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  • Written by Sands Hall
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  • Catching Heaven
  • Written by Sands Hall
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On Sale: January 18, 2001
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-44444-8
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The complex bond and unspoken resentments between sisters . . . the aching search for home and connection and community . . . the ever-changing landscape of family and those who define it . . . Sands Hall weaves these powerful elements into a novel ripe with discovery and wonder. Set against the immutable backdrop of the American Southwest, Catching Heaven illuminates that quiet place in the heart where solitude embraces serenity and dreams meet possibility.

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

MAUD

I have been studying how I may compare This prison where I live unto the world —RICHARD II

The sky was still dark when Maud closed the motel door behind her. Shivering, she crossed the street to the twenty-four-hour restaurant and bought a cup of coffee from a yawning waitress. She’d left the freeway late the day before, turning east onto a two-lane highway. Now it unfurled ahead of her headlights, which she kept on high beam except for the rare times a truck or car approached. She thought how like eyes the bright lights coming at her were, and how easy it would be to swerve into their oncoming glare.

An hour after dawn, a small town rose like a mirage out of the Arizona desert. Maud passed the flickering sign of a burger stand, a gas station, a battered motel before pulling in at Maria’s Trading Post, whose attractions—gas! mutton! nails! flour!—were advertised on a hand-lettered sandwich board at the edge of the road.

The gas tanks were round-topped, old-fashioned. There seemed to be no expectation that she pay before pumping the gas. The latch on the trigger was broken. As Maud leaned against her car, hold- ing the nozzle in the fill hole, she had another wince of memory. Actually, it was more than a wince, the rearranging of her shoulders she’d had to do when images of the Cheesios audition, of Miles, of Nikos’ acting class leered towards her as she drove. A fragment of one of the days she’d worked on Tucker’s Larks pushed at her. When she’d filmed her short though vital scene with Tucker, the actor hadn’t actually been present. He was in Chicago playing baseball for a handicapped children’s benefit—they planned to film his lines later. “Virtual Tucker,” a crew member joked. In the sterile, muted space of a police interrogation room that was the set, Maud emoted her half of the scene to the plaid shoulder of the cameraman. Off to one side, the script girl read Tucker’s dialogue in a flat, nasal voice. “Wait a bit after each line,” the director coached Maud. “I know that’s tough, given the, like, highly charged context of the scene, but we can’t have any overlap.”

The trigger beneath her finger clicked. Maud pulled at it a few more times, watching the numbers on the gas pump inch by. This isn’t acting, she’d wanted to tell the people gathered in the room, wielding boom mikes, lights, makeup brushes. She replaced the nozzle in its slot in the gas pump. I will not keep this form upon my head, Constance, pulling at her hair, tells King John just before she exits and goes mad, when there is such disorder in my wit.

The wind pushed out of the desert, flattening her skirt against her legs. Maud closed her eyes before its chafing warmth, holding her hair back from her face with fingers that smelled of gasoline. ’Tis an unwanted garden—no, that wasn’t right—’tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Fie on’t, ah fie.

A large yellow car with fins, parked askew, guarded the door to Maria’s Trading Post. Its back seat was filled with newspapers. Both taillights were broken, and the paint above the tire wells badly rusted.

The screen door screeched as she opened it, activating several buzzing flies. A man leaned against the counter, watching a woman hack with a cleaver at a glistening haunch of meat. On his cheek was a constellation of pockmarks—a swirl, a small galaxy of indented scars. The door slapped shut.

“Sorry,” Maud said, using a French accent.

The woman gestured with the cleaver. “But get that car to Sara anyway.”

It took a moment for Maud to realize that this instruction was not meant for her. The man leveled dark eyes in her direction, then went back to brooding on the skinned carcass. Maud made out angles of marbled fat and blood that might have been part of a leg, cut off above the knee. A cowboy hat sat beside this on the coun- ter, jaunty, incongruent. She turned away, into an aisle, walking past huge cans of chili and hominy, cellophane packages of HoHos, boxes of cornflakes and saltines, loaves of Wonder bread. She stared at a shelf that held polyester shorts and sneakers, wondering if this man and this woman held their pockmarked faces against her, her and her kind.

“Need help?” the woman called.

