Welcome to the Reading Group Guide for Spectrum. If you haven’t read the novel yet, save these questions until you have finished it because they contain spoilers.
Following are topics designed to provide a stimulating discussion.
1. The information regarding Vail’s adventure in the Statue of Liberty’s arm is accurate. Given the opportunity, would you climb through the arm to get to the torch?
2. Alan makes a cameo appearance as “Al,” the waiter at Woodro Deli; he did, in fact, work there (a few years after the Spectrum scene). Can you name another book in which the author inserted him/herself into the story in some manner?
3. If you lived on Ellis Island the mid-late 1970s like the two families, would you consider it an adventure, an opportunity very few would have? Or would the lack of creature comforts make it untenable? Remember, there was no internet, no computers or cell phones, etc. back then.
4. The Domain Awareness System the NYPD has deployed is real. Surveillance and security is greatly enhanced as a result—but a reduction in privacy is the cost. How do you feel about that? Does the loss of privacy bother you, or is it more than offset by being safer?
5. When Proschetta is questioning Livana about Cassandra’s death, Livana withholds information regarding Dmitri’s behavior. She is forced to choose between finding the killer of her daughter and implicating her son—or at least subjecting him to intense scrutiny and questioning. If you were in Livana’s shoes, would you have cooperated and told Proschetta about the things she’d observed and experienced with Dimitri?
6. Spectrum provides us an interesting contrast between 1970s police work (take notes and fill out reports in carboned duplicate) with that of the 2010s (Domain Awareness System, surveillance, GPS, and computerized databases of criminal histories, not to mention the FBI’s VICAP database). Coincidentally—or not—the violent crime rate in New York City has fallen to its lowest levels in decades. Do you think the improvement is due to the rise in technological advances in crime solving or other external factor/s?
7. Faced with the predicament that Livana and Fedor found themselves in, would you have identified Basil’s killer, or would you have been intimidated by the mob’s reputation?
8. The turn of the century, and the early 1900s, was a time of tremendous immigrant influx that changed the United States—in an overwhelmingly positive way—forever. With immigration a hotly debated issue at the present time, do you think the government is right in restricting newcomers’ access to the United States? This is a complex question involving politics, budgets, healthcare, and culture—the culture of the US and that of the incoming prospective residents.
9. After the fight in the bowling alley, Livana senses that there’s something that Basil’s not telling her. Did she do the right thing in letting it go? And now that we know that Niklaus was the one who had cut Gregor’s face, was Basil right in protecting him, or should he have told Fedor at some point?
10. It’s estimated that 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island. Do you have any relatives who passed through that portal—or know of anyone whose relatives did?
11. What characters in Spectrum appear in other Alan Jacobson novels? Which novels do they appear in (some appear in more than one). Which characters appear in Alan’s short stories?