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  • Ernie's Ark
  • Written by Monica Wood
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780345477163
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Ernie's Ark

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The paper mill looms up from the riverbank in Abbott Falls, Maine, a town once drenched with ordinary hopes and dreams, now praying for a small drop of good fortune. Ernie Whitten, a pipe fitter, was three weeks away from a pension-secured retirement when the union went on strike eight months ago. Now his wife Marie is ill. Struck with sudden inspiration, Ernie builds a giant ark in his backyard. It is a work of art for his wife; a vessel to carry them both away; or a plea for God to spare Marie, come hell or high water. As the ark takes shape, the rest of the town carries on. There’s Dan Little, a building-code enforcer who comes to fine Ernie for the ark and makes a significant discovery about himself; Francine Love, a precocious thirteen-year-old who longs to be a part of the family-like world of the union workers; and Atlantic Pulp & Paper CEO Henry John McCoy, an impatient man wearily determined to be a good father to his twenty-six-year-old daughter. The people of Abbott Falls will try their best to hold a community together, against the fiercest of odds. . . .

Excerpt

Ernie’s Ark

Ernie Whitten was an angry man. He felt his anger as something apart from him, like an urn of water balanced on his head, a precarious weight that affected his gait, the set of his shoulders, his willingness to move through a crowd. He was angry at the melon-faced CEO from New York City who had forced a strike in a paper mill all the way up in Maine—a decision made, Ernie was sure, in that fancy restaurant atop the World Trade Center where Ernie had taken his wife, Marie, for their forty-fifth wedding anniversary last winter, another season, another life. Every Thursday as he stood in line at Manpower Services to wait for his unemployment check he thought of that jelly-assed CEO—Henry John McCoy, with his parted blond hair—yucking it up at a table laid out in bleached linen and phony silver, figuring out all the ways he could cut a man off at the knees three weeks before retirement.

Oh, yes, he was angry. At the deadbeats and no-accounts who stood in line with him: the Davis boy, who couldn’t look a man in the eye; the Shelton girl, with hair dyed so bright you could light a match on her ponytail. There were others in line—millwrights and tinsmiths and machine tenders whose years and labor had added up to a puff of air—but he couldn’t bear to look at them, so he reserved his livid stare for the people in line who least resembled himself.

He was angry at the kids from Broad Street who cut through his yard on their dirt bikes day after day, leaving moats of mud through the flowery back lawn Marie had sprinkled a season ago with Meadow-in-a-Can. He was angry with the police department, who didn’t give a hoot about Marie’s wrecked grass. He’d even tried city hall, where an overpaid blowhard, whose uncle had worked beside Ernie nineteen years ago on the Number Five, had all but laughed in his face.

When he arrived at the hospital after collecting his weekly check, Marie was being bathed by a teenaged orderly. He had seen his wife in all manner of undress over the years, yet it filled him with shame to observe the yellow hospital sponge applied to her diminishing body by a uniformed kid who was younger than their only grandchild. He went to the lobby to wait, picking up a newspaper from among the litter of magazines.

It was some sort of city weekly, filled with mean political cartoons and smug picture captions fashioned to embarrass the President, but it had a separate section on the arts, Marie’s favorite subject. She had dozens of coffee-table books stowed in her sewing room, and their house was filled with framed prints of strange objects—melted watches and spent shoelaces and sad, deserted diners—that he never liked but had nonetheless come to think of as old friends. He had never known her to miss a Community Concert or an exhibit at the library where she had worked three days a week since she was eighteen; every Sunday of their married life, Ernie had brought in the paper, laid it on the kitchen table, and fished out the arts section to put next to Marie’s coffee cup.

The weekly was printed on dirty newsprint—paper from out of state, he surmised. He scanned the cheap, see-through pages, fixing on an announcement for an installation competition, whatever that was. The winning entry would be displayed to the public at the college. Pictured was last year’s winner, a tangle of pipes and sheet metal that looked as if somebody had hauled a miniature version of the Number Five machine out of the mill, twisted it into a thousand ugly pieces, then left it to weather through five hundred hailstorms. Not that it would matter now if somebody did. The Burden of Life, this installation was called, by an artist who most likely hadn’t yet moved out of his parents’ house. He thought Marie would like it, though—she had always been a woman who understood people’s intentions—so he removed the picture with his jackknife and tucked it into his shirt pocket. Then he faltered his way back up the hall and into her room, where she was sitting up, weak and clean.