Desperately, Maud thought. “Merci,” she said. “I am just looking.” She didn’t know why she’d started with the French accent but she didn’t know how to stop now. She stared down into hunched burlap sacks of flour, beans, dried corn that stood at the back of the store. After searching for an apple or an orange, she settled for a package of sunflower seeds from a dusty display next to the cash register. She handed a twenty to the woman. “I would take this, please. And I put the fifteen dollars of the gas in the car.” Her ability to use a French accent had always been rather dismal. The woman looked at her sharply before lifting a cash box up from beneath the counter.

“That car of yours is packed up pretty good,” the man said. He’d put his hat on. Leaning against the counter, hip cocked, looking back at her from under the brim, he reminded Maud of an advertisement for jeans or male cologne in a hip fashion magazine. Sexy, definitely. Black hair looped over one shoulder fell to his waist. “You coming or going?”

For a moment she thought he meant the idiom: you coming or going? Was it so obvious that she was indeed at sea? that she was at sixes and sevens, all balled up? But his eyes were black, opaque, unamused.

“Well, I am coming, I guess.” She straightened, as if her shoulders had been rounded by the weight floating around her, as tangible, as encompassing, as a long black veil.

“Where from?”

“Hollywood.”

The air in the room shifted. They were impressed by and at the same time dismissive of this admission—which was what Maud felt it was. “Los Angeles, I mean,” she amended.

“L.A.” The man stated the letters as if something vast were con- nected to each one.

“Well, you sound foreign,” the woman said. “Don’t she sound foreign, Driver?”

Maud opened her mouth in a silent laugh, wanting to let them in on the joke: Hollywood is foreign. She wanted to convince them of this, as if this would give her defection validity. Hollywood is another planet. Instead, ashamed of having started the absurd charade, she accepted her change with a muttered “Merci.” As she pushed the bills and coins into the pocket of her jean skirt, the man straightened and stepped away from the counter. Startled, she met his eyes and noticed again the nebula of scars on one cheek. She wondered how many women had reached a finger to trace the precision of that spiral; it was intriguing, oddly attractive. Although he wasn’t as tall as she’d expected from his broad shoulders and length of torso.

The screen door slapped again behind her. “Sorry,” she called. “Pardonnez-moi.”

A phone booth leaned against the wall outside the store. Maud closed herself into it. It had been easy, yesterday, not to call Miles. When the car was in motion, on the freeway, calling him involved waiting for the next exit, the next town, pulling over, looking for a phone. Each time the urge struck her there had been lots of time to talk herself out of it. She’d called last night before she went to sleep, but he was at the studio. Of course. She hadn’t left a message. Let him worry when he got home. But she’d slept fitfully in the double motel bed, waking up again and again to stare into the darkness that encased her, while Joni Mitchell mourned that the bed was too big, the frying pan too wide.

She pressed the series of buttons that added up to his phone and her calling card numbers. But of course he did not answer. When no one else had rented the studio he often worked there until morn- ing, sometimes through the next day. Unless he was sleeping. His machine picked up.

“Hey there! This is Miles! Leave a message, and I’ll be in touch, real soon. See ya!”

“Miles.” Her voice was shaky. “Are you there?” She had argued with him over the use of that word, real. “It’s really,” she’d told him, as if by changing that one word she could change the tone of the whole message and by extension some aspect of their life together. But as he had pointed out to her, they had two separate phone lines; he could say what he wanted on his.

“Miles?” The idea that he might be lying in the next room, listening to her high, tight voice, made her pause again. “I can’t do this anymore. So I’ve gone.” A short laugh, the breathy one, the one that irritated him. “Which you’ll figure out.”

A dog, ribs showing through patchy fur, one leg lifted under its belly, limped through the trash at the side of the road, stopping to sniff at a curl of abandoned retread. Tears filled Maud’s eyes. She listened to the hum of long-distance wires, the tape full of silence spooling onto his answering machine. She held the phone more tightly. “It’s just that I had wanted—”

She’d used the past tense. The past perfect tense, to be precise. As her father had long ago informed her, using had before a verb was far more final than not using it. Plain old past tense could imply something ongoing; past perfect meant the thing being discussed was perfectly, as in completely, over and done. Because she had at various times pointed this distinction out to Miles, he would notice.

She wished she could change the message, even delete it. But there it was, a blinking red light that would alert him to listen as soon as he got back to the apartment. He would hope it was a producer, be disappointed that it was Maud, be baffled and then irritated that she’d placed his phone and his machine on the floor. The phone table, a long-ago gift from her mother, was one of the first things she’d packed into her car. “I’m sorry. I’m—” She imagined his pursed lips, his flared nostrils, the shake of his head as he knelt to punch the rewind button on his machine. “I’m sorry.”

