Rare Stuff

September 1, 2021

Rare Stuff a Jew­ish-Amer­i­can ecofic­tion­al nov­el set in the mid-1990s pri­mar­i­ly in Chica­go and New York’s East Vil­lage but mov­ing to glass hous­es under the sea, tells the sto­ry of Sid­ney Zim­mer­man, a slight­ly lost white-Jew­ish pho­tog­ra­ph­er work­ing on an infi­nite series of por­traits of inter­ra­cial cou­ples. After the sud­den death of Sid’s father, the nov­el­ist and rare book librar­i­an Aaron, Sid and her Black-Jew­ish Guade­lou­pean Melville schol­ar boyfriend André trace a series of wacky clues Aaron irri­tat­ing­ly left to lead them to the solu­tion of the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of Sid’s moth­er, a whale enthu­si­ast named Dorothy, eigh­teen years ear­li­er. Aaron also bequeathed them a man­u­script, includ­ed as a nov­el-with­in-the-nov­el, set in an under­wa­ter uni­verse sport­ing his wild ideas that his wife had been adopt­ed by Yid­dish speak­ing whales who try to save the planet.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Brett Ash­ley Kaplan

  1. What do the clues in the suit­case each represent?

  2. Why do you think Sid keeps break­ing up with André?

  3. What do Sid and André learn about Aaron as they are look­ing for Dorothy?

  4. How do you think Sid’s per­son­al­i­ty was changed by hav­ing grown up with this mys­tery hang­ing over her?

  5. What do you think of Sid’s pho­tog­ra­phy project? Have you seen a pho­tog­ra­phy col­lec­tion like hers?

  6. What did you expect Aaron’s man­u­script, Slob­gol­lion, to be like and how was it the same or dif­fer­ent than your expectations?

  7. How impor­tant are the set­tings in this nov­el? Did you have a strong sense of place as you were reading?

  8. What did you think of the novel’s mul­ti­ple nar­ra­tors, mul­ti­ple voices?

  9. If you’ve ever mourned any­one, does the way that Aaron keeps pop­ping into Sid’s head res­onate with you?

  10. If you had to pick based on the book reviews” with­in the nov­el, which of Aaron Zimmerman’s books would you most like to read?