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  • Written by Dennis Bock
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  • Written by Dennis Bock
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On Sale: August 13, 2013
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-385-34969-7
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Charlie Bellerose, a Canadian ex-pat, has built an enviable life in Madrid: a beautiful wife, a precocious daughter, a burgeoning empire of language academies. But when his marriage threatens to fall apart, he finds himself uprooted and returning home to Toronto. There he finds something unexpected: his wayward, frivolous older brother—himself in the thick of a vicious divorce—wants to make amends with him.
       Charlie forges new bonds with his brother and nephews, but aches to reunite with his daughter. The longer he stays in Toronto, the more figures from his past resurface—old loves; friends long forgotten—and Charlie must figure out where his home and family truly lie. Masterfully rendered and deeply felt, Going Home Again is a beautiful exploration of the unexpected contours of life.

Excerpt

Chapter One
 
There was no reason to think anything would be different between me and my brother the previous summer, in 2005, when I called ahead to tell him I was coming back to Toronto to try out my new life as a single man. I’d been studying the possibility of taking the business across the Atlantic for years, but for too many reasons to count, I’d never managed to pull it off. After finding out about the Supreme Court justice named Pablo, though, and having by then bunkered down at the Reina Victoria Hotel for two months, I was feeling sufficiently unsettled to actually do it. I needed some changes in my life. New schedule, new people, new rhythms. I was hoping for something else but wasn’t at all sure what it might be. The challenge of setting up my fifth language academy was a project that would focus my energies in the meantime and perhaps turn off the panicked voice in my head that kept telling me things I didn’t want to hear.
 
I wondered if some overlooked germ of hope had lain dormant in my heart over the years since I’d last seen my brother. But it wasn’t an easy telephone call to make at the time. There had always been some fundamental confusion between us, a wall, in effect an unending failure to imagine how the other saw and thought about the world that too often made things go sideways between us. That’s what had happened in Madrid the last time I’d seen him. We’d spoken by phone half a dozen times since then—on a birthday, his or mine, or the shared anniversary of our parents’ deaths—and I’d always come away glad to know he was well but also relieved that our lives were separate and distinct and that the problems between us might remain buried to the end of our days.
 
They had met only once, Isabel and Nate, when he came through Madrid back in 1992, the summer of the Barcelona Olympics and the Seville World’s Fair, after dumping the girl he was traveling with in France. He turned up at our door one night and told us he was heading down to check out the señoritas in Seville, then going back north to try to score some tickets for the sailing competitions in Catalonia. We put him up on the couch for a week. Showing him around my adopted hometown, I took him to the oldest restaurant in the world and spent a wad of money I didn’t really have. We wandered through neighborhoods packed with bars and clubs. Nothing seemed to impress him. In fact he found it all just a little bit irritating. The city was too hot and dirty and loud; he bitched and moaned about train schedules and shitty restaurants and the near-complete absence of spoken English in the streets and hotels. I got the impression that every- thing he saw in Spain made him feel superior, though of course he didn’t say as much. His last night with us he got stupidly drunk and said he wanted to go find some prostitutes. At first it was a joke I could almost brush aside. But he kept insisting. Then he draped his arm around Isabel’s neck and asked if out of the good- ness of her heart she could possibly loosen that grip she’d fastened around my balls, the boys just wanted to go out and have some fun for a change. That’s when I took him out for a drink he didn’t need and told him he could find some other couch to sleep on. I knew he had some experience with prostitutes. I didn’t care so much about that, since we both did. What I couldn’t stand was him treating Isabel as if she were some sort of obstacle in my life. The whole week had been building up to that moment. He’d been throwing out little put-downs and challenges, testing to see how far he could push me. When I told him what a selfish prick I thought he was, he took a swing at me right there in front of the bar. Not nearly as drunk as he was, I just stepped aside, went back to the apartment and took Isabel out to dinner. His backpack was gone when we got home a few hours later. The taps in the kitchen and bathroom were open full blast and a jug of water had been emptied into our bed. It was probably three or four years before I talked to him again.
 