She watched the dog halt its way across the road. Behind her the screen door of the store slapped. The man named Driver stepped down the cement block that served as a stair. Heeled boots emphasized strong thighs. He turned to look at her. He’d tilted his hat forward, shadowing his eyes. She smiled, suddenly nervous. He stared a few moments longer, then stalked to the battered yellow Chevrolet. Gravel shot from beneath its wheels as he spun out onto the highway.

The car seemed to drive right into the sun, diminishing in size along the gray ribbon of highway. Just beyond Maria’s Trading Post, the town stopped as abruptly as it had begun and then the distance started, a greenish gray and brown distance, dotted with scrub and an occasional blowing, bouncing tumbleweed. A semi came into view, leaping through the flaming hoop of the sun, growing huge in size and sound, shifting down noisily for the short trip through town. The driver lifted a hand. She raised hers in return, sucking in her belly, closing her fists, praying to the gods that the dog would not be hit, exploded, turned into a bloody carcass tumbling along the road, a sign that would be too much to bear.

The truck blared by. The dog lurched its way along the opposite side of the road. Maud offered thanks.

She checked the top rack—the blue tarp covering the load, frayed from the constant buffeting wind, and the multitudinous crisscross of rubber cords that held the load in place. No one, she thought, no one in the world, knew where she was at this moment. She hadn’t told Miles she was leaving; she hadn’t told Lizzie she was coming. If the impossible should happen: if Cheesios should call Danielle and say they’d loved Maud’s brief, bizarre, cud-chewing appearance and would she please take the commercial; if her parents should eat bad sushi during the Tokyo symposium and die; if her other agent, Scotty, should suddenly receive the perfect script with the perfect role for her; if Miles discovered he couldn’t live without her; if she herself should decide to join the Navajo nation, or the Hopi tribe, or otherwise disappear into the space between worlds she sometimes thought was the best place for her, could her trail be traced? She’d used cash to buy gas along the road, purchased Diet Cokes, coffee, had spent the night in St. George. She wondered if she could be found on the basis of those stops, and this one, here at Maria’s Trading Post, where she purchased sunflower seeds and spoke in a French accent to a man with a pockmarked face.
Sands Hall|Author Q&A

About Sands Hall

Sands Hall - Catching Heaven
Sands Hall received her B.A. in drama from the University of California, Irvine, and attended the Advanced Training Program at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop and a second MFA in theatre arts from the University of Iowa. She has worked extensively as an actor, including seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, the Old Globe Theatre, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, and the Foothill Theatre Company, where she also writes and directs. She teaches in the University of California at Davis Extension Programs, for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and for the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Sands Hall

Karen Joy Fowler is the author of two short story collections and three novels, the most recent being Sister Noon.

Karen Joy Fowler: Among the most memorable things in your book are
your characters, including Maud's acting teacher, Nikos. About a third
of the way into the novel, he has a tirade about Chekhov. "Americans are
addicted to plot!" he says. "Chekhov knows that character is plot." Can
you talk about this in relation to your own book?

Sands Hall:
Someone once told me that Chekhov gives his characters profound needs and complicated objectives, and that's what creates the story. I chose to
believe in this idea, because I didn't start writing the book with much
of a plot in mind. I had Maud with her needs, and Lizzie with hers, and
then Jake emerged, and then Jeep and Driver, etc., each with their own
set of needs. When an actor prepares to play a character, they ask,
"What's my objective? Why do I want that; why do I want that now?" I
thought if I kept asking myself those questions as a writer, and if I
made the needs of my characters large enough, the plot would emerge.
Which is exactly what happened.

It's such a complicated DNA-like helix, those two: plot, character--which comes first? I tend to vote for character because it worked for me, and perhaps because I like reading those sorts of novels.

By putting Maud's memory of acting class at that point in the novel, I hoped to ask, or allow, the reader to question something about creating a character, and, as far as that goes, to question what goes into creating a plot. As a culture, we are addicted to plot--which usually means that the life we're reading about or
watching needs to get complicated. I remember watching the movie Rob
Roy, when the nice young man is heading into the dark wood, bringing the
bag of silver home to Robbie. The music is somber and scary--everyone in
the audience knows he's going to be set upon by the bad guy--and I
hunkered down in my seat and whispered, "I hate plot." I don't, of
course. What I hate is watching people get killed. But Robbie needed
that money desperately, and that excellent movie would not exist if he'd
managed to get hold of it only thirty minutes into the story. So: Need.

