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Cross Over The Tracks

by Josh Booth

Discussion Questions

 

Cross Over the Tracks examines the lives of two brothers who seemingly “made it” out of their Appalachian small town to pursue law degrees, hoping to move beyond the perceived dead-end roads of their hometown, Huntington, West Virginia.  Unlike his brother, Luke decides to forego the practice of law and pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Although much of his work is in comedy magazines and satires, he finally stumbles upon an issue worth taking seriously. The twins’ small town in West Virginia is being overrun by heroin. Luke believes that this is the story he was meant to write.  On the other hand, Jacob sees his law degree as a one way ticket to respect and affluence but becomes bitterly dismayed to discover the stark realities of his chosen profession.  As one brother chases success and the other chases a story, both will come face to face with the consequences of their choices and discover deep truths about themselves and their futures. 

 

About the author:  Josh Booth was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia.  He graduated from Marshall University with a creative writing degree and received his Juris Doctorate from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  He practiced law for twenty years.  He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and two daughters.


Part I   Beginnings

Chapters 1-4

The author opens with the statement that the perception of time varies with age, that those who have reached midlife tend to analyze time retrospectively.  Which memories of your past stand out the most to you?  Do you tend to remember more the painful times or happy ones?

Both Luke and Jacob were anxious to leave their small town to pursue careers and relationships and cities far different than their roots. What aspects of the boys' upbringing did you see  that was worth keeping and cherishing?  Which aspects of the boys’ experiences in Huntington, West Virginia, negatively affected them?

How did your hometown upbringing positively affect you?  How did it negatively affect you?

What is beneficial to staying and living in one’s hometown?  What is beneficial in establishing oneself in a totally new environment?  

What were your expectations when you left home?  How has your life played out according to those expectations?

In the late 1990’s, Huntington West Virginia experienced almost unmatched disability fraud conducted by criminal attorneys, doctors, and judges, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.  Subsequently, the city has also suffered from rampant pain pill and crystal meth addictions, and now heroin.  Why do these scenarios persist in the Appalachian region?  Why do you think these communities seem unable to reverse these dark social trends?


Part II  Luke

Chapters 5-8

(Chapter 5) In law school, Luke gained friends from extremely diverse backgrounds.  Dylan had a philosophy degree, loved to quote Camus, and spent the previous two years backpacking in Ireland.  Erik was a modern-day Viking, former college football player, and avid fan of Metallica.  Aaron was ethnically Chinese but grew up in Malaysia, spoke five languages, and had moved to San Francisco when he was in high school.  Woody was an open, outgoing friend who grew up on an army base in Germany, whose dad was a full-bird colonel.  What do you think drew these men together and connected them as friends?  In what ways do you imagine these friends challenged and sharpened Luke?  How would the setting of a coastal beach town influence these relationships?

Do you think you have good diversity amongst your friends and acquaintances?  How have your friends challenged and sharpened you?  How has your city setting affected your opportunities for relationships?

Which of your friends has a background that is most diverse from your own?  What aspects of this person’s personality or life experiences drew you to them?  

Luke’s apartment had an eclectic mix of heavy metal memorabilia, a swaying-hipped Elvis clock, George Orwell’s 1984 propped up on the mantle beside action figures, flying lint from the unattached dryer vent, and fly strips hanging above a sink full of dirty dishes.  All forms of technology were blaring simultaneously.  What did your post high school or college living space look like? How was it similar to or different than Luke’s?

(Chapter 6)  Luke writes his first editorial in Res Ipsa Loquitur about the practice of tipping at restaurants.  Do you agree with his viewpoint?  What basic rules do you follow when tipping wait staff, hairdressers, cleaning maids at hotels, etc.?

(Chapter 7) Do you agree or disagree with Luke’s editorial that music is the soul of the universe, that it connects us and affects us more deeply than almost anything else?  What are the top five songs of your biography soundtrack?

After Luke got off his restaurant shift, he swung by a grocery store and ended up paying for a woman’s groceries.  Do you try to pay attention to people and situations like that in public places?  What was your most recent experience of seeing someone you don’t know in need?  What are some reasons that prevent people from helping in similar situations as Luke’s?  

