Warning: Contains Plot Spoilers!
Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams
By Brent Hartinger
Twenty-four year-old Russel Middlebrook moves to Los Angeles with his boyfriend Kevin to try to make it as a screenwriter, but things don’t turn out like he expected.
Major Themes and Ideas
(1) Disappointments are inevitable in life, but we can still control how we react to them. One possible benefit to disappointment is how it can bring us closer together with those we love.
(2) No matter how self-aware we try to be, it’s still easy to deceive ourselves; many things are obvious only in retrospect.
(3) It’s both the highs and the lows of life that make us feel alive, but you can’t have one without the other.
(4) The more you strive for, the more you’ll feel.
(1) Russel starts out the story being quite confident that he won’t fall victim to any of the usual Hollywood pitfalls, because he’s seen so many movies about the city. Are movies the same thing as real life? In the end, how is Russel’s experience in Hollywood like a movie after all? How is it different?
(2) Do you think it’s true that people in positions of power or influence are more likely to look down their noses at other people? Why do you think that is? How have you encountered this in your own life? Have you ever been the one looking down your nose? Were you being fair?
(3) Kevin senses there’s something off about Russel’s movie deal. Was he right to try to warn Russel? Is there anything he could have said to make Russel listen?
(4) The author has said that the book is, in part, an homage to the classic movie about Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard. In what ways does the book reference the movie? Thematically speaking, how are the book and movie similar? How are they different? (Here are my thoughts on the matter.)
(5) Sunset Boulevard came out in 1950. How has Hollywood changed since then? In what ways has it not changed?
(6) Is Mr. Brander a villain? Is there any way he could be a victim too? But if Mr. Brander’s not a traditional “antagonist” in the book, who or what is?
(7) How does Russel’s physical description of the city relate to the book’s themes?
(8) What do you think of Lewis?
(9) What do you think about the fact that Gina and Regina are quitting Hollywood despite being very talented? What do think of Russel’s point that society is very judgmental of people who quit? Is it sometimes okay to quit something, even something important?
(10) Can you save other people from themselves? Should Russel and Kevin have done more to help Daniel? Should they have told Zoe about the porno film? Why do you think they didn’t?
(11) Russel is determined that Los Angeles will not change him: that he will not lose his “soul”, that he will not become an asshole driver, that he will not give into despair. But the city ends up changing him anyway. Do you think this says more about Los Angeles or Russel? Are these sorts of changes inevitable?
(12) What do you think of how Russel ultimately reacts to the changes he senses in himself? Have you ever experienced these kinds of changes in your own life, where they’re only obvious in retrospect?
(13) Russel repeatedly says it doesn’t matter if the ghost of Cole Gordon is real: Is he right?
(14) Russel says he thinks there’s probably a really interesting lesson about how the thing that once kept Otto from being more successful as an actor ended up helping in the end, but Russel isn’t quite sure what the lesson is. What do you think it is?
(15) Have you ever felt intense desperation or despair? Why did you feel it? What did you do about it? Did you learn anything from it, or was it just pointless emotion?