“What’s the latest?” she asked him.

He sat down on her bleach-smelling bed. She herself smelled of lilac. “McCoy’s threatening to fold up shop.”

“Sell it, you mean?” She blinked at him. “Sell the mill?”

“That’s the rumor.”

She put her fragile, ghostly hand on his. “It’s been eight months, Ernie. How long can a strike last?” She was thinking, of course, of his pension held hostage, the bills she was racking up.

“We’ll be all right,” he said. The word we always calmed him. He showed her the clipping. “Can you feature this?”

She smiled. “The Burden of Life?”

“He should’ve called it The Burden of My Big Head.”

She laughed, and he was glad, and his day took the tiniest turn. “Philistine,” she said. “You always were such a philistine, Ernie.” She often referred to him in the past tense, as if he were the one departing.

That night, after the long drive home, he hung the clipping on the refrigerator before taking Pumpkin Pie, Marie’s doddering Yorkshire terrier, for its evening walk. He often waited until nightfall for this walk, so mortified was he to drag this silly-name pushbroom of an animal at the end of a thin red leash. The dog walked with prissy little steps on pinkish feet that resembled ballerina slippers. He had observed so many men just like himself over the years, men in retirement walking wee, quivery dogs over the streets of their neighborhood, a wrinkled plastic bag in their free hand; they might as well have been holding a sign above their heads: Widower.

The night was eerie and silent. for sale signs had popped up even in this neighborhood of old people. This small, good place, once drenched with ordinary hopes and decent money, was beginning to furl like an autumn leaf. At the foot of the downhill slope of Randall Street, Ernie could see the belching smokestacks of Atlantic Pulp & Paper, the dove-gray plume curling up from the valley, an upward, omnipresent cloud rising like a smoke signal, an offering to God. Cancer Valley, a news reporter once called the city of Abbott Falls, but they needed the steam, the smoke, the rising cloud, the heaps and heaps of wood stacked in the railyard, even the smell—the smell of money, Ernie called it—they needed it. He thought of the son of a bitch working his very spot, this very night, wiping the greasy heat from his forehead; he wondered which of life’s cruelties had converged upon this man to impel him to cross a picket line, step over a man with a dying wife, and steal his job. Did he, too, have a dying wife? Eight months ago, watching the first of them marching in there under police guard, he could not have mustered a human feeling for the stranger hooking up chlorine cars or running pipe in the bleachery. Ernie’s own circumstances, his own livelihood, seemed to melt further into dream every day. Every few weeks there was word of negotiation—another fancy-restaurant meeting between McCoy’s boys and the national union—but Ernie held little hope of recovering the bulk of his pension. That, too, felt like knowledge found in a dream.

As he turned up his front walk, he caught the kids from Broad Street crashing again through his property, this time roaring away so fast he could hear a faint shudder from the backyard trees. “Sonsabitches!” he hollered, shaking his fist like the mean old man in the movies. He stampeded into the backyard, where Marie’s two apple trees, brittle and untrained, sprouted from the earth in such rootlike twists that they seemed to have been planted upside down. He scanned the weedy lawn, dotted with exhausted clumps of Marie’s wildflowers and the first of the fallen leaves, and saw blowdown everywhere, spindly parts of branches scattered like bodies on a battlefield. Planted when their son was born, the trees had never yielded a single decent apple, and now they were being systematically mutilated by a pack of ill-bred boys. He picked up a branch and a few sticks, and by the time he reached his kitchen he was weeping, pounding his fist on the table, cursing a God who would let a woman like Marie, a big-boned girl who was sweetness itself, wither beneath the death-white sheets of Western Maine General, thirty-eight miles from home.

He sat in the kitchen deep into evening. The dog curled up on Marie’s chair and snored. Ernie remembered Marie’s laughter from the afternoon and tried to harness it, hear it anew, make it last. The sticks lay sprawled and messy on the table in front of him, their leaves stalled halfway between greenery and dust. All of a sudden—and, oh, it was sweet!—Ernie had an artistic inspiration. He stood up with the shock of it, for he was not an artistic man. The sticks, put together at just the right angle, resembled the hull of a boat. He turned them one way, then another, admiring his idea, wishing Marie were here to witness it.

