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A Reader's Guide


Drives Like a Dream

"Porter Shreve once again demonstrates his talent for creating richly complicated characters and then for giving them the kind of second chances we all wish we could have in our own lives. Drives Like a Dream is impossible to put down." — Margot Livesey


About Drives Like a Dream

"Porter Shreve has always had a keen feel for a story and an instinct for what is interesting in the world. He is a wonderful and accomplished young writer." — Lorrie Moore

"Heartbreaking, funny, deeply felt . . . For all of its beautifully crafted surfaces, make no mistake, Porter Shreve writes, as Chekhov said, 'out of his characters' psychic wounds.' He is a fine, fine writer indeed." — Howard Norman

The New York Times called Porter Shreve's first novel, The Obituary Writer, "an involving and sneakily touching story whose twists feel less like the conventions of a genre than the convolutions of a heart — any heart." Newsday hailed the book as "a substantial achievement," and Tim O'Brien described it as "taut, compelling, and moving . . . beautifully written, engrossing from start to finish." Shining with the same heart and humor, Shreve's second novel, Drives Like a Dream, is a smart, wry tale about a modern-day mother in the midst of a lifestyle crisis — and her outlandish attempts to get her family back. Lydia Modine is sixty-one and about to come undone. Her three grown-up children have flown the coop. She hasn't seen them together in more than a year, and now her ex-husband is about to marry a woman half his age. And the insults keep coming: Lydia is stuck on a book she's writing about Detroit's car industry, which uncannily parallels her own life — out with the old model, in with the new. She's poured her soul into her family only to be abandoned in the City of Dream Machines. But then a twist of fate introduces her to Norm, an eco-car fanatic out to remake her and the world. Is he the answer to all of her problems, or does he hold the one secret that just might get her children back to Detroit, home for good? A warm, funny, and affecting novel that's sure to appeal to anyone who has longed for an alternate life, Drives Like a Dream confirms that sometimes when you set out for a spin, the twists and turns can be perfectly rewarding — and right.


About the Author

Porter Shreve is the author of the novel The Obituary Writer, which was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2000 and named a New York Times Notable Book, a Book Sense pick, and a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award and the Society of Midland Authors Award. Shreve has coedited six anthologies, and his short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many publications, including Witness, Northwest Review, Salon, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and the New York Times. He has been on the English faculty at the University of Michigan, the University of Oregon, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and he currently directs the creative writing program at Purdue University. He is at work on his third novel and a collection of short stories.

A Conversation with Porter Shreve


Questions for Discussion

1. How similar are Lydia and Jessica as people? How similar are their situations at the present moment? What impediments does each character face? What is holding each back?

2. Why is half of the book told from Jessica's point of view? What is the effect of going back and forth between Lydia's and Jessica's perspectives? What roles do Ivan and Davy have in the family?

3. What does Lydia hope to gain from going to Ann Arbor in chapter three? What do you make of Lydia's memory of Mrs. Friendly, who says, "In Marriage and Family, life is not always fair. We should be wise to brace ourselves for the frequent storms of disappointment." Has Lydia braced herself? How much does this quote apply to her situation?

4. Why do you think Lydia and Cy were essentially a mismatched couple? What do you think kept them together for so long?

5. When Cy appears at the sanctuary door at the start of his wedding service, "it occurred to Jessica that this wedding marked a pivotal moment in their family history. After this, they would go in one of two directions: together, or each alone." Does this prophecy prove true? In what direction does the family go following the wedding?

6. Lydia recalls on two occasions a dinner with her mother at which her father fails to appear. At one point she remembers promising herself that she would not repeat her mother's mistakes. In what ways does the past repeat itself in the novel? What characters cannot escape the past, and why?

7. What roles do Casper and M. J. Spivey play in the novel? Why is Lydia immediately drawn to them? What makes their marriage work or not work? Is theirs, as Lydia says at one point, the ideal marriage?

8. What does the landscape of Detroit indicate about Lydia's character? What about Phoenix in regard to Cy, and Oregon in regard to Jessica? How do characters in the novel fit their landscapes?

9. Keeping in mind the idea that "you are what you drive," note the various cars in the story that different characters drive. How do the cars fit the drivers, or do they?

10. Interpret the title Drives Like a Dream. Is Lydia a dreamer? Are there other dreamers in the book? Are certain characters driven by their dreams? Who is likely to use the phrase "drives like a dream"? Does the promise always fit the reality?

11. What is Norm's role in the novel? What does he represent? Is he reminiscent of other characters in the book? In what ways? Why is he such a bad fit for Lydia?

12. Lydia says on the phone to Jessica, "What kind of a family is this, all stretched out to the far points of the globe?" How do Lydia and Jessica each define family? Does either one's definition change over the course of the novel? How so?

13. Is Lydia realistic when she thinks, "There are times . . . when a person needed to stop everything and sort through the past. Her children would not have to wait, as she had, until their parents were no longer alive. They could come home now"? How does Lydia convince herself that bringing her children home is the right thing to do? Does the end justify the means?

14. In the midst of preparing for the yard sale, Lydia thinks, "Every item that came down from the attic might as well have been a memory. She felt lightheaded, almost amnesiac. A great weight had been lifted, but she had no way of calculating the loss." What has Lydia gained and lost over the course of the novel?

15. At the end of chapter twenty-three, the realtor asks Lydia how many people would be living in the craftsman bungalow and Lydia says "Two." How do you interpret this?

16. How do you interpret M. J.'s final line in the book, which she translates for Casper from French to English: "The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of."

17. "I guess all of us are runaways," Jessica says toward the end of the book. "Seems to be a family trait." Is this true? How many of the characters are running from something? What are they running from? Does the running stop or slow over the course of the book?




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