Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
1. The epigraph reveals the origins of the novel’s title. Why do you think Tom Franklin chose to use “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”? What significance does it hold for the story?
2. Describe the boys Larry and Silas were, and then men they became. What drew Larry and Silas together as children? What separated them? How did you feel about both characters?
3. When Larry is shot at the beginning of the novel, he is sympathetic to his attacker: “Larry felt forgiveness for him because all monsters were misunderstood.” Does Larry consider himself to be a monster? Why? Why isn’t he bitter? Could you be as charitable if you were in his place? Why does he say all monsters are misunderstood? Do you think he feels the same way at the end of the novel?
4. During the attack, the shooter is wearing an old monster mask that Larry recognizes. What does that mask symbolize for both the victim and his attacker?
5. Tom Franklin goes back and forth between past and present to tell his story. How are Larry and Silas prisoners of their childhoods? How can we break the past’s hold on us?
6. Talk about the boys’ relationships to their mothers. How did their mothers shape them? Were they good sons? What kind of people were their mothers? Why does Silas go to see Larry’s mother in the nursing home? When he was a little boy, Larry’s mother used to pray for God to send him a special friend, “one just for him.” Were her prayers answered?
7. After Silas, Larry considered Wallace Stringfellow to be his friend. What was the bond between Larry and Wallace? What attracted one to the other? Were they really friends? What is a friend?
8. As an adult, Larry also prayed to God: “Please forgive my sins, and send me some business. Give Momma a good day tomorrow or take her if it’s time. And help Wallace, God. Please.” What were Larry’s sins? What did Larry see in Wallace?
9. Larry felt he was to blame for Wallace’s tragic choices. Do you think he was responsible at all? What about Silas? How much responsibility do we carry for others? For family? Friends? Strangers? How much responsibility does the community bear for Wallace’s actions?
10. How does Larry react when Silas tells him the truth about their childhood? Can true friends overcome betrayal? How? Do you think they will be part of each other’s lives going forward?
11. Silas left southern Mississippi, then returned. Larry never left. Why did they make the decisions they did? What was it about their small town that drew and kept them there? How does place shape the novel? Could this have happened in any small town?
12. How is racism a part of the story? Use Larry and Silas’s experiences to support your response.
13. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is also a coming-of-age story. How did the characters come into themselves as the story progressed? What possibilities might the future hold for Larry and Silas?
14. At the novel’s end, Tom Franklin writes, “The land had a way of covering the wrongs of people.” What does he mean by this?