So I was surprised, maybe even a little suspicious, I’ll admit now, when he offered to pick me up at the air- port. What might have changed, I wondered. A few hours into my flight I became convinced it had to be a misunderstanding and doubted he’d show. At baggage collection I watched an empty baby bassinet make three solitary revolutions and weighed my immediate prospects. I had a pocketful of euro coins that weren’t going to do me a lick of good here, a cell phone with thirty-seven Madrid numbers on speed dial and one single solitary local address written out on an old Post- it in my wallet. For an uncomfortable moment I felt something like a college student on the first leg of the big trip, tired, woefully underprepared and full of conflicting emotion. I saw my brother for an instant then—he was standing in the concourse—when the automatic doors that separated us opened. I almost didn’t recognize him, not because he’d changed—he hadn’t—but for the simple shock of seeing him there.
 
He was holding a newspaper in his right hand and wearing jeans and a green golf shirt. I might have smiled when I saw him—surprised he’d actually come to meet me—and then I wondered if he somehow knew I was limping home at the end of my marriage. Would he remind me, after thirteen years apart, that he’d always come out on top in the competition that seemed to rule us? Steeling myself, I collected my luggage and continued to the doors. He saw me and waved, and when we embraced, I recognized the cologne that our father had worn when we were boys. I didn’t know what it was called, but its scent opened my eyes like an old family photograph.
 
“My big little brother,” he said. “Welcome home.”
 
“It’s good to see you, Nate,” I said.
 
I’m taller than my brother by two fingers, have been since I caught up and passed him at the age of fourteen, and when we stood back from our embrace, he put his hand on my shoulder—the railing still separated us at hip level—and nodded and smiled as if some pleasant observation was registering in his mind. His hair was thick and dark, gelled or greased and cut short in a way that made him look younger than his years. He looked more or less as I remembered him. He was a fit and handsome man, like our father, with strong shoulders and a natural athletic grace that had favored him throughout and beyond his high school years. I couldn’t begin to imagine how much my appearance had changed since then. I had expected a similar aging in my brother, of course, the beginnings of a paunch or the thinning of hair that followed on our father’s side. But there was no hint of that. The years seemed to have passed him by. His face was still unlined and youthful-looking, his dark hair was thick as ever, and he wore the same conspiratorial and dazzling smile he’d used to his advantage when we were kids.
 
There were no awkward silences between us that day. As he drove me into the city—we were riding in air-conditioned comfort in a big white Escalade that afforded us a bird’s-eye view of the laps of the drivers in the next lane—he mentioned his kids three or four times, how great they were, what they did for fun, how he liked nothing more than hanging out in the back- yard and grilling hot dogs and burgers for them. Sticking to the upside of my life, I told him that Ava was an athletic and popular kid, almost twelve years old at that point, a kid who loved to read, did great in school and had a knack for languages. “Can you believe it? Us as dads,” he said. “The mind boggles.”
 
A few minutes later he pointed out an office tower in the distance, tall and glassy and shimmering in the afternoon sunshine, sixty stories of gold-tinted windows. He was a partner with one of the big law firms in that building, specializing in sports and entertainment. His client list had a number of golf and baseball and hockey players on it. The only name that stood out for me was a young female tennis player’s, likely because I’d always kept an eye on that game for its connection to memories of summer evenings spent rallying tennis balls against the south wall of my high school. Cycling, tennis and swimming had been my areas of concentration, solitary sports whose lack of bullish camaraderie seemed to make him suspicious at the time.
 
“Sounds like you enjoy what you do,” I said.
 
“There aren’t a lot of guys around these days who can make that claim.”
 
“I’m not saying life’s perfect where I’m sitting. I’ve got a bit of a domestic situation going on.”
 
“Oh?”
 
He told me that Monica—his sons’ mother—had moved out in April, three days after tossing her wedding band into the Toronto harbor at the end of a night on the town with three girlfriends. Now she was living with an older Swedish man who owned what he described as a multidimensional sports-and-entertainment complex for the modern adventure-seeking kid, a high- end, one-stop birthday emporium called Wonderworld. The man in question had come over from Scandinavia  in the early nineties and doggedly built a chain of these franchises across the country.
 
“That’s where she met the guy. At our kid’s tenth birthday party. Nice, eh?”
 
“I’m sorry to hear it,” I said.
 
