Reading guide for Everyone Remain Calm: Stories by Megan Stielstra
- The protagonists in many of these stories fantasize about the future, a lover, or a child, only to face a different reality altogether. How are these fantasies helpful or destructive for the characters? How do they impact the people around them?
- “Desire was dangerous,” thinks Penny in “The Boot” (25). What moments of dangerous desire appear throughout the collection? What makes desire perilous in these instances?
- Father figures feature heavily throughout the book. Who are some of the memorable fathers (literal or not) throughout the collection? How do their daughters make sense of their influence?
- In “Incredible,” the Incredible Hulk leaves bruises on Shelley, who insists that he is “really there. There in your head as you fall asleep at night. There in your fingertips when you feel alone” (11). Is the Incredible Hulk really there? What details support your reading of the story? What makes a story true?
- According to Megan, the narrator in “Professional Development,” “sometimes, we have to believe the fantastic” (39). What does magical realism throughout the book reveal about the characters who can see fantastic sights? How do these scenes connect to Megan’s view on fiction?
- Several stories nod to the natural world: the rising water in “The Flood,” the tornado in “Everyone Remain Calm,” the hunting and fishing in “Shot to the Lungs and No Breath Left.” How is nature depicted in these stories? How do human beings fare in these environments?
- Work is a recurring theme throughout the collection. Characters wait tables, teach, cut keys at a hardware store, and hold construction jobs. What meaning and opportunities do the characters make from their work experiences?
- Numerous stories address violence against women. Many also describe women exercising their power in various ways: parking illegally, cheating on a partner, breaking into a clinic to steal the birth control pill. How do moments of power intersect with moments of violence throughout the collection?
- In 2011, Stielstra interviewed herself about the experiences that informed these stories. What moments in your life, big or small, could inspire a short story? And if you used a personal experience as a point of departure, how would you fictionalize and transform it?