KF: With your three point-of-view characters, you managed a very
neat--well, dichotomy would suggest two; what's the word for
three--trichotomy? Maud is an actor. Lizzie is a painter. Jake is a
singer-songwriter
.

SH: I wanted to talk about art, and its place in our lives. Part of Maud's grief--what's driving her--is that she has no children, and of course here she is involved in this transient art form. Acting, like dance, like any live performance, is gone the moment it's created. Maud understands that she will leave nothing tangible behind to show her passage through the world. Whereas Lizzie not only has children carrying on her very blood, she has her paintings: objects one can
touch, hang on a wall.

KF: And Jake?

SH: Also a performer, his art disappears the moment it's spun into the air. But music can be recorded in a way that a live stage play can't, and of course his lyrics, written down on paper, form a tangible something he can carry with him. He bridges the gap between the sisters, literally, and figuratively.

KF: What Maud does in the outside world affects her interior life, and Jake
is just the opposite: everything that happens to him is fuel for his
songwriting. But I didn't see the impact of Lizzie's life on her art, or
vice versa.


SH: Interesting observation. One of the things I tried very purposefully to show is that Lizzie, especially in comparison to Maud, isn't prone to self-reflection. I tried to pull out of Lizzie's language-- her dialogue, her thought processes--any figures of speech. She doesn't think things are like other things, and she speaks in simple sentences--until the night she's driving home from spending the night
with someone whose name she can't remember. Then she finally allows
herself to mentally explore that complex, underwater metaphor of her
life. Maud's thought processes are more Catching Heaven complicated,
down to thinking in semicolons. She connects so much more than Lizzie
does. It's her personality and it's also part of the career she's
chosen.

Lizzie disdains Maud's approach to the world, her philosophy
that everything is connected to everything else--because she can't find a
parking spot, she shouldn't have moved to Marengo, that sort of thing.
And part of Lizzie's journey is that she finally begins to realize that
she needs to connect, that connections exist. She is as obsessive about
not looking beyond the surface of her life as Maud is about searching
for meaning. Lizzie's paintings may be a reflection of that--are they
turned into greeting cards because they are pleasing, but ultimately
surface portraits? Her art is a two- dimensional representation of the
world, while Maud's art demands, by its very nature, three-dimensionality.

KF: Like Maud, you are an actor. You're also a director and a playwright. I've always thought it would be wonderful to hear someone speak lines that I'd written. You don't get that thrill when you write a novel.

SH: It's tremendously satisfying to be a director, an actor, an author, and a playwright, and to utilize those very different approaches to a given piece of writing. It can also be a bit schizophrenic. A playwright is a bit like a wheelwright–a putter-together-of-things. But author implies authority. As Richard Ford has said, an author "authorizes" his writing to go out to the world.

And it is a thrill to hear your words spoken aloud. To see those black
words on white paper manifesting not only into an active scene, but
taking place in a room like the one you described, with lights and
costumes similar to those you had in mind; perhaps a little
underscoring under the dialogue to emphasize the mood . . . It can be
exhilarating. Except when it sends you back to the computer for a
thorough rewrite. Hearing one's words aloud is a great lesson in
economy.

Traditionally there's been great respect for the playwright,
but this is changing, largely because of the attitude in Hollywood,
where wordsmiths are considered dispensable and changeable. The
screenwriter is often seen as a hired hand--not really an artist. It's
dreadful. There's a light bulb joke that sums it up:

Q: How many screenwriters does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Does it have to be a light bulb?

In film, the director is considered, ultimately, to be the author of a movie, and unfortunately that mentality is working its way into theatre. The hierarchy is very complicated and very much in flux. I've been fortunate to work with people who understand and appreciate the role of the playwright, and while there's been tricky territory to negotiate, I've gotten to see the plays as I imagined them--in addition to all kinds of wonderful stuff I didn't, I couldn't have imagined. I'm not a set designer, or a costume designer, or a lighting designer, and
each of these, and many other elements, including of course the actors
and director--not to mention publicity, box office, ushers!--are essential
to a piece of theatre. Theatre is collaboration. It's amazing how rarely
we come in over-budget, and that we always open on time. You must be
willing to accept, change, alter, and admit that someone else's idea
works better than yours. It's the free-flowing, dynamic nature that is
at the heart of the art.