Since then Nate and Monica had hashed out an agreement where the kids were concerned. Everything else was still up in the air. Technically he took his sons every other week, but now he was traveling so much and so often that he was barely able to keep up his end of the deal. His tone when he told me this wasn’t whiny or bitter, not on that first afternoon, anyway. If anything he seemed contemplative—a word I never expected to use to describe my brother. But that’s how he came off that day as he drove me into the city. It seemed he’d been humbled. It stood to reason. You can’t go through something like that and not be.
 
I listened to the rest of his story, then told him something of my own great humbling. The two stories were dishearteningly similar.
 
He nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” he said, “that sounds just about right. Bang, bang, bang. Half the marriages on our street have gone bust. It’s a freaking epidemic here. Maybe it’s different in those Catholic countries. But here . . .” He shook his head again, then smiled.
 
“What?”
 
“You know those little fridge magnets? The ones with writing on them? Some little bead of wisdom or saying or whatever to warm your day.”
 
 “Sure. I think so.”
 
“We had one on our fridge forever. I didn’t think much about it. I thought it was just a joke. It used to give me a laugh.”
 
“What did it say?”
 
“‘Men are like floors. If you lay them right the first time, you can walk all over them for years.’ ” He smiled a big genuine smile.
 
“Who’s going to argue with that, right?” I said.
 
“But that was her basic philosophy. Typical passive- aggressive bullshit that women get away with all the time now. Maybe it’s different over in Spain, who knows? But a guy puts some sexist joke about women on his fridge here, he’s automatically a misogynist and creepy asshole. Stay long enough, you’ll see for yourself.”
 
Nate lived in the city’s east end, two blocks north of the old Don Jail, in a nice-looking neighborhood set at the edge of a deep, wide valley. When he led me through his house that afternoon he told me it had been featured in House & Home and Architectural Digest; he managed to impart this information without seeming to brag, though of course that’s exactly what he was doing. He directed my attention to an oversize book on the coffee table called Rustic Cottage Ontario, and when he flipped it open to a photograph showing the vacation property he’d recently bought two hours north of the city, I told him it looked like things were going well for him.
 
And it was true. The walls in the room he’d led me into were hung with colorful paintings, and the hardwood floors were covered in fine rugs. The overall feel of the place was original, homey and expensive. It seemed he’d made himself into a success. But I hadn’t intended the comment to be understood this way, if in fact it had been. I’d meant to say that he’d taken his life in a positive direction, or so it appeared, given what the details seemed to suggest. Despite the domestic situation he’d referred to, my brother had ended up a family man, or at least some version of one. I saw the traces everywhere: a golf putter, a base- ball glove, a heavily thumbed copy of the latest Harry Potter; playing cards were scattered over the dining room table; a Monopoly set was open midgame on the coffee table beside the cottage book. Someone had left a skateboard in the middle of the living room floor, and rather than cursing and stepping over it as we moved into the kitchen he lowered his foot decisively against its stern, and the board obediently popped up into his hand, and he tucked it under his arm with a smile. It was a trick he might have per- formed in the family driveway thirty-five years before. And that’s when I wondered for the first time if my brother had truly changed. Had I judged him too harshly? Had I even remembered him correctly after all those years?
 
 
Two cats appeared from behind a couch, one black, one white, and disappeared up the carpeted stairs. He leaned the skateboard against the wall, its wheels still spinning noiselessly, and grabbed two bottles of Heineken from the fridge. We stepped out into the backyard. Overhead was the sort of sky that seems to go on forever. There was nothing but blue up there and a single widening and blurred contrail that cleaved the heavens in perfect halves. “To the end of long journeys,” he said, raising his bottle. The small tree fort that sat in the crotch of an old maple at the far end of the garden was awash in afternoon sunlight. The fort was painted a cheerful Mediterranean blue that held the light with a sharp warm glow, and the driftwood and cedar trees that bordered the property seemed to lean inward, as if they were expectant of some rivalry that might now make itself known and listening intently.
 
“This is your place now. For as long as you want. Seriously. We set up a room upstairs.”
 
I told him I appreciated the offer, that it meant a lot to me, but I’d booked a room in a hotel downtown.
 
He insisted, shaking his head. “That’s not how it works here,” he said. “You’re our guest. Absolutely not. No way. You’re not leaving. The boys have been looking forward to this. They’ve heard all about Uncle Charlie now. You can’t just suddenly disappear. They’ve been talking nonstop about—” And with this he smiled and gestured over my shoulder. I turned and there were his sons, Titus and Quinn, big grins eating up their faces. They were both wearing baseball caps and long, brightly colored shorts. “Thing One and Thing Two,” he said.
 
