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Set This House In Order: A Romance of Souls
By Matt Ruff

Discussed January 2007

Buy Set This House In Order: A Romance of Souls from Amazon.com
Buy Set This House In Order: A Romance of Souls from Lambda Rising

Questions

Characters:

Andy Gage (Body - Samantha Andrea Gage) aged 32
- Aaron - the father
- Andrew - called from the lake by Aaron, created to run the body - aged 2 or 28 depending
- Adam - 15/16 year old and Gideon's son
- Jake - 5 years old...since 1973
- Aunt Sam - a painter
- Gideon - exiled to the island
- Seferis - strength and safety
- Xavier Reyes - called from the lake by Gideon

Penny Driver - Mouse
- Malefica - bad deeds
- Maledicta - bad language
- Thread - programmer
- The English Society of International Correspondents
- The Navigator
- Loins
- Duncan

Dr. Danielle Grey
Mrs. Winslow
Althea Gage - mother
Silas Gage - father that drowned
Horace Rollins - stepfather
Julie Sevik - Reality Factory entrepreneur
Chief Bradley
Warren Lodge
Officer Cahill - Aunt Sam's boyfriend
Irwin Mancipole - soft spoken younger brother/hardware specialist
Dennis Mancipole - loud, nudist, overweight/software specialist
Julie's Uncle (never appears)

The House
- Lodge with pulpit
- Lake
- Coventry
- Woods
- Pumpkin Patch
- Column of Light
- Mist

  1. There are a lot of characters in this book! A typical complaint is that "there are too many characters" for the story/plot/whatever , and most writers advise on working with the bare minimum to tell the story. Is this the bare minimum? Did you have a hard time figuring out who was who and keeping the characters separated?
  2. How does the environment of a virtual reality startup fit with this story? Does it make sense? Does the name mean anything?
  3. In what year does this story take place? What is the discrepancy between the body's age and Andrew's age?
  4. The author tells us from the first page "that a good storyteller only reveals important information a little at a time, to keep the audience interested." Did he succeed? Did the story or the characters keep you interested? Was one stronger than the other?
  5. "Part of knowing who I am is knowing why I am, and I've always known who I am, from the first moment" (page2). Andrew's ease with his disorder changes drastically when he falls into the lake giving up control of the body. By the end of the novel, does he return to his earlier confidence? Or is his security forever shaken?
  6. Discuss any hidden meanings in the characters' names in the novel: Andy Gage, Penny Driver, Gideon, Thread, Maledicta, Malefica, Xavier, and Seferis. And Eidolon.
  7. What does Andy tell us is "an inevitable side effect of multiplicity"? What is the difference between information and experience?
  8. In many ways, this is another book on the topic of child abuse. How is it introduced and then played out through the book. What are the lessons to take away from the book? How would you compare / contrast to Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim (read: January 2006)?
  9. What are the coping mechanisms for the characters in this story? Namely: Andrew, Penny, Mrs. Winslow, Julie, Chief Bradley
  10. In Andy Gage's mind, his "father controlled the weather inside the geography. He did not control the mist" (page 97). Why do you think that is?
  11. "Unlike many of the other souls in the house, I was never raped or molested" (p 118). Do you think Andrew's distance from his abuse makes him a good narrator?
  12. "There were other souls in the house who had had sexual or romantic relationships… but … they guarded those memories closely." (p 118) Who had relationships, and what were they like?
  13. Adam says to Andrew, "Julie's not interested in fucking you." (p 119) Is this statement a hint as to what comes later?
  14. How did Penny keep her mother from reading her letters from the "Society"?
  15. Mrs. Winslow, Andy's landlord, and Julie Sivik, Andy's boss, offer him stability and security. But how are the women different from each other? Are they each other's foils?
  16. Discuss the two cellar doors -- the one from Penny's Trash Town, and the one in Andy's mind under the stairs -- and what is hidden behind them.
  17. Why is it that Aaron, Andrew's father, doesn't want to talk to Dr. Grey?
  18. How is the storyline of Warren Lodge crucial to this novel? Why does Mrs. Winslow wait for the mail everyday?
  19. What event sends Andrew into the lake allowing Gideon to take control of the body?
  20. What alliances -- between Andrew's personalities and Penny's personalities -- are formed?
  21. "Here I sleep but for a while until I am called up again into my Father's house" (page 357) epitaph on Horace Rollins' grave. Discuss the layers of irony here and the revelation of horror that follows.
  22. What is Gideon afraid of and why?
  23. Why does Chief Bradley want to buy Andy's house?
  24. There's a reason why this was a Tiptree award winner. Was the revelation about Andy Gage's body's sex midway in the book (p 237) a surprise? Did it change how you processed the information in the novel? Does it make the rapes by the stepfather more horrific?
  25. "Does it really matter so much? I mean it's still me … " (p 238). What does the scene with Julie say about Andrew? What does her reaction say about acceptance? About sexual preference?
  26. All of Penny's souls are female while most of Andy's are male. Is Andy Gage collectively a bisexual? Or is this partitioning simply an embodiment of the Kinsey spectrum; in other words, are the souls fragments of desire/orientation?
  27. What drives Xavier/Gideon to want to go to Michigan? Why doesn't Andrew intervene? What about the others in the house? What is the significance of Billy Milligan to Andrew and the other souls?
  28. Many of Andy's souls have particular talents. Adam's talent seems to be the most useful to Andrew and to the reader, do you agree? Is Adam's talent the most useful? What are the other's contributions to the story? Lastly, what does this description of MPD say about the limits of the mind?
  29. How do the souls react when they find out that their mother didn't die when they were young? Is the mother a believable character? How did this affect the level of abuse?
  30. Discuss the differences of psychological abuse versus sexual abuse. How did the fallout effect the characters? Is Ruff saying something about the degree of harm with the numbers of souls generated?
  31. What was the importance of the bar scene where a father was verbally abusing his daughter? What happened? What did it do to the characters? How did you feel about Andrew's actions? What would you have done, and would you do anything differently now that you have read the book?
  32. Are there any similarities between the interior landscape (house) and the external?

