A VIKING READER'S GUIDE

 

READER'S GUIDE


An Introduction to:
 

Traveler

For Jono Riley, East Providence in the 1960s was filled with hockey games, Marlboros, scout camp, beautiful young girls, and best friends. Growing up in blue-collar families, with fathers who were recent immigrants, Jono and his three friends—Cubby, Billy, and Bobby—were inseparable and formed a bond that each of them thought would last a lifetime. But inevitably things changed as time moved on, and when he receives a letter from Cubby thirty years later, Jono is living in Manhattan, working as a part-time actor and bartender, and he has not been back to Providence in decades.

Ron McLarty has created a memorable and winning cast of characters in Traveler, and he writes with warmth and sympathy about the travails and exploits of a particular kind of coming-of-age in America. The story of the camaraderie between Jono, Billy, Bobby, and Cubby is by turns hilarious and tragic, and though Jono knows he can’t go back to those days, it’s good to remember them.

Questions for Discussion

  1. The title of the book refers to the bullet in Marie’s back, which moved over time and killed her over thirty years after she was shot. What else do you think this title might refer to? What is its larger significance in terms of the characters and events in the book?

  2. Ethnicity is an important aspect of this book: Jono is Irish, Bobby is Portuguese, and Cubby and Billy are Italian. Discuss how each character’s heritage influences who they are, and who they grow up to be. How are these ethnic divisions similar or dissimilar to those that you’ve experienced in your own life?

  3. At one point Jono reminisces, “I think the American retrospective of small-town lives is a cleaned-up version of how we wished we could have been” (p. 133). He thinks about how many other young people at that time were thinking about the war in Vietnam and politics, but that he and his friends were mainly interested in “the Beatles, large breasts, baseball, and hockey.” How true do you think these statements are in terms of what happens in the book? How true do they ring to you in terms of your own childhood reminiscences?

  4. Why do you think Jono continues to act despite the fact that many of the plays he appears in are so unsuccessful? Can you identify aspects of his personality, both when he was young and in the present day, that help him stick with it?

  5. Discuss the character of Bobby Fontes, Jono’s quiet but strong Portuguese friend. Although all of the characters in Traveler experience pain and tragedy at some point in their lives, Bobby’s situation seems to be unique. Why do you think that is, and how much of it is due to the environment in which he grew up?

  6. Though Jono is relatively happy with his life in the present day, he is particularly indecisive about the prospect of moving in with Renee. On page 50, he explains why: “Marie D’Agostino and my mother aside, Renee Levesque is the only woman I have ever loved. Ever would, my instincts told me. . . . It’s not the moving in that scares me. It’s the moving out.” What do you think of Jono and Renee’s relationship? How does it compare to the past relationships in Jono’s life?

  7. Traveler opens with Cubby’s letter to Jono, and Jono’s description of Marie, and how he fell in love with her as a twelve-year-old boy. Marie continues to be a presence throughout the book, though she and Jono never actually dated. Why do you think Ron McLarty made Marie such a central part of the book, though she is not really one of the main characters? How important is the character of Marie to the over-all message of the book?

  8. The rift between Jono and his friends and the boys from the Terrace, like Howie Crosby, Allie Ponserelli, and Connie Dwyer, is a continuing concern for Jono as he is growing up, and when he returns to Providence he encounters the same group, still behaving in a similar way even though they are grown men. Why do you think the boys had such issues with one another when they were young? Would you have handled some of their confrontations differently? Do you know anyone like the Ponserellis, who still act the same way they did when they were kids?

  9. Discuss Jono’s relationship with Big Tony D’Agostino. When Jono’s father passes away Big Tony assumes the role of his father and cares for him until his own death. Yet Big Tony is known to have a temper as well—he slaps Jono at one point, and it is also understood that he beat up Bobby’s father. What kind of a role model was Big Tony? How has his influence affected Jono’s adulthood?

  10. East Providence has changed quite a bit since the last time Jono was there. Many of the landmarks that Jono remembers from childhood have been torn down or changed into something else. As great as Jono’s memories are of this place, though, he tells Bobby, “I wouldn’t really want to go back. . . . I’m here now. I’m where I am” (p. 241). How does this statement reflect on Jono, his relationship with Renee, and his trip back to his childhood home? If you live in a different place from where you grew up, talk about what it’s like when you visit it as an adult, and how your experiences are similar to or different from Jono’s.

  11. What did you think of Jono’s brief affair with Roxanne Boneria during the summer between his junior and senior years of high school? He lied to Roxanne at first, and managed to hide his dates with Roxanne from his girlfriend Sandy Minucci. How do these actions fit in with what you know of Jono’s character?

  12. Were you surprised by the ending of the book? Who else did you think could have been responsible for the shootings, and why?

© 2020 RonMclarty