Snapping on the floodlights, he jaunted into the backyard to collect the remaining sticks, hauling them into the house a bouquet at a time. He took the clipping down from the fridge and studied the photograph, trying to get a sense of scale and size. Gathering the sticks, he descended the stairs to the cellar, where he spent most of the night twining sticks and branches with electrical wire. The dog sat at attention, its wet eyes fixed on Ernie’s work. By morning the installation was finished. It was the most beautiful thing Ernie had ever seen.

The college was only four blocks from the hospital, but Ernie had trouble navigating the maze of one-way roads on campus, and found the art department only by following the directions of a frightening girl whose tender lips had been pierced with small gold rings. By the time he entered the lavender art office, he was sweating, hugging his beautiful boat to his chest.

“Excuse me?” said a young man at the desk. This one had a hoop through each eyebrow.

“My installation,” Ernie said, placing it on the desk. “For the competition.” He presented the newspaper clipping like an admission ticket.

“Uh, I don’t think so.”
Monica Wood|Author Q&A

About Monica Wood

Monica Wood - Ernie's Ark

Photo © Dan Abbott

Monica Wood is the author of an earlier novel, Secret Language, and a guide for fiction writers, Description. Her short stories, some of which have been nominated for the National Magazine Award and read on public radio, have appeared in such publications as Glimmer Train, Redbook, Manoa, Yankee, Best American Mystery Stories 1997, Twenty Timeless Stories, and Sudden Fiction International. She won a 1999 Pushcart Prize. A native of Mexico, Maine, she currently lives in Portland with her husband. She can be reached at her Web site, www.monicawood.com.

Author Q&A

A CONVERSATION WITH MONICA WOOD
Monica Wood and Bill Roorbach met more than ten years ago at a writers’ conference in Maine, Monica’s home state, where Bill had just moved. They were born two days apart, which coincidence probably does nothing to explain their affinity. Recently, they taught together at a Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance weekend retreat at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle. Mornings before their respective workshops, they’d sit on the rocks over the ocean and look for migrating waterfowl and other
birds—not much luck, gorgeous September days, lobster boats working just offshore, waves breaking on the rocks, Monica in khaki shorts talking excitedly with her hands, listening carefully, too, Bill in worn-out Teva sandals, the two of them watching the water. Their conversation, by turns serious, boisterous, and intimate, was interrupted by frequent bursts of laughter, and punctuated with thoughtful silence. The subject was birds, and Monica’s newest book,
Ernie’s Ark.

BR: What kind of binoculars are those?
MW:
Swift Audubon, 8.5x40. The only drawback is weight.
They’re especially good for low-light conditions, unlike those
overpriced lightweights you’ve got.

BR: Hey, these are Swarovskis!
MW:
I know. I just said that because I’m jealous.

BR: Well then, let’s trade.
MW:
Deal.

They trade binoculars.

BR (looking through his new binoculars, enormously pleased
with them): I think that’s Barred Island over there. I saw a
shrike there once, perched up on top of a little spruce tree,
looking for a meal.
MW
(looking through hers, unhappily): The first shrike I ever
saw showed up on my porch two seconds after a goldfinch hit
the window. I’d been birding about, oh, two months, and I
thought: Aww, look at that nice mockingbird coming to help the
poor little goldfinch. Then the “mockingbird” grabbed the
goldfinch and took off to impale it on a thornbush.

BR: Jeez. That reminds me: how was your book tour?
MW:
Exactly like yours, I’m guessing. Zero to ten, but you can’t
predict which stop’s going to be the zero and which is going to
be the ten. I did a talk in Brunswick, Maine, that was very
modestly attended, but there was a man in the audience who
looked exactly, exactly, exactly like Father Bob, an uncle of mine
whom I totally adored. He’d been on my mind lately because the
novel I’m working on now has a priest character who was born
from my memories of Father Bob. This man in the audience was
smiling at me with Father Bob’s face, so I went over to him
before the reading to thank him for coming. He put out his hand
and said, “Monica, I’m your cousin.” I nearly fell over, because I
knew he had to be one of the Sturtevants I’d heard about in
childhood—their mother was my mother’s favorite aunt. Sure
enough, that’s who he was—Father Bob’s first cousin and virtual
twin—and I was so happy to meet him! He smiled all through
my talk, and really, it was as if Father Bob, who died before I
began to publish, were there in the flesh, saying, Good job,
honey.