(Chapter 8)  Luke’s good friend, Eddie, graduated with a chemical engineering degree but had a true passion for sports, nutrition, and wellness.  In your opinion, should Eddie have pursued his passion as a career?  What were some options he could have considered?

Have you been able to marry your passion with your career?  If not, do you have a sufficient outlet of expression for that part of yourself?

Much to the chagrin of his parents, Luke rejects the normal trajectory of law school graduates and takes a huge gamble.  He stays true to what he loves, writing for a start-up web magazine.  He and his wife remain in the Tidewater area, surrounded by fun and friends, and they get by waiting tables locally until their careers develop.  If you were Luke’s parent, would you support his decision?  Do you think most graduates feel that kind of freedom to completely change course after receiving their degrees?    


Part III  Jacob

Chapters 9-11

(Chapter 9-11)  It takes Jacob seven long years of undergrad and grad school to become a lawyer.  During that time he solely focuses on becoming successful and investing all his energies in studying and working without taking time for hobbies or friendships.  Contrast his higher education experiences with those of Luke’s.  Do you consider yourself to behave more like Luke or Jacob?  What are the disadvantages and advantages of each brother’s unique personality and drive?    

Even though Jacob begins making good money and acquiring wealth, he remains dissatisfied with his work and his acquisitions are not enough to satisfy.  He continues to work tirelessly in order to provide for his wife and children, because he doesn’t want them to struggle with poverty the way he did.  How do you imagine Jacob’s upbringing influenced and affected his thinking and perceptions?   

What are some common temptations upwardly mobile professionals face?  

Jacob and Benjamin reach a point of near total business and personal financial collapse.  Why do you think they were unable to reach out to someone for support and help during this time?  Why did Jacob reject his wife’s attempts to comfort?  Does our culture encourage men to honestly engage with others when faced with deep challenges as this?  What prevents men from opening up to others during personal times of crisis? For those who do not receive support, what other things do these men in crisis turn to?   

How does our culture define and measure success for men?  How is success defined for women?  What are the tangible markers which seemingly indicate success?  In what ways do these messages negatively impact men and women?  How do these messages impact career choices?  How do loved ones contribute to and fortify these messages?  How can they counteract them?


Part IV  The Wells Brothers

Chapters 12-15

(Chapter 12)  The brothers take a road trip back home to Huntington for a few days.  How have Jacob’s perceptions changed?  How has the town itself changed?  What has been the impact of heroin?  Have your perceptions of your upbringing changed over time?  What do you appreciate now that you didn’t before?  How does your childhood compare with those children living in your city now?    

(Chapters 13)  Jacob and Benjamin’s nightmare takes the darkest turn.  What are some warning signs of suicidal behavior that we should all be aware of?  Why is it difficult for close family members to see these signs in their loved ones?  What role can prescription medication play in suicide?  

How do our cultural messages of success, achievement, and affluence impact our society's mental health?   What resources are available to men and women facing midlife crises?  

How has Jacob’s thinking changed since the suicide and his leaving the firm?  How is his life changing?  What sacrifices did he have to make in order to completely change course?  What kinds of things is he now appreciative of?  What new doors are opening to him?  What is the impact on his family?  

(Chapter 14)  What are some ways heroin impacts a community?  What stereotypes are perpetuated through media outlets?  What makes certain cities more susceptible to drug  addiction?  

(Chapter 15)  Jacob believed for years that he had grown up on the wrong side of the tracks.   How has his perspective changed?

What major themes do you see woven throughout the book?


Questions of faith

Jesus stated in Luke 14:33 that we cannot become his disciple unless we give up everything we own.  Jacob was forced to give up his luxury home, vehicle, and lifestyle in order to find a way out of the hell he was living in.  In turn, he found a vibrant spiritual community, the restoration of his family and friendship bonds, and a priceless internal peace that financial success could not buy.  Would you be willing to sell your luxury possessions for the sake of your faith?  How should the words of Jesus affect our pursuit of the American Dream?  How does living more modestly affect our relationships with others?

Jesus stated in Luke 11:41 that we make our hearts clean by giving to the poor.  Even though Luke and Renee didn't have much money, they consistently found a way to give to waitresses, single moms, and others in need.  Do you know first-hand what it's like to be poor?  How does that experience influence your perspective on giving to the poor?  How can you find more ways to connect to and give not only financially, but of your time and resources to those in need?