroline make of this window into the past? How is Audrey and Caroline’s friendship similar to Stanton and Lindell’s?
  7. Saint Monkey takes place before the Civil Rights movement in the US. We hear about Ku Klux Klan activity and sit-ins at lunch counters in Georgia. What sorts of racial tension is present between the characters in the novel?
  8. At the same time, tensions between men and women--at home, in public, on stage--often feel more immediate. What are some instances in which gender dynamics outweigh racial tensions? For which characters is race, gender, or even age more central to one’s identity?
  9. After Audrey accepts August’s proposal, she writes a letter home to her mother, “a letter that would keep in touch without touching” (261). What does she mean? How does that description apply, or not apply, to the letters that Audrey writes to Caroline?
  10. When August and Audrey visit Kentucky, they visit the Tin Cup, a bar where men gather after work and the radio plays Nat King Cole. How does the conversation at the Tin Cup compare to the conversation at the Apollo? Are the bonds between the musicians in New York more fragile than between the neighbors in Mt. Sterling?
  11. Though Audrey leaves Kentucky and Caroline stays behind, each girl learns her own brand of self-reliance. Caroline finds a job selling makeup and supports her sister and grandmother, while Audrey fights for respect in her marriage and her profession. How would you describe each girl in terms of opportunity and initiative?
  12. Why doesn’t Audrey move back to New York when her marriage with August is over? What would her life be like? What is it about Mt. Sterling that draws her back?
  13. When she returns home, Audrey remarks that “to be in the country is to be surrounded by death, always” (277). How does this compare with her feelings about her home as a young girl? What does she think about New York at the end of the novel?
  14. How did you opinion of August change after he and Audrey left Harlem? Were there signs early on that their relationship was in trouble? Do you think they would have stayed together if they had stayed in New York?
  15. Audrey has a “gift for numbers: no matter how far things deteriorate” (276) and describes the world in terms of addition and subtraction, or patterns of rhythm and meter. Do you think this ability is a “gift”? Is it more likely to help Audrey fit in or alienate her from others?
  16. Audrey made a living playing music for people to dance to, but she said she never danced herself until the Blackberry Festival in Hope. Were you surprised by the ending? Do you sympathize with the way Audrey looks back on her life? Is she naive about the time she spent in New York?
  17. As a girl, Caroline dreamed of being a star in Hollywood or acting on Broadway. What did Audrey dream of? Did she find it?

About Jacinda Townsend

Jacinda Townsend studied at Harvard University and Duke University Law School before receiving her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, and teaches creative writing at Indiana University. Saint Monkey is her first novel.

Books by Jacinda Townsend

  1. Book CoverSaint Monkey: A Novel

    "[A] compelling debut…Townsend's writing [is] full of fresh turns of phrase and keen insights." —Ayana Mathis, New York Times Book ReviewMore