Reader’s Guide to Riding on Comets: A Memoir

1. Cat Pleska uses the metaphor of riding on comets for her memoir’s title and cover illustration. What did this signify to you as you read the book? Where else do comets come into the story?

2. Pleska opens her memoir with a scene of an imaginative little girl secure in the comfort of her family’s love. Does this introduction set the stage for the chapters that follow?  If so, how?

3. In the Introduction (p. 1) Pleska reports she struggled to keep their (her family’s) stories in the shape in which they (the family members) formed them. In your opinion, did she succeed? How?

4. Pleska makes use of the sights and smells of childhood and the language common in an everyday family’s life. Did this seem realistic? What did you like best about the use of the sights and smells of her childhood?

5. The author writes about the fears of childhood: the closet hiding devils, monsters under bed, etc. Did you experience the same fears during your childhood? What were they?

6. Have any of you experienced poltergeist type activity in your lives? What happened?

7. Throughout the memoir some folkways and superstitions are included.  Did you notice any specific to Appalachia?

8. What situations in the memoir stood out as most painful? Why? Most lighthearted?

9. Pleska admires the writing of memoirists Rick Bragg (All Over But the Shoutin’) and Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes).  Does her memoir recall their work for you?  If so, how?

10. How was Pleska’s father’s drinking explained to her? How was her mother’s mental illness explained to her? Would these situations still be handled in this way in most families?

11. Pleska says some stories “get away” from the teller and are lost in time. Is this true in your experience?

12. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story “Night on Cheat Mountain” in three voices? What differences are in the stories?

13. Chapter 36 deals with funeral details.  What do they reveal about the family?

14. The memoir is set mostly in a particular era of Appalachia. How do the lives of the men, women, and children differ where you come from? How do today’s children cope with the problems Pleska faced?

15. Discuss the Apocalyptic dream that Pleska includes. What does the imagery tell you about the author and her thinking at the time?

16. How does Pleska bring her story full circle?

17. In the epilogue, Pleska tells the reader about a dream of her mother. Does the imagery and details reflect the chapter “A Tone” when the author is a little girl relating her first memory? If so, in what ways?

18. Was this memoir similar in its construction with others that you’ve read? If not, how was it different?

19. Do you think this memoir has universal appeal?

20. If you could ask the author a question, what would it be?