Reading Guide: Thunderclouds in the Forecast

Reading guide for Thunderclouds in the Forecast: A Novel by Clarence Major

  1. The novel opens with this epitaph, a folk saying, “Even a blind hog sometimes can find an acorn.” Discuss the depictions of luck and fate in the Thunderclouds in the Forecast. Is Ray, the protagonist, someone who simply gets lucky? Or is he an active agent in his success? How so?
  2. Both Ray and Scotty start their lives with the same unfortunate hand: orphaned and poor. Compare and contrast Ray and Scotty’s personalities, attitudes, and paths in life. Is one friend more deserving of luck or grace than the other?
  3. Examine Ray and Alice’s relationship. How do race, gender, and age inform their feelings for one another? How do these identifiers affect how they think about success and chance?
  4. “Before, while traveling on the train all the way from New York . . . [Ray] felt unmoored, rootless, homeless really” (pg. 60). In the novel, Major describes in fine detail how Ray makes up his first home, an apartment in Lorena, and Ray’s second home, the large house he buys. How do Ray’s actions in making up his homes reflect his beliefs about belonging and community? And how does Ray’s “rootlessness” affect his relationships with Alice, her daughters, and the new community he has joined (i.e., his neighbors, Alice’s colleagues)?
  5. What are your impressions of the small town of Lorena, California? Is Lorena like another character in the novel? Why or why not?
  6. What other characters feel rootless or feel that they don’t belong? What are their perceptions of Ray in this new town?
  7. Gigi, the real estate agent, and Ray connect. Gigi states at the top of page 114, “Ray, in my own way, I understand why you need that big house; even if you continue to live in it by yourself.” Why do you think Ray wants a large house? Why do you think Ray wants to live alone?
  8. How does the lottery change Ray’s perception of himself? Does money have a positive or negative affect on Ray and the other characters throughout the novel?
  9. On page 104, during sex with Alice, Ray dreams he and Alice are at the top of the Statute of Liberty. But instead of being in New York City, the landmark is there in Lorena. Interpret this dream. What does this dream reveal about Ray? His upbringing? His feelings about home, or Alice?
  10. Ray believes that love is a “social construct, not something driven by nature” (pg. 116). Do you agree? Why or why not?
  11. Adulterous affairs and May-December romances abound in Thunderclouds in the Forecast. What do these mismatched pairings and forbidden romances say about race, class, and gender in the 1970s? Does Major’s writing about these affairs apply to today’s societal observations about identity and difference in romantic relationships?
  12. Thunderclouds in the Forecast references and pays homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby. How are Raymond Jansen and Jay Gatsby the same? How are they different? Describe Ray’s and Jay Gatsby’s attitudes towards their own fortunes and the fortunes of others.
  13. Ray reflects on his upbringing, noting that he did not grow up around other Black people. His foster families were all white, and his once close friend, Scotty, is also white. With this information in mind, what is the significance of the presence of Dr. Darren McIntosh in the novel?
  14. When Dr. McIntosh laments that “race is folly” (pg. 154), what do you believe he means? Do you agree or disagree? Do you think Ray understands the doctor’s comment?
  15. In Native American folk-story tradition, a “trickster” is a sly fox who often is elusive, gets what it wants against the odds, and outwits both friends and enemies. On page 155, Alice tells Ray that Scotty is like a trickster. How is Scotty a trickster figure? Is this an accurate depiction of Scotty, from what we know of Scotty’s behavior and past?
  16. Describe the ultimate fates of Ray and Scotty. What are Ray’s desires and were they fulfilled? Is Scotty’s death just an act of fate, or is there enough evidence that this tragedy could have been prevented? Could Ray have done more to save his friend?

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