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Questions and Topics for Discussion


1) All of the historical facts in King Zeno—from the Axman murders and the digging of the Industrial Canal down to the names of public figures and the text of the newspaper articles—are accurate. Does the author’s attention to historical detail color your experience of reading the novel?


2) While the main characters are of different classes, genders, and races, they share much in common. Do you think they are driven by similar motivations? What joins them together?


3) Each of the main characters has a vibrant, complex inner life. But they tend to withhold their deepest thoughts from those closest to them: Bill from Maze; Isadore from Orly; Beatrice from Giorgio. Why do they do so? Are they successful?


4) How does race, and racism, influence the drama and the lives of the characters? What are the ways in which racial anxieties in New Orleans a century ago are different from American life today? What hasn’t changed?


5) What is the significance of the Industrial Canal in the novel? Does it have resonance beyond its centrality to the plot?


6) Why did the author choose the title “King Zeno” for the novel? Is it ironic? Triumphant? Both?


7) King Zeno opens with a murder mystery: who is the Axman? But the answer is clear to the reader fairly early in the novel. If the whodunit is resolved, then what is the core of the dramatic narrative for the rest of the novel?


8) Frank Bailey tells Isadore that the key to human persuasion is fear. Is he right?


9) Why does Bill think that by solving the Axman case, he will win back Maze’s love? Is he simply delusional? Or is there some truth to this notion?


10) Beatrice spends much time contemplating the question of her own mortality. She describes four forms of immortality. Is immortality, in any sense, possible? Do any of the characters obtain any form of immortality?


11) What is the significance of jazz in King Zeno? How do the style and imagery of the novel relate to the advent of this new music form?


12) Who do you connect with most in the novel and why?