Like Maud, I don't have children, and theater is a large part of what I do. Some costume renderings, photographs, and a collection of posters are all the proof I have of a lengthy, satisfying acting career. Being able to hold a published book in my hands is a profound experience. I've started to collect old books--I
have a few that are over one hundred and fifty years old, and of course
there are volumes far, far older than that. Those words, and therefore
that author, is still with us in those sometimes brittle pages. As
usual, Shakespeare says it well:

"So long as men can breathe and eyes can see
So long lives this, and this give life to thee."

He's talking about a sonnet, of course, and both he and the inspiration for the
poem, whoever he or she may be, are long gone. But the words keep both
the author's ideas, and the author, alive. It's so simple, and so moving
a thing.

Maud's journey is to face that she will leave nothing behind,
and that, in fact, no one really does. It's the realization she has when
she's holding Jeep, who's cried herself to sleep: nothing is ever going
to fill the vacuum, it's always there. All experience is just a breath,
and then it goes. And that's the empty space of theater, too. It comes
from a bunch of black marks on a page, and no matter how wonderful,
high-tech, long-running a production may be, when it closes, it
disappears into that same place.

KF: Speak a little to the issue of family. There's Maud and Lizzie, their parents, Lizzie's children, even Jake and his sister, but with Jeep, and Sam and Driver, something bigger seems to be going on.

SH: I've always loved Thanksgiving more than any other holiday, because it's the time when family as we know it, expands. Often enough, in my peripatetic life, I've been the orphan invited to someone's table, and those are invitations I make certain to extend to others if I can. Family, especially in our current society, is so much bigger, looser, than the blood ties that traditionally compose
it. Sam is the father Lizzie's girls aren't otherwise having. Jeep is a
sister, a cousin, and a daughter. Deprived of a decent mother, she looks
for one in Lizzie. Driver has to remove the chip imbedded in his
shoulder, but he finds his place in the Lizzie brood as well. And the
idea of a clan--a group of people that don't know you but take you in if
you're blood--has always fascinated me. Sam won't recognize his clan, but
for better or worse, they come and find him when they discover they're
needed. Maud realizes that theater is a clan.

The names for Driver and Jeep came to me in roundabout ways, but I kept both of them because I wanted to layer in the transitory nature of our society. We're always on the move, as Maud is when the story begins. But when, in the second
chapter, we move to Lizzie's world, everything is embedded in the earth--her studio, once a trailer; Sam's living quarters, once a caboose; even the engine Sparky has left in her driveway is moldering in the dirt. She's that settled. Whereas Maud is on the move--at least when she arrives in Marengo.

KF: Tell us a little more about Marengo and Marengoing, and what you think the town brings to the book.

SH: I wanted a place that was a frontier to some degree--even though Maud moves east from her west to get to it. I wanted to create a town that would convey a mythologized West–that demented designer’s vision of women in the 1890’s at the Red Garter, for instance. A world where you might or might not find your gold.

KF: At the very least it’s your second chance.

SH:
Or your last chance. My characters gather in Marengo for their
various reasons. They come to this place where maybe dreams happen
and maybe they don’t, or maybe there’s the discovery of a
dream you didn’t know you had. I went ’round and ’round about
keeping the name Fable Mountain, but in the end, I left it. I
wanted to alert the careful reader to the idea that this was a fabulous
place.

KF: What does it mean to be a western writer as opposed to an eastern
writer?

SH:
I’d be honored to be considered a western writer, but beyond this
novel, and my play Fair Use, which does tell a large western story, I
don’t yet know if the West will remain my territory. I suppose the
West brings up issues of space. How to inhabit the land, how to
tend it. And, I suppose, issues of the original inhabitants of this
continent, Native Americans. As well as the species we’ve succeeded
in eliminating from the planet in our greed. Our history there is so foul I can barely stand to look at it.

But foul as it is, and however much we’ve raped the land, built
dams in the middle of Eden, and stolen water from here to keep
power going there–we all rest on the fact that these things were
done. We have and rely on our electricity, and our computers; we
relish our warm houses; we depend on our roads. I suppose being a
western writer means taking on the uses and abuses of living on
this planet. How can we be responsible inhabitants of the planet
earth?

KF: Do you miss the acting scene in Hollywood that you, like Maud,
left behind?