Titus was ten that summer, two years younger than Ava, but he was already as tall. His head came up to my chin. I shook hands with both boys. They were perfect little gentlemen that afternoon.
 
“Welcome to Canada,” Titus said. “It’s very nice to meet you.” With his thick curly brown hair, he looked much like I did at that age. He was gangly and awkward, at the point in a boy’s life where muscle and coordination seem to disappear under the blitzkrieg of skeletal growth. Quinn, two years younger, was blond and cheerful as a brand-new sports shirt.
 
Both boys’ eyes were brown, like their dad’s, Ava’s, and our father’s. Well tanned and radiantly healthy, they’d just finished two weeks of canoe day camp on the Toronto Islands. They told me what sports and hobbies they’d done there, and I pulled out some pictures of their cousin and told them that she loved swimming and playing soccer, too, and that with any luck one day they’d meet.
 
“But why does she live over there?” Quinn said.
 
“That’s where she’s from, you idiot,” Titus said.
 
“She’s Spanish!”
 
“But Uncle Charlie’s not Spanish, are you?” Quinn said.
 
“I’m from here. Just like your dad. I went away for a long time. And now, poof, I’m back.”
 
Titus seemed to take this as a satisfactory explanation and then, apropos of nothing I was aware of, showed me what he’d learned in karate class earlier that week. He waved his little arms in the air and did a few turns and kicks, ending with a horizontal chop.
 
Quinn looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Okay, ninja boy,” he said. 

Dennis Bock|Author Q&A

About Dennis Bock

Dennis Bock - Going Home Again

Photo © Derek Shapton

Dennis Bock is the author of three novels: The Ash Garden, which won the Canada-Japan Literary Award; The Communist’s Daughter; and Going Home Again, which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He lives in Toronto.

Author Q&A

A conversation with Dennis Bock
author of GOING HOME AGAIN


Q: Was there a particular event or idea that inspired GOING HOME AGAIN?

A: I never start writing a book with a clear focus on what I’m going to end up with. Writing for me is a process of discovering the story as I’m pulled into it. Same goes for character and theme. No idea until I’m sitting on top of it. What I tend to do is start small—usually with a voice—and watch the thing grow before my eyes. Sometimes it doesn’t grow or move in any interesting direction. That’s why I tend to write many drafts, and often discard. More often than not an idea fails to develop, a character withers, a story goes nowhere. That’s when I trash it and go looking for something  else. It can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, but when I finally hit on a character that bears scrutiny and finds his way into story that sustains interest, that’s when I know I’m onto something. The artistic process affords no guarantees. Hit and miss all the way.


Q: The book’s epigraph comes from John Banville: “Move on, move on, as we are directed to do at the scene of an accident, or a crime.” How does this tie into the book?

A: There are a few crimes of the heart in my novel, not to mention a couple of literal crimes. In some manner or other, Charlie’s connected to all of them. As a man looking at the death of his marriage, he’s taken some hard knocks over the past couple of years. He’s wounded and staring into what might be a bleak future. The Banville quote is a bit of advice I thought he could use.


Q: Charlie, the protagonist in GOING HOME AGAIN, is influenced by many strong characters, including his estranged wife, daughter, ex-girlfriend, and brother. How does Charlie’s relationship with one character help us to understand his relationship with another?

A: Charlie’s a pretty consistent and honest sort. He doesn’t treat people differently according to what they can or can’t do for him. If we learn anything, it’s that. He’s genuine in his interactions and relationships. All the more interesting, then, when he resorts to extreme measures.


Q: Charlie travels the world, managing the language academies he establishes in various cities. The novel is set primarily in Toronto and Madrid—what do these two cities mean to him and how do they affect who he becomes?

A: Toronto and Madrid serve as counterpoints in the novel. In both cases they’re cities to be escaped from and to escape to. He leaves Toronto as a young man eager to discover the world. As a city he was sent to after his parents died, it represents dislocation and loss. Following his university days, Madrid provides him a second chance. It’s the place where he’ll transform himself from the ironic hero of his own life to the romantic hero. How could it be otherwise? He’ll find love here and, in the end, retreat to the place here he started.


