The Last Train to Key West discussion questions

1. THE GREAT DEPRESSION: This book is tied to our last Book Club selection, This Tender Land, by its Great Depression-era setting. (The Last Train to Key West takes place in September 1935.) How does the Depression impact the lives of the characters? How do current events shape their lives in this novel?  

2. WOMEN IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION: Elizabeth says, “This depression is hard on all of us, but it’s hardest on women still.” (p. 50) What effect did the Depression specifically have on the women in the story? Would the events have been different had a natural disaster hit during a different time?

3. ARE PEOPLE WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES MAKE THEM? Early in the story, Helen says, “People are what circumstances make them.” Near the end of the story, we encounter the following musing: “Maybe Tom was never a good man and I couldn’t see it. Maybe he did the best he could and life knocked him down until he became someone unrecognizable. And maybe the truth is somewhere in between.” (p. 291) What do you think: to what extent do circumstances make the man (or woman?) 

4. LIFE CHANGE: Throughout the novel, several characters echo the sentiment that “your life can change in a moment even if you never saw it coming.” How does each woman’s life change over the course of the weekend?

5. MARRIAGE: How do the characters’ views on marriage change throughout the course of the novel? 

6. CLASS: “When so many of your struggles revolve around money, it’s hard to envision any other sort” (p. 36) Two of the women, Mirta and Elizabeth, come from wealthy families. What similarities and differences do you see in their lives? How do those influence the choices they make?

7. DESPERATE PEOPLE: Every character had something to fear. The novel demonstrates how people react differently to fear and desperation. How did some of the characters risk it all when faced with danger and loss? How did others play it safe?

8. HOW MANY SETBACKS CAN A PERSON TAKE: Two characters ask this question (p. 143 & 269), though all of the characters in the story experienced trauma. How does it shape them?

9. VETERANS OF THE GREAT WAR: Were you surprised to read about the veterans’ lives? What struck you about their experience? Are veterans or other populations that have served offered similar fates today?

10. SETTING: Have you ever experienced a hurricane or other natural disaster? How did the experience influence you? Did your experience change the way you read and/or understood the story?

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