Heartbreak Cafe

"When you come to the end of your days and are looking down the barrel of eternity, ain't nothin' gonna matter in this life or the next, except how well you loved the people you love."

“When you come to the end of your days and are looking down the barrel of eternity, ain’t nothin’ gonna matter in this life or the next, except how well you loved the people you love.”

                            HEARTBREAK CAFE

                                Book Club Guide

1. Chapter 1 begins, “In a town where everybody knows your name, everybody knows your business, too. You think you got secrets, you’re living in Fantasyland.” Which characters in the novel are harboring secrets—or at least think they are?

2. When Dell Haley is faced with the hard truth that her cheating husband Chase has left her with a mountain of debt and no assets to speak of, everybody jumps in to give her free advice—which, as her Mama used to say, “is worth every cent you pay for it.” What does Boone Atkins say to Dell that finally turns on the light? Do you have any friends like Boone? Why is such a friendship so valuable?

3. Against her better judgment, Dell leases the abandoned, run-down diner at the west end of Main Street. Boone tells her, “Don’t look with your eyes. Look with your heart. Look with your imagination. Look with your soul.” What else does Dell learn to see with the eyes of the soul? How does that vision change her life?

4. Dell discovers Scratch living in the little apartment over the diner, and trusts her gut enough to hire him to work in the café. But Scratch’s presence brings issues to the surface that Dell doesn’t want to face. What does she learn about herself through her relationship with Scratch?

5. In Chapter 16, Dell has a dream about following Chase through the rooms of a luxury resort. She can’t hear what Chase is saying to her, and as the dream progresses, everything around her ages and turns shabby. Chase himself morphs into a Gollum-like creature who is holding onto some kind of “precious.” In light of Dell’s experience after Chase’s death, what do you think the dream means? What is it saying to Dell herself?

6. Peach Rondell, the divorced and aging “Bean Queen,” has returned to Chulahatchie after her divorce and is living with her mother. Every day she sits in a booth in the Heartbreak Café and writes in her journal, and finally confesses to Dell her lifelong dream of being a writer. “Things don’t always pan out the way we hope,” Dell says. “But maybe this turnaround in your life is giving you a chance to do what you’ve always wanted to do.” Why is this ironic? Is Dell speaking to Peach, or to herself?

7. How does Dell’s suspicion about the “other woman” build to a climax in the novel? Have you ever held onto something when you knew it was destructive? What happens when you let it go?

8. When Dell runs away to Asheville, she intends to get away from all that is eating at her, but finds herself face to face with those emotions again. During the Process Painting Class, what does she discover about herself—and about her friends and loved ones? Have you ever experienced this kind of epiphany?

9. What is magic, or miraculous, about the Heartbreak Café? What changes does it bring about in the regulars who hang out there? What does the café teach us about family and community?

10. What characters do you most relate to in the story? Do you have friends you can count on to be there for you, no matter what? How might you develop deeper community with those around you?

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