Reading Group Guide
His trouble seemed to shift rather than repair.
When Loyal Blood accidentally kills his girlfriend, he abandons his family farm in Vermont and sets out on a journey across America that will continue for the rest of his life. The only communication he has with his family is in the form of postcards of which he sends with no return address. Because of this, he will never learn of his father's suicide, the loss of the farm, his sister's marriage, or his mother's tragic death. Alternating between Loyal's misadventures-including everything from being trapped in a mine to being scalped by an Indian-and the misfortunes of the family he leaves behind, Postcards chronicles the disintegration of the farming industry as well as the fate of the Bloods who must adapt to the new realities of post-World War II life or face their own extinction.
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Postcards is a compelling tale of the dark side of the American dream and "marks Proulx as a gifted prose stylist who renders her characters on the page to mesmerizing effect" (San Francisco Chronicle).
1. For Loyal, what was "the moment when everything shifted, when the route of his life veered away from the main line"? Do you think that he is to blame for the tragic events that befall his family after he leaves the farm-his brother and father being arrested for arson, his father's suicide, his mother's poverty? If so, then is he also responsible for the good that comes out of the bad-his mother's independence, his brother's wealth, his sister's love? Where does this book stand in the free will vs. fate struggle?
2. The coyote appears throughout Postcards. Track the coyote's image in this novel and determine what meaning it has to the protagonist and his story.
3. "The place was as fixed as a picture on a postcard" (page 12). Discuss the author's use of postcards-in the title and as chapter headers. How does it tie into the theme of the novel? How is this form of communication important to the character of Loyal?
4. Loyal drifts from job to job-machining, mining, prospecting for uranium, working in an observatory, digging for dinosaur bones, trapping, and farming. What does each industry reflect about his character or quest? Do you see Loyal as a failure or a quitter? Or are they one and the same to you?
5. "He carried the Indian's book around with him for years before he started to write in it" (page 15). Why does Loyal keep the Indian's book? What does he write in it? How are the lives of Joe Blue Skies and Loyal intertwined?
6. "All her life she had taken the tufted line of the hills against the sky as fixed, but saw now that the landscape changed..." (page 126-127). Why does Jewell decide to learn how to drive? How does this decision change the course of her life?
7. Postcards has been compared to classics such as Native Son by Richard Wright and An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. Discuss these comparisons as well as any other works with similar themes and quests.
8. Jewell tells her daughter: "It was considered pretty terrible to get divorced, so they put up with a lot, things no woman today would put up with" (page 180). How do the lives of Jewell and Mernelle mirror the women's liberation movement of the time. Do you think the females in this novel fare better than the males? In your opinion, are the characters such as Jewell, Mrs. Nipple, Mernelle, and Starr-women who outlive their husbands-being rewarded or punished?
9. "He had tried to keep the tremulous balance of his life, walking a beam between short friendships and abrupt departures" (page 186). How are the characters that Loyal meets up with in his life-Wulff and Bullet, Ben Rainwater, Mr. Doffin, Jack Sagine, Frank Clove, and the Indian-similar? What do each contribute to Loyal's journey?
10. Postcards is full of irony-the most significant event being the outcome of the discovery of Billy's body, Loyal's reason for self-exile. Talk about other ironies that Loyal is unaware of as well as those that affect his family members. Is there significance to the characters' names?
11. Go back and read only the postcards in the book. Did you discover something you hadn't seen before? Why are there no postcards for the "What I See" chapters? From whose perspective are these chapters written? What does this narrative choice add to the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club:
1. Take your book club to a local farm where you can pick your own produce. Find one near you at www.pickyourown.org or www.newfarm.org/farmlocator.
2. Write an excerpt from the book-a sentence or two that really resonates with you-on postcards and mail them to members of your book club. Keep the cards anonymous and let everyone guess who sent each quote. The person with the most correct guesses get to pick the next book club selection! (Make your own postcards at http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/results.aspx?Scope=TC&Query=postcard)
3. On a map, trace Loyal's journey from Cream Hill, VT to his last destination.
Who Said That?:
"...that's the most important thing in the world, getting to know another person, and probably the hardest thing, too" (Answer on page 121).
"It's curious, really. Neither of us knows anything about the woods. Neither of us knows anything about the other. Yet we both love this place. We both dreamed about huts in the forest when we were kids" (Answer on page 130).
"I refuse to accept the fate life handed me. I will make my own fate" (Answer on page 139).
"I lead a wonderful, clean life" (Answer on page 156).
"The bones are dead, just remains, but the tracks-look, something alive, a living animal made the tracks" (Answer on page 157).
"My work is flawed, but it's a consistent flaw" (Answer on page 169).
"Life cripples us up in different ways but it gets everybody. It gets everybody is how I look at it. Gets you again and again and one day it wins" (Answer on page 173).
"I worked on getting them gardens up the way I like for most of my grown-up life and I am not about to turn them over to the wildlife" (Answer on page 174).
"I could tell you about shotguns, make it sound bad, describe you the grief they've caused, but I come to see it's more like a habit kind of a thing you know, like it's just a pretty good way to clean up a life that's gone dirty" (Answer on page 206).
"This family has got a habit of disappearing" (Answer on page 225).
"There's so much money in the illegal it surprises me anybody's still on the decent side of the fence" (Answer on page 258).