Cherry (Walker) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for CHERRY … then take off on your own:

1. The novel poses (and tries to answer) this question—"How do you become a scumbag?" In the arc of this story, how does one, or at least the book's narrator, become a scumbag? In other words, trace the trajectory of the narrator's downfall: from his first days in college, through his war experiences, and then back home with Emily. Was there one particular tipping point, was it his basic personality, or simply the totality of his experiences?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Consider the inverse path this novel follows. In many war novels, joining the military and heading to war is a crucible that forges the hero/heroine's maturity. In this case, the narrator's battle experiences transform him into an antihero, with, as the New York Times review puts it, "no sliver of redemption." Is that how you see storyline? Or do you see it differently?

3. We meet the narrator in 2003 when he tells us...

I sold drugs but it wasn’t like I was bad or anything. I wasn’t bothering anybody; I didn’t even eat meat. I had a job at the shoe store. Another mistake I made. No interest whatsoever in shoes. I was marked for failure.

What do make of his self-assessment? What does that passage reveal about the kind of man he is?

4. Why does the narrator fall for Emily? How would you describe her? When they decide to get married, why does Emily say, "But we're gonna get divorced"?

5. How culpable is Emily for the narrator's drug addiction? What role does she play in his deterioration?

6. What prompts the narrator to enlist in the Army? What is his attitude during training?

7. How well is he (or any of the soldiers) prepared for the war he encounters in Iraq? Talk about the narrator's tone of voice as he describes his time overseas. Is his tone angry, cynical, morose, hopeless, perhaps even flippant?

8. Follow-up to Question 7: What were your feelings as you read about the Iraq experience? What surprised you, shocked you, angered you, or confirmed your suspicions about the conduct (on all sides) of the war?

9. Talk about how the war affected the narrator? What role did it play in his downward slide into addiction? Given the media focus on veterans' mental health issues, would you say the narrator's experience is typical?

10. What do you know about addiction: the chemistry involved, its effect on the brain's physiology, the availability and protocols for treatment, and especially the success/failure rates of treatment?

11. In one of the few negative reviews for the book, Publishers Weekly writes, "it feels like [the novel is] willing to describe the catastrophe of its narrator’s life, but not truly examine it." What do you think? Do you agree or not and why (or why not)?

12. Overall, how did you experience the book? Does knowing that Cherry is autobiographical and that its author, Nico Walker, is serving time in jail have any impact on how you read his novel?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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