The Loop

About The Book

Lyman, a thirty-year-old orphan, is sipping coffee on the front steps of the trailer he calls home one morning, when a ninety-year-old parrot arrives with a beakful of cryptic sayings -- such as "That which hath wings shall tell the matter" -- and a mysterious past. Convinced that heeding the bird's wisdom will lead him to answers about himself he so desperately seeks, Lyman combines his night job as a courtesy patrolman, circling the highway that loops around Fort Worth, with days in the library. Together with Fiona, the loquacious librarian, he traces his adopted pet's origins, and while what Lyman ultimately discovers may not help him piece together his own past, it paves the way for a future he never imagined.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Much of the book's plot revolves around the main characters' work. Are Fiona and Lyman suited to their jobs? In what ways do their career choices seem unlikely? How does Coomer use Lyman's and Fiona's jobs to reveal their personalities? Recall and discuss Lyman's experiences, encounters, and discoveries on the Loop highway. How do they affect him? How does Coomer use the Loop as a metaphor for Lyman's stalled life? Why does Coomer choose to have Lyman work the night shift? What effect does this have on the mood and tone of the book?
2. Discuss Lyman's complex relationship to dogs. Considering his affection for canines, why doesn't he have a pet dog of his own? What does Lyman's ability to both love living dogs and bury the unfortunate ones on the Loop reveal about his character? What do you make of his impulse to call the owners of the missing pets he buries? At one point, Lyman refers to Fiona's dog, Floyd, as her "religion." What does the book as a whole seem to say about the nature of people's relationships with their pets? What purpose do pets serve in the world Coomer describes? What do they provide? What can't they provide?
3. Discuss the theme of religion throughout the book. Considering Lyman's cynicism toward religion, why does he treat the parrot as a prophet, calling its arrival a "blessing" and its sayings "revelations"? What exactly does the parrot symbolize? God? Wisdom? The allure of the past? The unknown? The unknowable? Is Lyman searching for a religion he can believe in, or an alternative to religion? Or is he simply, as Fiona suggests, looking for confirmation of his own personal philosophy?
4. Compare and contrast Lyman's reactions to Fiona and the parrot, the two loquacious creatures who intrude on his solitary life. How does he behave toward each? How does he respond to what they say? Why are the parrot's random and repetitive utterances more meaningful to Lyman than Fiona's eloquent insights and blatant advances? Why does Lyman initially view Fiona as a distraction from his "mission," thwarting her efforts at closeness while devoting himself to the bird's needs and care?
5. During their nocturnal adventure on the Loop, Fiona disparages Lyman's friend Tammy for missing a tooth and Lyman says: "Most of the people I know are missing something." Indeed, several characters in the book are missing body parts. And other characters have lost parents, children, and pets. Discuss the themes of loss and discovery throughout the book. If the book were viewed as a "Lost and Found," would the losses outnumber the "finds"? What is Lyman missing? What does he think he's missing? What is he most in need of finding? What is the significance of Lyman's losing a toe during his heroic rescue of Floyd?
6. Lyman believes that finding the bird's owner will be "akin to finding the message behind the universe." But instead of revelations or a wise prophet, Lyman's quest turns up a string of rather ordinary people. Do their diverse stories and circumstances shed light on Lyman's search for meaning? Do their reminiscences have common themes? Whose past connection to the parrot has the most relevance to Lyman's own life? Though they are not what Lyman expects, in what ways do the prior owners provide more of what he needs?
7. Throughout the book, does Lyman look for wisdom in all the wrong places? Is he guilty, as Fiona accuses him, of "looking for meaning where there is none"? Who are the wisest characters in the book? Does Lyman recognize their wisdom? What is the significance of Lyman's giving away his unusual trophy collection?
8. Most of the parrot's utterances are attributable to a previous owner. But the saying from Ecclesiastes -- "That which hath wings shall tell the matter" -- remains an enigma. Why does Coomer choose to preserve this piece of the bird's mystery? The final "black, unknowable hole" of the bird's past is a band of gypsies who speak with foreign accents. What is the significance of this?
9. Discuss the significance of Lyman's living in a "blocked up" trailer, a dwelling designed for movement that has been stuck on a lot for decades. How does his home and its contents reflect Lyman's personality and reveal his character? Why is it important that Fiona is the one to get his mobile home back on the road? Does her preparation and "hijacking" of Lyman's trailer seem a fitting start to their future together?
10. The second to last section of The Loop is told in Fiona's voice. What effect did this shift from a third-person to first-person point of view have on you as the reader? Did it change the way you viewed either or both of the main characters? Why does Coomer let Fiona speak to us directly at this point in the novel? By the end of the book, does Fiona know Lyman better than he knows himself? Does she better understand his needs?
11. Lyman's search for the parrot's owner becomes a quest for enlightenment. What do the results of his search say about the author's views on man's plight and the meaning of life? Does the book as a whole argue that there is meaning in the world to be found; that we each have to create our own meaning; or that any search for meaning is a fallacy, a dead end. Does the book as a whole support Lyman's belief that life is utterly capricious and arbitrary? How does love factor into the equation? What is love's role in helping us find or create meaning?
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
The Loop began with a happenstance sighting of a courtesy patrolman burying a dead animal in the highway median of Loop 820 around Fort Worth, Texas. My own headlights reflected off the blade of the shovel for an instant. I wondered what kind of person would take such a job, and had a simultaneous sensation of guilt that it wasn't me. Having given a character his work of circling a hot city in the dark, of burying the animals who tried to enter or escape it, and who cares for human wreckage as well, I wanted to know how he got there. Luke is the means to this end. He was born when a woman walked into our antique mall and told us she'd been given a parrot who insisted he was an eagle. While searching for the parrot's history, Lyman has to come to terms with the simple value of searching and moving beyond a tight orbit. Fiona, my alter ego, sees that part of the world "handled" by others so the rest of us won't be bothered, and must come to terms with her own responsibilities, and does so by actually carrying Lyman, who's been wounded, off the field of honor, and on to a destination, a road with an end. For me this is a love story, inhabited by people on the verge of understanding. They're animals caught out in the middle of the road, blinded by light. All the people and animals they meet have crossed this road. Their stories, however abbreviated or disguised, are Lyman's and Fiona's and Luke's stories, too. I came to write this novel in a roundabout way, aided by characters and ideas that appeared at random. I wrote this novel in the exact same way I fall in love.

About The Author

Joe Coomer is the author of Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, The Loop, Sailing in a Spoonful of Water and an award-winning book of nonfiction, Dream House. He lives in Texas and Maine.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (February 2002)
  • Length: 208 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780684871240

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Raves and Reviews

The New York Times Read this book -- and feel better while you wait for the world to make sense.

The New Yorker Impossible to resist.

Amanda Heller The Boston Globe Coomer writes so well, with such freshness and authenticity, that we hate to put the book down.

Corinna Lothar The Washington Times Joe Coomer is a marvelously creative comic writer: Lyman's lonely, lively mind, his generous and timid spirit, Fiona's quirky originality, and, of course, the aged parrot who proudly announces, "I'm an eagle," take the reader on an adventurous, and all to brief, ride around the Fort Worth loop.

Tom Pilkington The Dallas Morning News Funny, briskly paced...heartwarming...a wonderful book.

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