Q: There are so many complex, lovable yet flawed characters in this book. Are there any characters you are particularly fond of, or had an especially good (or difficult) time writing about? Do any of your characters remind you of yourself?

A: I identify strongly with Charlie. Most of us have experienced the sort of emotional loss he deals with in the novel. I admire his courage and trust his need to express his anger. He is, essentially, a decent man, severely tested as his personal life disintegrates before his eyes. I feel sympathy and respect for him, but not pity. Pity you reserve for those who cannot help themselves. In this most challenging year Charlie is nothing if not self-reliant, searching, and actively engaged in sounding out the fates of his own life. I’d have to say that I’m particularly fond of him, though Ava, his daughter, comes a close second.


Q: Charlie and his brother Nate have a fragile relationship, complicated by loyalty, rivalry, and revenge. In spite of his many flaws (and the two significant crimes he ultimately commits), do you feel a certain sympathy for Nate? Is it possible to completely disentangle oneself from a sibling, in spite of how drastically our moral convictions might differ from those of a brother or sister?

A: Sympathy, yes. Maybe that’s surprising. I don’t think Nate enjoys being who he is. His character is his fate. He’s trapped within the confines of his failings, and one of those failings is the eternal struggle to prove himself in his brother’s eyes. Why, I have no idea. Some weird stew of admiration, envy, competitive spirit, and lust fuels Nate’s actions, and there’s nothing Charlie can do to understand where his brother’s coming from. You might reasonably be expected to cut someone like that out of your life for good; you might argue that his brother’s actions and moral failings warrant a complete rupture, and Charlie’s sorely tempted. But the same blood runs in their veins, and blood, like the idea of home, always calls you back to where you began.


Q: GOING HOME AGAIN shifts seamlessly between past and present, building up towards a devastating revelation, in which Charlie learns the truth about something that happened many years ago. He thinks, “that world of our youth, so long a source of strength for me, was gone.” What do we learn from Charlie about the relationship between truth and happiness?

A: Truth sticks around longer than happiness does, and where truth might be a bitter pill to swallow, as it is for Charlie at this point in his life, it’s at least an opening onto the future. You don’t need truth to be happy. We walk around with small, self-created fictions that help get us through our day. But happiness, which in my mind is a far bigger fish than simply being happy, depends in large measure on how honest you want to be with yourself, and with other people. Charlie doesn’t hide from the truth, but he does carefully select those bits of the past he chooses to return to, all the while steeling himself with convenient fantasies of a rosy future as he prepares for the end of his marriage. 


Q: For many of the couples in GOING HOME AGAIN, even when they break up, their relationship never really ends, especially when they’ve had children together. How can we reconcile the permanence of relationships, even after they’re broken off?

A: The past is never really past, right? An ended relationship stays with us in the same way, even after we’ve moved on to the next partner. It’s constant—perhaps buried and less urgent—but there it is. For Charlie, the passage of time helps him correct the imperfections of the past. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. It provides a kinder and more forgiving vessel in which we navigate the painful memories of our failed loves. Charlie is a very smart man, but he is also a romantic. Maybe most of us are when it comes to remembering first loves. He knows his wasn’t all that easy, for example—that it’s marked by tragedy—but the allure is there, and he returns to it time and again, if only in his thoughts, in the intervening years before meeting her again two decades after those heady, youthful days.


Q: Charlie loves his daughter, Ava, tremendously, yet she struggles to forgive him for moving away. When a parent and child are separated by such distance, how does their relationship suffer or grow as a result?

A: In Charlie’s case, his physical separation from his daughter highlights the selfishness of his desire to start anew. His need to leave Madrid is nothing less than an accusing finger pointing straight back at him. He doesn’t love his daughter any more or less, but he loves her more painfully. Her absence is a grinding anguish he carries with him. Perhaps it helps him understand better what his priorities are.


Q: Ava is a master of riddles, and the book’s title, GOING HOME AGAIN, is a bit of a riddle itself. What does “home” mean to Charlie?

A: For generations, leaving home was an economic or political necessity. My city, Toronto, is full of individuals and families who had to move there, but didn’t necessarily want to. The same is true of most cities across North America. You stay home and your life ends, literally or figuratively. Tough as it is, the decision is clear. Get out. That’s the first, and typical, immigrant. 

