Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1) Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from a third person omniscient point of view instead of using a first person narrator? How might your reading experience have been affected had it been told only through the eyes of Sam?
2) How do outside forces, like weather, seem to play upon what the main character may be feeling? In what ways does the physical world relate to what is happening in Sam's emotional landscape? Why does the author choose to develop this parallel between Sam and the world that surrounds him? What do we learn about him that we might not otherwise learn?
3) Sam's journal is a substantive part of this novel and becomes more and more important as the story moves on. In chapter thirteen, his journal entries make up nearly the entire chapter. In what ways is this journal almost like a character in and of itself? How does it help shape plot, and what kind of insights does it give us into Sam's loneliness and his love for his family? If the journal entries had been left out, how would this novel be different?
4) Talk about setting as it is presented in this novel. How does the serene, natural beauty of the farm highlight larger themes that the author may be trying to explore?
5) Kate and Carrie's concern for their father, and their desire to treat him like a child or an invalid, reaches an almost comic level at many points in this novel. All children worry about elderly parents, especially ones with health problems, but why do you think these two women go so far in their attempts to take care of Sam? Is this strictly comic relief, or do you think the author might be making a more profound statement about growing old?
6) It is interesting that one of the most important characters, Cora, is not physically present, having died before the novel begins. In what ways do we get a sense of who this woman was, even though she is absent? Did you feel that you had a clear picture of her character? What kind of woman was she?
7) The white dog is somewhat of an illusive presence: no one is sure whether it is a real dog, a ghost dog, or a dog at all. Howard Cook observes, late in the novel: "Maybe the lesson the Lord had intended for him to learn was in the white dog.... Maybe the dog was like the whale in the Jonah story, or like the lions with Daniel, or the doves of Noah's ark. Maybe the dog was the message and Sam Peek only the messenger." Keeping this quote in mind, talk about what the white dog means for individual characters and what she ultimately might represent in the world of this story. Did you believe that she was, as Sam insists in the end, the ghost of Cora?
8) In the same scene, Howard Cook also thinks to himself, "The Lord had finally put Sam Peek and Howard Cook together, and there was a reason for it, a reason other than helping Sam Peek find his way to Madison." Do you think there is divine intervention throughout this novel? Can you think of any other instances that seem to imply that a greater power is at work, or any which call that idea into question?
9) Why do you think it is so important to Sam to make it to the reunion? What is the significance of the picture of Cora and Marshall that he takes with him? Why has he chosen not to share it with his children?
10) If you had to describe Sam to a friend, what kinds of adjectives would you use? Is he a happy man? A proud man? A smart man? In what ways, if any, does he change by the end of the novel? What people or events cause him to change?
11) At the end of the story, the author states that this novel is based on "the truth -- as I realized it -- of my parents." Did this revelation change your reading of the story? How might your experience with this novel have been different had this disclaimer been made at the beginning of the book?