BR: Well, see, good things come out of book tours. And
people must have enjoyed your readings tremendously. Ernie’s
Ark
is such a wonderful collection of stories. It’s much more
than the sum of its parts. I mean, each story is complete and
satisfying on its own, and brings to life these unforgettable
characters, but together the stories make a transcendent
portrait of a town, as well. Is Abbott Falls anything like your
hometown of Mexico, Maine?
MW:
It started out that way—as a composite of Mexico, and Jay,
where my brother lives, and Westbrook, where I worked as a
guidance counselor for eight years at the high school. But soon
enough the place became Abbott Falls, and the real-life
touchstones dropped away, revealing a place that, I hope, lives all
on its own.

BR: Oh, it does—I feel as if I’ve been there. Where did the
name Abbott Falls come from?
MW:
I named the town for my parents-in-law, Midge and
Herman Abbott, who are two of my favorite people. They live in
Rumford Point, which is just up-country from Rumford, which is
across the river from Mexico. All one place, really. Dan is from
Rumford.

BR: Now, who is Dan?
MW:
My husband, Bill, you clown. Dan Abbott. You know him
well. Anyway, naming the place after them seemed appropriate. I
think they were pleased.

BR: Okay, I’ve got something. What’s that? See it, just to the
right of the sailboat out there, full sail?
MW:
Common loon. If I can make it out through these
binoculars of yours. You were saying? About my fabulous book?

BR: Well, it is fabulous. Was any one of the stories harder to
write than the others?
MW:
“At the Mercy” was the biggest stretch—I’d never gotten
into the head of a CEO. “Take Care Good Boy” was the most
technically challenging, because I had to make solitude seem
interesting and forward-moving. “Visitors” took the longest
because there were so many people in it at cross-purposes. But
honestly, none of the stories seemed hard. This was the easiest
writing I’ve ever done, a total joy. I was so relieved and grateful
to be doing stories after the long slog of a novel. You’ve done
both—you know exactly what I mean.

BR: Was any one of the stories easier to write than the
others?
MW:
Though “At the Mercy” was a stretch, it was also the easiest
to write. Once I had the guy’s voice, I had the story.

BR: Few parents of multiple children will admit to having a
favorite, but most do. Who’s your favorite character in
Ernie’s Ark?
MW:
I’m awfully partial to Francine.

BR: Oh, I am too.
MW:
She’s such an outsider, so full of yearning to be something
she’s not, and yet she’s essentially comfortable in her own skin.
“Solidarity Is Not a Floor” is probably my favorite story in the
book, because I got to know Francine very well while writing it.
She’s the one I wish were an actual person. I think she’d like me.
I miss her a lot.

BR: Is she someone who will stay in Abbott Falls?
MW:
I doubt it. I’m not sure I’m finished with her, in fact. I see
her all grown up, inhabiting her own novel.

BR: Let’s talk about Ernie. He’s so loving and gentle, but all
that is layered on top of this boiling anger, too. And I love
the way he appears throughout the book, shown from
various other characters’ points of view. Here’s what I’m
curious about: did the book start out as a planned, nine-story
thing, or did it happen accidentally?
MW:
Pure accident. The title story was the first story I wrote,
having no clue it would beget my third book of fiction. I’m
grateful to Ernie for that. The way he first arrived was this: Every
day I used to see a man walking a tiny dog—you can’t even call
it a dog, it’s more like a mouse with DNA problems—past my
house, and I got to noticing older men all over the place, walking
little dogs. I mean, they were everywhere: old guys with wee
dogs. What gives? I asked myself, and finally concluded:
widowers. The image of Ernie walking his wife’s dog is the only
thing I had when I started. His other problems—the strike, his
son, the ark—came later, as I put together a life for him from
that one image.

BR (with a sigh for Ernie and all the widowers of the world):
My own favorite story is hard to pick—but I loved “At the
Mercy,” which you’ve said was a stretch for you—it seems
daring to move into the point of view of a corporate CEO, to
show (and you do it convincingly) his problems, his
humanity. Why are the rich and the big shots left out of so
much serious contemporary fiction?
MW:
Because most people, writers included—maybe writers
especially—identify with the losers, the outsiders. This guy’s a
winner, an insider, and I really like that he doesn’t apologize for
it. Yes, he accidentally bumps up against his emotional ineptness
in the situation I hand him—but he doesn’t turn into somebody
else as a result. The guy didn’t get where he is by being a
marshmallow.

