Reading Group Guide
Heart Songs and Other Stories
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. In “On the Antler” Hawkheel Leverd and Bill Stong play out their childhood rivalry in a series of exchanges involving antique books, food poisoning, and private hunting places. What is at the heart of their disagreement? What leads Hawkheel to destroy the valuable books he purchases from Stong?
2. “Even to the bastard descendants the Stones were predators” (“Stone City”). Discuss the legacy of the Stone family and its connection to Banger and his dog, Lady in How do the Stones continue to wreak havoc on the residents of Chopping County? What role does the fox narrative play in this tale?
3. “Bedrock” explores the relationship between Perley and his second wife, Maureen. How do Maureen and her older brother, Bobhot, enter Perley’s life? How does Perley’s interaction with Maureen as a young girl relate to her mistreatment of him in their marriage?
4. “A Run of Bad Luck” explores the emotional undercurrents between family members about to go hunting. Discuss the relationship between Haylett, and his son, Amando. What does their exchange about the road damages reveal? Later, how does Haylett try to protect Amando, and what do his efforts suggest about his feelings for his son?
5. How do Snipe’s encounters with the Twilights in “Heart Songs” seem fated? When Snipe admits to himself that he doesn’t love Nell, but that “It had always been the truck in the weeds,” what does he mean?
6. How do the hunting lessons that Santee gives Earl in “The Unclouded Day” hint at the tensions between old-time locals and moneyed newcomers? Why does Santee agree to teach Earl, and what does he get out of it? What does the end of the story suggest about Santee’s true feelings toward Earl?
7. Discuss the wrecked camp in “In the Pit”? What does the camp (and its missing toaster) symbolize to Blue? Does Blue’s behavior toward Mr. Fitzroy and Gilbert to recover his parents’ missing belongings seem justified? In light of his actions, how did you interpret Blue’s discovery at the end of the story?
8. What brings Rivers and Sauvage together in “The Wer-Trout”? How does fishing for giant trout in the Yellow Bogs separate them? Why does Rivers tell Sauvage the legend of the Wer-Trout, and what is its significance in this story?
9. In “Electric Arrows,” what explains Mason’s contempt for his neighbors, the Moon-Azures? Why does their discovery of what they believe to be a native American petroglyph please Mason? How is their discovery related to Mason’s memories of his father and his father’s friend, Diamond, installing electricity in farms?
10. What explains Albro Sweet’s attraction to Rose Noury in “A Country Killing”? What does Simone Sweet’s reaction to the news of the murders suggest about her knowledge of her husband’s indiscretions? Did you interpret her reaction as proof of her involvement in the murders?
11. How does Albina Muth’s appearance on the scene change the relationship between Buck and Walter in “Negatives”? How does Walter’s photo session with Albina hint at exploitation? In what sense is that exploitation mutual?
12. Many of the stories in Heart Songs—including “Negatives,” “The Wer-Trout,” “Electric Arrows,” “The Unclouded Day,” and “Stone City”—examine the conflicts that arise between locals and new neighbors who are ignorant about the longstanding traditions of their community. Did this theme resonate for you? Did any of these stories portray this tension in a way that you found especially powerful? What themes does the title story Heart Songs carry through the other tales?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION
For musical inspiration prior to your discussion of “Heart Songs,” check out The Anthology of American Folk Music from your local library. This cd anthology was drawn from the holdings of Harry Smith, a music lover who amassed an impressive collection of 78 rpm recordings by little-known American artists in the years prior to World War II.
Visit http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/jul/anthology/ to listen to recordings of folk songs by groups like The Twilights in Annie Proulx’s story.
In “Negatives,” Walter’s interest in photographing people like Albina Muth is mockingly referred by Buck B. as an obsession with “The Rural Downtrodden.” Many famous photographers have sought to capture the plight of the impoverished. Walker Evans, in his famous book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, took a series of realistic and revealing portraits of tenant families. Visit: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG97/fsa/gallery.html and discuss these images in the context of “Negatives.”
Visit your local historical society or town hall to learn more about the family or families who founded your community. Or, seek out any memoirs or biographies written by people who played a part in settling your region. Try to find out if those families are still living in your town, and share your findings with the group. You might discuss whether there are any stories or legends associated with those families, and talk about those in the light of the story “Stone City.”