Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. How does the excerpt from the Marge Piercy poem that serves as the epigraph to the novel set the stage for what follows? Why do you think the author chose this particular passage?
2. At self-storage auctions, Flan bids on objects that used to belong to other people, and, in many cases, were important to those people. How do objects inform our sense of identity? Do you believe some part of our selves is stored within the ephemera of our lives?
3. Do you have any experience with self-storage facilities? Did the novel change your impression of secondhand goods?
4. When Flan first meets Julia, she fantasizes about kissing her. Later, she has other fantasies about sexual encounters involving women and men with whom she comes into contact. Are these feelings the result of Flan’s frustration with her relationship with Shae, or is something else happening?
5. Is Flan right to help Sodaba? Can you imagine other ways of helping her than the ways Flan chooses? What would you do in Flan’s position?
6. How does education—both formal and otherwise—affect the characters in Self Storage?
7. Flan and her family experience communal living of a sort in their family student housing neighborhood. How do their living arrangements impact the events of the novel? Have you ever experienced a similar sense of community?
8. Are Shae and Flan responsible parents? Do they become better parents over the course of the story?
9. What role does motherhood play in the novel? Who are the strongest maternal figures? The most surprising?
10. Were you familiar with the work of Walt Whitman before reading Self Storage? If so, did the excerpts here—and the role Whitman plays in Flan’s life—change your impression of him? If you were not familiar with Whitman’s poetry, are you inclined to read more of it now?
11. When Flan finds a piece of paper with “yes” written on it inside a box, it leads her on a quest to discover the source of “yes” in her life. Is her quest successful? What is the source of “yes” in your own life? Have you ever thought of the word in this way?
12. Self Storage takes place in the year following the 9/11 attacks. How has America changed since that day? How does the novel reflect that change?
13. When Flan decides to sell her copy of Leaves of Grass, do you think that means that she has moved beyond her need for Whitman, that she is free of him? If not, how might Whitman continue to play a role in Flan’s life?
14. At the end of the novel, Flan fears that she is about to be arrested and perhaps “disappeared” by the government for her role in spiriting Sodaba to safety. Are her fears justified, or does running away represent an opportunity for Flan to change her life? Do you view this ending as hopeful, or ominous?