BR: It strikes me that there are some very hot political issues
lurking throughout these pages—is politics something you
consciously engage in Ernie’s Ark?
MW:
There was a strike in Jay, Maine, in the late eighties that
went for months and months and tore up families and ruined a
lot of lives for a very long time. When I was a kid there were
other strikes, and talk of strikes; the very word had a way of
quieting a room. But the book is not about the political
ramifications of a strike; it’s about life behind and beyond and
between and inside the strike. Though the town becomes a
character in one sense, its inhabitants are what animate the
proceedings. The strike is a powerful vehicle for people to show
their true colors, but I didn’t include it as a device; it doesn’t
exist as a separate entity; it is woven into the lives of the
characters. The weave is tighter for some than for others, and for
certain characters—Bruce Love, for example—the strike makes
no impression whatsoever.

BR: May we talk about the ark?
MW:
It’s hard not to. The ark shows up someplace in most of the
stories, and comes to mean something to several of the
characters. I think Ernie himself doesn’t know why he’s building
it, except that it’s an impulse he can’t refuse. Perhaps it’s his way
of channeling a potential for violence that too many others have
discovered in themselves. That the ark is physically imposing is
important to me: I want it to be outsized, both as an artifact and
a metaphor, though at the same time I hope I was careful enough
not to get carried away with the symbolism.

BR: That’s one of the pleasures of the book—the ark is so
real, and sits there quietly through every story, at its various
stages of completion. To your credit, I never once thought of
it as a symbol as I read, though thinking back it does assume
proportions in the book befitting something so big and
biblical.
MW:
And Ernie’s building it is an act of desperation, of
communion, of hope, of despair. It worked on many levels for
me, which is why so many stories resulted from it. Ernie
understands that the town will never be the same after what’s
happened, so he’s determined to survive, whether he knows it
consciously or not. It’s significant that he doesn’t think twice
about his ability to build the ark. My favorite line in the book is
this one: “Ernie figured that Noah himself was a man of the soil
and didn’t know spit about boatbuilding.”

BR: I love that line, too—it does so much duty, for one thing
showing us the workings of Ernie’s mind. He’s rejecting
things spiritual at the same time he’s longing for them. Also,
the line is just plain funny. Here’s another line I like: “ ‘It’s a
boat,’ Ernie said, ‘a boat filled with leaves.’ ” And the book is
full of other great lines and paragraphs, lovely lyrical
passages. How important is language to you?
MW:
Language gives life to mere story. Language animates and
illuminates, allows the specific to become universal, allows the
ordinary to glow. It can be simple or complex, polite or violent,
depending on what the story demands. I’m one of those writers
who take forever to get a first draft down, revising relentlessly en
route. People ask me all the time, “Why not just write ahead to
the end, then go back and revise?” I’ve tried. I can’t. Language
itself is what leads me through the story. When I revise a
sentence or paragraph or scene twenty times before proceeding,
it’s not because I’m stalling, or blocked; it’s because the language
itself lights the way for the next moment in a story I don’t know
the end of. In the end, of course, I have to throw away a lot of
good, worked-on, polished stuff, which kills me, but I don’t
know any other way to pin down the story.

BR: Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Dos Passos said
something like, “We can tell how well we’re writing by the
quality of the stuff we’re throwing away.” But he was
probably drunk. Is Ernie’s Ark a novel in disguise?
MW:
Nope. It’s exactly what the cover says: stories. My editor,
Jay Schaefer, and I were in total agreement here. I hate this new
“novel in stories” designation.

BR: It’s not so new!
MW:
Still, I like to know how to approach what I’m reading, and
I want my readers to enter my fictional world wearing the right
shoes—you’re not hiking Everest, you’re taking many short trips
to the store. The pleasure of connected stories equals and often
surpasses the pleasure of the novel, but it’s a completely different
reading experience. I’d hate to have someone buy this book
thinking it’s a novel. Talk about your bait and switch!

BR: Do you keep a regular writing schedule?
MW:
I do. I’m a drone. People ask about my work schedule and
I have to start making things up to sound halfway alive.

BR: Your little writing house is so cool. I love the way you
step down off the deck there in back of your house, across a
little patio, and through the door into your writing world. Do
you ever feel isolated in there?
MW:
Hell, no! Dan says the welcome mat should read GO AWAY,
because it’s all woe unto those who dare enter. It’s my favorite
spot on earth. I still have the nicest memory of its beginning,
looking out the window and seeing Dan and my old friend
Patrick Clary digging up the backyard—by hand. I felt like quite
the queen bee that day, let me tell you, two big strong men
digging a foundation for my studio.

