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An Ocean in Iowa

An Ocean in Iowa

A Novel

  • reading group guide
In a small town in Iowa, Scotty Ocean has announced that seven is going to be his year. It does turn out to be his year, but not quite the one he had imagined. It is the year his mother abandons the family. At first, Scotty does astonishing things to get her to return. When he realizes she won't be coming back, he decides he must replace her. And when that proves impossible, he takes the dramatic step of trying to remain seven forever.
Funny, sad, and constantly surprising, An Ocean in Iowa explores the fragile contracts between parents and children and what it really means to grow up.
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780684859705 | 
  • April 1999
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
Discussion Points
  1. An Ocean in Iowa is a striking title because of its incongruity. What is the title conveying about Scotty's feeling about his place in the universe and his ability to fit into his environment?
  2. The father in this story is strikingly complex, eliciting anger in some scenes, and tremendous sympathy in others. In the end, what do you make of him? Do you feel sympathetic towards his situation? Or, do you feel that he is in a situation of his own creation, and somewhat deserving of his misery? Is he really miserable, or has he come to terms with his life by the book's close? How do you interpret his identification as the Judge, rather than father or Walter, through most of the book? Does this say something about his character or about the primacy of his professional role over his familial role?
  3. The mother is a major character despite the fact that she appears in relatively few scenes; she is ever present even in absence. What do you make of her, on how is your feeling limited by her absence? Like the Judge, she is a complex character. Do you feel sympathetic for her, or do you blame her for the problems she has wrought on herself and her family? Is she, in some ways, a victim to her time? How would her life have been different had this been the 80s? 90s? How would it have been the same?
  4. This book is set in 1969, just as the women's liberation movement is beginning. How would t
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