About the Author:
Jayne Anne Phillips was born and raised in West Virginia. She is the author
of Black Tickets and Fast Lanes, two books of stories that have
been widely anthologized, and Machine Dreams, a novel nominated for the
National Book Critics Circle Award. Her work has been translated into fourteen
languages. She is a recipient of the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American
Academy of Arts and Letters, a Bunting Institute fellowship, a Guggenheim
fellowship, and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in fiction.
Jayne Anne Phillips describes Shelter as "a book I have wanted to write
for fifteen years. The opening paragraph, which forms a sort of prefacing
image, is set apart from the narrative because it existed for so many years
before the novel was written. I think I wrote Shelter in order to
understand that paragraph."
About the Novel:
Shelter, the long-awaited second novel from Jayne Anne Phillips,
explores the dark, beautiful, and haunting world of childhood as never
before--transcendent, visceral, and filled with surprise and suspense.
In a rural girls' camp in 1963, three children are thrust into an unexpected
rite of passage that will forever alter their worlds. Two young sisters, Lenny
and Alma, along with Buddy, a wide-eyed, feral young boy, are transported from
a place of childhood innocence into a premature adulthood by violence, family
secrets, and surprising turns of love. What they experience within the leafy
wilderness of the camp grounds--and what they choose to remember--will never be
far from consciousness for the rest of their lives.
Praise for Shelter:
"A beautiful, intricate, abundantly mature new novel...mysterious, full of dark
dreams, menace and the blind tug of sex."
"Mesmerizing...the physical world is so thoroughly and beautifully evoked that
within pages we're completely drawn in."
--The Washington Post
"Powerful...brilliant...a legendary quest; a passage of exploits through
dragons, demons and dangerous enchantments, both within and without."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review
Questions for Discussion:
1. In what ways does the imagery and mood of the opening paragraph set the
tone for the novel? How does it serve as the essence of the novel?
2. Jayne Anne Phillips once said in an interview, "I'm drawn to that angelic
aspect, and to the fact that children are the ultimate outsiders; they peer in
at things and see things differently." Discuss the significance of children's
perspectives in the novel. In what way do they create a more objective
3. The four central characters--Lenny, Cap, Alma and Delia--are linked by
tenuous relationships between their parents. How do these adult circumstances
affect the relationships and power structures among the children?
4. The action takes place in a single twenty-four hour period at a girls' camp
in rural West Virginia in 1963. How does the time and setting create a
timelessness and a dreamlike quality to the novel? In what ways is memory used
to create depth in the time progression of the novel, a depth that serves to
support the characters developments within this one day?
5. Sexuality is seen as an integral part of almost every relationship in the
novel. How does this view of sexuality aid or disturb the reader's
understanding of the characters, and how does it extend the reader's view of
the primal landscape? What does the audience begin to understand through this
sensual connection to the physical world?
6. Parson is a frightening character, all the more so because he proceeds
within his own logic, according to a complex system of apprehended images and
beliefs. Is Parson a kind savior, a twisted angel, or a madman?
7. There are disturbing scenes in Shelter between Buddy and Carmody,
his stepfather. Discuss the relationship between them, and the ways in which
Buddy's inner strengths and intuitive resourcefulness influence the novel. Why
might Buddy be seen as the moral fulcrum of the novel?
8. Carmody could be viewed as a monster created by a distorted world. Yet
Parson has been a victim of the same distorted world. They went to the same
reform school and were together in prison. Why does Parson, at least in his
own perception, become a force for good while Carmody simply grows more
9. Despite Shelter's rich language, a prose almost Faulknerian in its
intensity, particularly in Parson's section, there is real suspense. The
suspense arises from the reader's sense that the children are imminently
threatened. Parson seems to be part of that threat but also struggles with the
violence within himself. In what ways is he part of the adult world, a world
already tainted, and in what ways is he still a victim, a child?
10. The town of Bellington, West Virginia, the setting of Machine
Dreams, is mentioned as not being so far from Gaither, the fictional town
near Camp Shelter. How does the isolated setting in Shelter work to intensify
the characters and the world in which they live?
11. The author has described this novel as "a passion play in which children
bear witness" and "a journey of souls" in which the characters undertake a
quest in the mythic sense, descending into an underworld and emerging, having
taken into themselves the power they confronted. They redeem a darkness, and
so free themselves, but they must also accept the burden of what they know."
How is the theme of redemption played out in Shelter?
12. It has been said of Phillips, "At her best, no one writing fiction in the
U.S. today comes near her for linguistic beauty and an atavistic, almost
reluctant wisdom." (New Statesman & Society) Discuss.