Talking Points for Maureen F. McHugh’s Mothers & Other Monsters
from the Reading Group Guide (PDF Download)
Some things to talk about. There are no right answers.
1. What is your take on the title of this collection — Mothers & Other Monsters? Is it that mothers are monstrous? How about the mothers in this collection? Who are the Other Monsters?
2. Science-fiction stories may be set in places real or imaginary, in real or imaginary times. Even so, they are usually about the here and now. Do you feel McHugh is able to address contemporary issues in a more — or a less — effective way through the use of her imaginary settings? What contemporary issues seem to interest her most?
3. Advances in technology allow parents to monitor their children in ways that were impossible a generation ago. What along these lines has already changed since you were a teenager? Would you prefer to be a teenager now? Would you prefer to have been a parent then?
4. How much oversight is too much?
5. Does McHugh’s treatment of stepmothers seem accurate? What are some of the difficulties stepmothers face here? Why are stepmothers traditionally seen as wicked? With more families being headed by single parents, will the stereotype of the wicked stepmother lose popularity?
6. McHugh works within a number of literary traditions including realism (“Eight-Legged Story“), ghost stories (“In the Air”), science fiction (“The Cost to Be Wise”), fantasy (“Ancestor Money“), fairy tales (“The Beast”), and narrative nonfiction (“Interview: On Any Given Day”). Science fiction has been characterized as a literature of exploration and therefore seen as especially appropriate for teenagers. Are these stories you would give to a teenager to read? What aspects of these stories would you have enjoyed as a teenager?
7. One of the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease is that life decisions for an individual have to be made by someone else. Do the reactions of the Alzheimer’s sufferer’s families in these stories seem realistic to you? How about the treatment of and the treatments for the disease?
8. What would you do if your partner were cured of Alzheimer’s but was not quite the person they had once been? (As in “Presence”)
9. In “Laika Comes Back Safe,” is Tye a werewolf or a kid who thinks he’s a werewolf? Which is scarier?
10. In “Ancestor Money,” a woman burns an offering for her grandmother. In China, these offerings include paper money called ‘Hell Money’ and elaborate paper models of houses, cars and even things like paper model fax machines and paper model cell phones. The idea is that when they are burned, the ancestors receive them as goods and money. What would you send your ancestors?
11. McHugh’s protagonists are frequently trapped in some way — by love, by law, by history, by illness. How do you feel about reading stories in which the narrator has little power and few choices? How well do you think McHugh’s narrators do in the circumstances in which they find themselves?
12. When it’s possible to rejuvenate your body, will you?
13. Would you describe these as love stories?
14. Did this collection remind you of any other books? What did these stories gain by being collected together? What differences do you experience between reading stories separately in magazines as compared to reading them in a collection or anthology?