Then there are those who leave home just because they can, because they’ve got some wanderlust buried in their heart that needs to be taken out for a long walk. That was my case when I went over to Spain after I graduated. I went simply because I could, not because I had to. I kicked around that country knowing full-well that there was nothing holding me back from getting on a plane and going home again. I ended up staying five years. That sort of freedom of choice presents a very different set of problems from those faced by the traditional immigrant. The economic and political realities back home for the Somali guy holed up in a Detroit neighbourhood are as real as the cold hard floor under his feet. Living abroad because you choose to is more an intellectual puzzle than a socio-economic one. But the nostalgia, the pull you feel, is every bit as powerful, at least it was for me. Every day you wake and ask yourself why the hell you don’t just pick up and get back to where you came from. There’s an emotional brinksmanship that goes on in the heart of those who make the decision to put down roots elsewhere when in fact they could simply leave, and that brinksmanship is something that Charlie becomes more and more aware of as he straddles both sides of the Atlantic. He’s in the rare position where he’s homesick for two places, not one—two cities, two cultures, two identities. It’s great territory to explore in a novel. Too many homes, too many commitments, too much yearning to leave, and to arrive.


FOR BOOKING INFORMATION:
Erica Hinsley
ehinsley@randomhouse.com / 212-572-2018


 
 

Praise

Praise

“With a poet’s precision, Dennis Bock limns the inner landscape of a man in crisis, using elegant language to chart the lonely, least-articulated corners of the human heart. . . . From the very first page, one feels the sure hand of a master at work; this is a novel of secrets and lies, of betrayal and murder, a searing emotional portrait that deepens and intensifies to the point of breaking. But Bock’s patient confidence as a storyteller, and his light touch, ensure that the novel resists melodrama, even as it refuses to look away. Going Home Again is a graceful lament, an eloquent novel about what can be lost, and what regained: a true testament to the enduring passions of being alive.” —Jury Citation for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist

“Hard to put down. . . . Sad yet hopeful, brisk yet thoughtful, reflecting Bock’s generous talents as a storywriter.” —The Toronto Star
 
“A tense, riveting, beautifully layered novel, Going Home Again is an exquisite story of a complex and troubled family. Dennis Bock is a superb writer.” —Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

“An intimate, controlled examination of traditional and current attempts at defining exactly what home is. . . . It feels good to have Dennis Bock in our corner.” —Anniston Star

“Masculine. Wistful. Romantic. . . . [Bock] write[s] so romantically about the very real and ordinary concerns of middle age.” —Montreal Gazette

“[A] beautiful and multi-layered novel. . . . The natural, understated elegance of Bock’s prose quickly becomes quite addictive.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“Excellent, and sensitively written. Going Home Again is a story bound up in complex emotions and subtle character development, sad and yet hopeful with its haunting reminder that we are damned or redeemed by our passions.” —Linden MacIntyre, Giller Prize-winning author of The Bishop’s Man and Why Men Lie

“Finely crafted, disarmingly casual prose that quietly penetrates the reader’s mind and heart.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The introduction, author biography, discussion questions, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Going Home Again, the compelling new novel by Dennis Bock.

About the Guide

With wit and compassion, Dennis Bock paints a vibrant portrait of an ordinary man, bringing to life his charged relationship with his older brother, his haunting first love affair, his life as a long-distance father, and the tragic deaths that force him to confront who he is and what he really wants.
 
When his marriage begins to fall apart, Charlie Bellerose reluctantly leaves his wife and daughter in Madrid and returns to his native Canada. The owner of several language academies around the world, he focuses on opening a new school in Toronto and reestablishing a relationship with his estranged brother, Nate. Nate, the father of two boys, is in the midst of a messy divorce, and Charlie finds comfort in his role as uncle and in rediscovering a long-buried affection for his brother. With his work at the school, a budding romance with a local woman, and, most of all, his Skype sessions and visits with his beloved daughter, Charlie is settling into a new life—until a chance encounter with his first love stirs bittersweet memories and illuminates the complicated web of loyalty and rivalry, love and heartbreak that has shaped him.The questions, topics for discussion, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Going Home Again, an engaging and compelling novel.

About the Author

Dennis Bock, a novelist and short story writer, is the author of The Ash Garden and The Communist’s Daughter. His travel writing and book reviews have appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, and other publications. He lives in Toronto.