SH: No. I suppose I’m sorry I didn’t succeed at something at which I
worked so long and hard, but it was good to realize that it’s theatre I love, and not the world Hollywood surrounds it with. I have friends who do very well in that environment, but I was intimidated by the emphases: to be pretty, to wear make-up all the time (you never know who you might run into), to have the right
clothes, to be thin. I’ve joked that I left Hollywood because I
couldn’t bear to wear nylons, but it’s partly true. I hated feeling
like a sausage, squeezed into a casing–and I suppose to some degree
that’s how I felt psychically.

And I’ve always had an odd relationship with television. If you
don’t get into movies in Hollywood, you’re doing television–if
you’re lucky. I grew up in Squaw Valley, in the Sierra Nevada, and
at that time it was hard to get any reception over those high
mountains. In addition, my parents always urged us towards books.
We were not, to put it mildly, encouraged to watch television. I
never got in the habit. When I played the character Maya, years
ago, on the soap opera, The Guiding Light, I never watched myself
on the show. At the time, a VCR was beyond my limited budget. I
know it sounds odd, but it had been drummed into me that watching
TV in the middle of the day meant that one’s day–one’s life–
was at a very low ebb. You were on the way to the devil–heroin
was next. My mother and father had a wonderful time watching
me–I was on the show for about six months, on and off–but I
couldn’t bring myself to do it. And there was so much I could have
learned.

It took leaving Hollywood when I was in my late thirties, getting
one MFA from the Writers Workshop, and a second one in
Drama, to reengage my love of theatre. I was given the opportunity
to realize why I’d wanted to do it all my life. This novel became,
among other things, a way for me to communicate that.

Praise

Praise

"Rich, warm, and utterly satisfying . . . [A] wonderful debut from a first-rate storyteller."
--AMY TAN

"[A] polished, accomplished debut. . . Endlessly intriguing . . . The prose is richly layered with metaphor and symbolism. For the discerning reader, nothing in this finely crafted work is extraneous."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"Vibrant . . . Deftly reveals the push and pull between two sisters who love each other dearly, but who face new tensions when their lives collide in midcourse. . . . A realistic story of two women trying to let go of old hurts and find love that will last."
--The New York Times Book Review
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Author, Sands Hall, says that in her book, Catching Heaven, she wanted to talk about art and its place in our lives. In our busy schedules, has art become a luxury item?

2. The book raises many questions involving the difference between the “high” arts (theater, paintings) and “low” arts (television, greeting cards). Is this a useful distinction to make? Is a painting inevitably more important than a greeting card?

3. Jake’s chapters all begin with lyrics, Maud’s with lines from Shakespeare. Why are Lizzie’s begun with the things that are pinned to her refrigerator?

4. Hall is clearly thinking a lot about family in the book. On the one hand, her definition of family is expansive. On the other, one of the book’s obvious strengths is its depiction of the two actual sisters. Is family today a fluid concept? Is blood less powerful than it once was?

5. Do you imagine the strains in the relationship between Maud and Lizzie will be repeated by Summer and Hannah?

6. Maud sees the world as a plotted place. Everything is connected to everything else; at the heart of the universe, is order. Lizzie lives in a more chaotic and random world. Which vision seems most right to you?

7. When Maud leaves Los Angeles, she seems to leave little behind in the way of friends. Yet she connects easily with people in Marengo. Why is this?

8. What does the mythology of the West bring to the book? Hall says the West is a place of second chances. Contrast this to Lizzie’s philosophy, expressed in her drawing class, that the most important line you put on a paper is the first one, that everything else flows from the beginning.

9. What does it mean to be a western writer in America? Are the issues and obsessions likely to be the same or different from those the eastern American writer will take on?

10. Lizzie is a prickly character. Do you grow to love her? Do you think she’s a good mother? A good teacher? A good friend?

11. Do you think Jake will be a good father?

12. What do you make of Lizzie’s relationship with Sam? Why was it Maud, and not Lizzie, in the hogan with him when he died? Or was Lizzie there?

13. What do you make of Lizzie’s relationship to Jeep? What does Jeep’s pregnancy mean to Lizzie? To Maud? To Jeep?

14. What motivates Driver’s change of heart?

15. Hall’s three main characters are artists. All are extremely successful up to a point, and all have failed to fully realize their dreams. Which predominates in your vision of these people–their successes or their failures?


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