BR: That Dan is a sweetie. And you were actually very nice
showing me the place, that time, but you weren’t working.
What was that blackboard you have in there—all kinds of
strange notations on it?
MW:
It’s a whiteboard, actually. Probably it was filled with endof-
day notes to myself about where to begin the next day—
which page or character or scene to tackle, a fragment of a
sentence to start with. It’s hard to sleep otherwise.

BR: Whom do you read?
MW:
You. Really.

BR: Nice try, sistah. But I’m not giving you back these
binoculars. Now really, your house is filled with books—are
there one or two favorites you could mention?
MW:
I have so many favorites! There are so many magnificent
writers out there. Let’s see. Favorite classic: Middlemarch. Favorite
contemporary novel: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Story collections: Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever, Ron Carlson’s News
of the World
, Antonya Nelson’s In the Land of Men, and, really,
your Big Bend was my favorite from last year, and I’m not just
saying that because we’re sitting on this long drop of a cliff.

BR: Do you even think reading is important to anyone but us
anymore?
MW:
Us? Meaning “us writers”? No way. I got a letter last year
from a woman in Oregon who told me that reading my novel My
Only Story
to her mother after her father’s death helped them
grieve. It was the first time they’d ever really talked; they needed
the book as both a bridge and a shield. Can you even imagine
how that made me feel? I was bawling my eyes out. Reading
matters.

Long silence, the ocean smacking the rocks, seagulls calling, wind in
the trees behind Monica and Bill.

BR: Okay—what’s that big bird by the point there—it keeps
diving—there it is—what is that thing? I’m going to say it’s a
blue-footed booby.
MW:
Loon, Bill. Same one.

Monica takes advantage of Bill’s diverted attention and lunges. She
successfully recovers her binoculars, hands Bill back his own. He
reluctantly takes them. More silence, as Monica and Bill scan the
whitecaps with their properly respective binocs. Everything seems
clearer to both of them, suddenly.

BR (still searching the ocean): Have you ever fallen in love
with one of your characters?
MW:
So far I haven’t created anybody I could actually live with.

BR: Has one of your characters ever fallen in love with you?
MW:
I’ve been stalked, but that ain’t love.

BR: You’ve talked about a novel you’re working on, starring
priests. Is it your next project?
MW:
“Project.” Yeah, I’ll say. It’s a mess right now. I’d like to
throw it over this cliff. I can’t talk about it.

BR: That’s always the way, isn’t it? But eventually they get
done. Your books have been translated into several languages—
what’s it like working with translators? How do the books
look with foreign titles?
MW:
One language, at least for now: Italian. I met my translator
in Verona, a beautiful woman with a great heart. It was like
meeting a sister, or long-lost friend. She’s the only other person
on planet Earth who worried over every word of my book, just
as I did. I’m hoping for a French translation. That would be the
pinnacle of my career, honestly. I’m a hopeless Francophile.

BR: Well, we better go teach. What are you doing today?
MW:
I always start with technique; I figure the inspiration is up
to them. Today I’m using big posters on which I’ve written the
same scene in different points of view: omniscient, third-person
limited, and so forth. It helps them see the subtleties in narrative,
and reinforces the gravity of proper technique. I love this lesson:
I wait for the “Aha!” Don’t you love beginners? They remind me
how much I love writing.

BR: Okay—that’s a California condor. I’m sure of it, Monica.
MW:
Loon again, Bill. Sorry.

Praise

Praise

“A MASTERPIECE . . . WOOD’S STORIES [ARE] FILLED WITH HOPE AND LIGHT.”
Titan magazine

“Characters alternate between major and minor roles like players in a Robert Altman film. . . . Wood handles each voice with such grace that she disappears inside it right away. Her prose is careful yet still quivers. . . . Like an honest day’s work, it is both simple and more than enough.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“The loving character portraits that form [these] stories help us understand not only the people of Maine but also the human condition.”
The Boston Globe

“QUIETLY WONDERFUL FICTION . . .
Wood does a splendid job of building a whole out of these parts. Each story can easily stand alone, yet every new one contains an object or memory we’ve seen in a previous story, usually from another perspective. The overall effect is one of panorama, the sense that though we haven’t met everyone in Abbott Falls, we’ve cast a good long glance at the range of hopes and heartaches the town contains.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A collection of unforeseen awakening and unconditional love . . . It’s clear that this Maine author has plenty of talent to share with the world.”
Maine Sunday Telegram

