WellRead’s November 2023 selection was Death Valley by Melissa Broder. In these pages, the author invites you on an ill-equipped hike through the scorching Californian desert. As weird and wonderful as the disastrous hike becomes, it can’t hold a candle to the internal landscape. Our nameless protagonist walks the suffocating line of anticipatory grief, daring to broach the self-concerned thoughts that often get squashed in the midst of others' pain and suffering.
Use these discussion questions to engage with the book further, whether in a book club with friends, or just on your own as you digest the story.
Reading questions for Death Valley by Melissa Broder:
Heavily influenced by the author’s own life, Death Valley blends autofiction with magical realism. What effect does fusing this unconventional pair have on the reading experience?
Wanting to feel less alone, the protagonist talks to receptionists, Reddit users, roses and rocks. Why do you think it’s easier for her to talk to strangers and objects than the people she loves?
The novel deals with the concept of anticipatory grief, with each character – the narrator, her mother and sister, her husband and her father himself – coping in different ways. Discuss their different perspectives and behaviours.
Weigh in on the debate that the narrator and her husband have regarding the definitions of the words ‘compassion’ and ‘empathy’ – what do you think the differences are and how are these concepts present through the story?
“Being human, always new things to forgive.” Where in the novel do we see forgiveness and where do you think it is missing?
The novel challenges ideas of grief and what you are ‘supposed to feel’. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Broder says that after her own father died, she became concerned with her own grief: “I was pushing myself to move it along, mostly because I wanted to feel better”. How has grief in your own life been shaped differently from what you might have expected?
- How do you think the narrator’s brush with mortality influences her outlook on life by the end of the novel?
- Did you come to the novel with preconceptions about Melissa Broder and her work? How did Death Valley defy or affirm your expectations?