Notes: The book THE MINDS OF BILLY MILLIGAN was mentioned (p 336). You might be interested in this Wikipedia entry: William Stanley Milligan (born 1955) was the subject of a highly publicized court case in the state of Ohio in the late 1970s. After having committed several felonies including armed robbery, he was arrested for a series of rapes on the Ohio State University campus. In the course of preparing his defense, public defenders determined that Milligan had multiple personality disorder. Examination by psychiatrists suggested that two of Milligan's 24 personalities or "selves" had committed the crimes without the others becoming aware of it. Milligan pleaded an insanity defense, the first multiple to do so. He was sent to a series of state-run mental hospitals, such as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, where, by his report, he received very little help. While he was in these hospitals, Milligan displayed 23 selves. Among these were Arthur, a prim and proper Englishman, Allen, a con man and manipulator, Ragen Vadascovinich, a Yugoslavian communist who had committed the robberies in a kind of Robin Hood spirit, and Adalana, a nineteen-year-old lesbian who craved affection and who had supposedly committed the rapes.

Finally Milligan received treatment from psychiatrist David Caul, who helped him and the other "selves" to communicate with each other, and to work out a method by which he could voluntarily integrate all of his selves. However, when Milligan maintained this mindset for any protracted length of time, he reported that the talents his selves possessed as individuals were diminished. In interviews, Milligan still refers to this situation with the words "The whole was less than the sum of the parts."[citation needed] Caul's famous quote on treating multiples is "It seems to me that after treatment you want a functional unit, be it a corporation, a partnership, or a one-owner business."[citation needed]

Released in 1988 after a decade in mental hospitals, Milligan now lives in California where he owns Stormy Life Productions and makes films. He still claims to be multiple. He is supervising a film about his life, The Crowded Room. As of 2006, this film is still in development.

Daniel Keyes authored a biography called The Minds of Billy Milligan. Another book by Keyes, The Milligan Wars, has been published in Japan, but not yet in the United States, at first due to Milligan's ongoing lawsuit against the State of Ohio for the allegedly inadequate treatment he received in Ohio facilities. The book will be published when the film is released.

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