Ernie’s Ark, a series of nine interlinked short stories, contains all the depth and range of emotions that a full-length novel enjoys. . . . [Wood’s] strength is her ability to create clear and sympathetic voices for each of her many characters. By the time you finish reading Ernie’s Ark, you will have a whole chorus of voices in your head, each echoing the rhythms of small-town life.”
Titan magazine

“An eight-month strike at the paper mill has shivered apart Abbott Falls as neatly as though it were a chunk of mica; in her stories, Wood takes these fragments and holds them up to the light, revealing a world at once self-contained and wonderfully complex. . . . A fine collection by an author whose writing continues to grow with each published work.”
Down East magazine
“Wood’s gift as a writer is to invest her short stories with real emotion . . . [She] uses deceptively simple language and an obvious sympathy for her characters to keep the tale triumphantly afloat.”
–Casco Bay Weekly

“Wood does a remarkable job of illuminating the characters’ inner lives–from disgruntled union workers to a flower store owner in a troubled marriage–skillfully layering their brief but complex stories with humor, empathy, and melancholy.”
Publishers Weekly

“Touching . . . These quirky stories reaffirm faith in human resilience.”
Booklist
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Trace the presence of the ark through the nine stories of Ernie’s Ark. Does its meaning shift depending on the narrator or point-of-view character? Is the ark present even in a story in which it is never mentioned?

2. What does the ark mean? Is Abbott Falls about to be
swallowed up? Or is something more subtle at work in
Monica Wood’s imagery?

3. Another presence in each story is Abbott Falls, of course.
What is the role of place in Ernie’s Ark? How do you imagine
the town? How is it different from your own? How the same?
How does Abbott Falls shape the events of the book?

4. What is the role of the mill in these stories? Is it the same role
that that major employer plays in the town itself? Or does the
mill take on literary dimensions, as well? Similarly, what is
the role of the strike in these stories? Does it affect every
character, or only a few? If there were no strike, how would
the stories of Ernie’s Ark be different?

5. How does Ernie’s character shift from story to story? How are
the perceptions of the various narrators and lead characters
involved in our own perceptions as we read? How would the
book be altered if each story were narrated from Ernie’s point
of view?

6. Dan Little, the narrator of “The Temperature of Desire,” starts
out depressed. How is his depression tied up with the reality
of life in Abbott Falls? Does anything happen in the story to
change him?

7. In “The Joy Business,” we get ample indications that a lot
more goes on in Abbott Falls than strikes and ark building.
How does this story expand your vision of the town? How
does it expand the scope of the book? What is the effect of its
placement just so in the middle of the book?

8. In “Visitors” we meet Ernie’s son, James, and get a glimpse of
a major sea change between generations. How is it possible
that James’s sense of life and possibilities could be so
different from his father’s? Or are the two men so different
after all?

9. Much of “Take Care Good Boy” transpires away from Abbott
Falls, and away from Ernie and his ark. How does the story
fit into the book as a whole? How does it expand the vision
of the book?

10. How does the character Francine grow and change from
“Take Care Good Boy” to “Solidarity Is Not a Floor”? What is
Ernie’s effect on her? What is her effect on Ernie?

11. Think ten years ahead for the characters of Ernie’s Ark. Where
do you think each will be? What will the town of Abbott
Falls be like then? What current differences did you pick out
among characters who you think will grow, characters who
you think will stagnate, characters who you think will fail? If
your group disagrees, what are the sources of your
disagreement?

12. Have a look at each story title in turn, and discuss the
meaning of each in context of the story and in context of the
whole book. For example, what exactly does the title
“Solidarity Is Not a Floor” mean?

13. Ernie’s Ark is beautifully written. Have everyone in your
group pick a passage—perhaps a page or so—to read aloud.
Then see if you can articulate what exactly makes the
passage sing.

14. Monica Wood says that “At the Mercy” was a stretch for her
to write, because its lead character is a successful and wellgrounded
CEO. Is Henry John McCoy any less interesting as
a character than Ernie himself? Do you find yourself
interested in the problems of a CEO?

15. The title story of Ernie’s Ark ends with Ernie and his wife
“waiting for rain,” clearly a metaphor. See if your group can
articulate or even agree upon what exactly the couple is
waiting for.


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