Discussion Guides

1. Why do you think Bock begins with a prologue that offers a provocative glimpse of the novel’s ending? What does the scene convey about Charlie’s marriage, his relationships with Isabel and Ava, and his feelings about Nate? Are your first impressions of the brothers confirmed or belied as the novel unfolds?

2. On the surface, Nate seems to be an easygoing and confident man. What aspects of his behavior when Charlie arrives show him to be a more troubled and complex person than he would like to appear?

3. "That I began to like my brother again couldn’t have surprised me more” (p. 24). What enables Charlie to overcome the anger and resentment he has toward Nate? How do their current circumstances influence the way he feels? How does sibling rivalry, past and present, affect their interactions? How does their relationship compare to yours with your siblings?

4. Discuss the incident at the swimming pool (pp. 25–31). Why does Charlie react the way he does? Do you think he was right in deciding not to tell Nate about what happened?

5. Charlie thinks “. . . our loved ones were capable of far more than we were able to handle . . . there were conflicting worlds within us all, and those worlds were ready and willing to defy us at the worst possible moment?” (p. 35). To what extent does this explain or justify the anger and humiliation that characterizes many family disputes? How does it relate to the brothers’ concerns about their children?

6. What does Charlie’s reaction to seeing Holly reveal about the effect she and Miles had on him (p. 40)? How do his memories of their days together compare to his recollections of Nate when they were young (p. 32, pp. 66–68, pp. 71–75)? Why do some periods of our lives remain vivid while others fade? Have you ever tried to burn a particular memory into your mind, as Charlie does after Miles’s death (p. 81)?

7. Why do Holly and Charlie distance themselves from each other after Miles dies? What brings them together a year later? Does Charlie’s interpretation of why they can’t stay together make sense (p. 103), or is his decision to leave “cowardly” (p. 105)?

8. In what ways do Charlie’s travels in Europe and particularly his time in Spain mark a turning point in his life?

9. What does Isabel’s last-minute change to the Christmas plans indicate about her attitude about the separation (pp. 124–25)? What spurs Ava’s accusations that “you [Charlie] think I’m just some stupid kid you can lie to, and I’ll just believe whatever you tell me” (p. 134? Why does the visit in Paris leave Charlie struggling with his decision to move to Canada (p. 138)? Are children sometimes more able or willing to recognize the repercussions of their parents’ choices?

10. What incidents are warning signs of Nate’s downward spiral? Is Charlie guilty of ignoring the significance of these events?

11. Do you agree with Charlie that Ava, Titus, and Quinn are fated to “limp into adolescence and early adulthood with the same fears and anger that hobbled me and their father” (p. 118)? What determines the prospects of happiness for children of divorce? Can a friend or family member play a role in preventing or mitigating the harmful fallout of a couple’s breakup?

12. When Holly tells her story about the night Miles died, Charlie thinks, “In less than a minute the last twenty years had been entirely recast . . .” (p. 199).  What do you think would have happened between Holly and Charlie if he had known the truth immediately? Is Holly’s decision to keep it a secret justifiable? In what ways does Holly’s revelation give him a new perspective on his marriage?

13. After Nate commits a horrific act of violence, Charlie can’t “understand why at this grim stage of his life [Nate] so desperately needed to hold sway over me” (p. 250). What explanations can you offer for Nate’s behavior as well as Charlie’s reaction to it?

14. Discuss the novel’s title. Beyond his literal moves to Canada and back to Madrid, what does the notion of “going home again” mean to Charlie?

15. How does Charlie’s profession relate to the themes of Going Home Again? Using examples such as Ava’s brainteaser (pp. 8–9), Charlie’s experiences with a Spanish girlfriend (p. 65), and his thoughts on the way Germans speak English (pp. 100–101), discuss how the study and use of language is woven into and enhances the meaning of the novel.

16. Going Home Again moves between past and present. Is Bock equally successful in bringing the different times to life, or are the depictions of the characters and events of one period or setting more vivid and engaging? Do you think your age, personal experiences of love and marriage, and gender contribute to your point of view?

Suggested Readings

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending; Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz; Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot; Jonathan Franzen, Freedom; Mary Gordon, The Love of My Youth; Carol Shields, Larry’s Party; Elizabeth Strout, The Burgess Boys

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