Wisconsin Author

Twelve Times Blessed

Author: 
Mitchard, Jacquelyn

Jacquelyn Mitchard is one of America's best-loved storytellers. Fans adore her novels for their exquisite, gripping stories about family bonds. Now this master of the drama of daily life offers readers a different kind of boy-meets-girl tale, by turns frank and playful, that ponders the question: Can love conquer marriage?

It is True Dickinson's forty-third birthday, and her best friends have gathered on this snowy night in Cape Cod at a trendy neighborhood restaurant to celebrate. True has never felt more alone.

It's been eight years since the death of her husband, a pilot who, ironically, died in a car crash, leaving her to raise their son on her own. Both her son and her small business are thriving, and True's life is full. The success of her company, the love of her friends, and the proximity of her mother (for better and for worse) leave her with very little time for reflection, but if not now, when? Coming up on forty-three makes True realize that there is an empty space in her life that friends and family cannot fill. She feels her youth and beauty slipping away, and the possibility for romance has never seemed more remote. (From the publisher)

But everything will change the moment True and her beloved assistant, Isabelle, slide into a snow-filled ditch on the drive home. Saved by a young man she met earlier at the restaurant, True comes face-to- face with the opportunity to let love back into her life -- that is, if she can overcome her own fears, and if these two spirits can find a way to tame each other's wild hearts and to curb their supremely independent natures.

Twelve Times Blessed is the story of one year of transformation in a woman's life, and an unforgettable tale of the perils and pleasures of love in the modern age.

Discussion Guide: 

1. What are True's major character traits? What does her name suggest about her? What parallels, if any, are there with Emily Dickinson?

2. What are Hank's strengths and weaknesses? What attracts him to True? Did he encourage her insecurity? Does he betray her trust? Do men and women view sexual infidelity differently? How does True react to Hank's? Is it realistic?

3. Do you think the main conflict between Hank and True is their age difference? Is True's perception of the problem real, or exaggerated? How do you feel about older women and younger men?

4. Do you agree with the saying "Marry in haste, repent in leisure"? Or, if two people fall in love, virtually at first sight, do you believe that waiting is just a waste of time? Do True and Hank have more problems because of their quick wedding?

5. Another area of potential conflict for this relationship could be Hank's racial heritage. How do you feel about Hank's not directly revealing it to True? Do you think, in America, it is more or less significant than the age difference?

6. On the day of Hank's and True's wedding, the author writes, "A wedding, though a union, also is always a collision of conflicting interests, a competition of the most basic sort." Do you agree?

7. The concept of family, and the importance of family, hold a central place in this novel. Discuss Guy as a child and True as a mother--good and bad. What conflicts and benefits does Hank add? What makes a family different from a group of people who happen to live together--and which specific characters therefore are True's family?

8. How important are friends in a woman's life? What do Isabelle, Rudy, and Franny give to True? Do you think men have the same kinds of friendships as women?

9. This novel has an interesting structure, with each chapter representing a month. Why do you think the chapters open with sales copy from True's business? Are the months themselves, and what happens in each, symbolic, significant, or ironic?

10. Fate does indeed have a place in this book. What do you think about the fortune-telling episode? What do you think brings two people together: random chance or something else? Is there a divine plan for each of us

Shotgun Lovesongs

Author: 
Butler, Nickolas

Welcome to Little Wing.

It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friendsall born and raised in this small Wisconsin townit is home. And now they are men, coming into their own, or struggling to do so.

One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.

Now all four are brought together for a wedding. Little Wing seems even smaller than before. While lifelong bonds are still strong, there are stresses—between the friends, between husbands and wives. There will be heartbreak, but there will also be hope, healing, even heroism as these memorable people learn the true meaning of adult friendship and love.

Seldom has the American heartland been so richly and accurately portrayed. Though the town may have changed, the one thing that hasn’t is the beauty of the Wisconsin farmland, the lure of which, in Nickolas Butler’s hands, emerges as a vibrant character in the story.

Shotgun Lovesongs is that rare work of fiction that evokes a specific time and place yet movingly describes the universal human condition. It is, in short, a truly remarkable book—a novel that once read will never be forgotten. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

. Many of the characters in Shotgun Lovesongs regret specific moments in their life, moments that (perhaps) other people may not regret at all. Do you feel regret is a useful emotion? What do you regret? Which characters (and their regrets) do you identify with?

2. Late in the novel, Lee makes a particular observation about what he thinks America is. Do you feel that his perspective is at odds with your own notions of what America is? Or do you agree with him?

3. Many critics and early readers of Shotgun Lovesongs have remarked that it is a novel that explores adult male friendships. And yet, perhaps at the heart of the story is Beth (and she is given her own voice in the novel). How did you feel about Butler’s representation of women? Was it accurate?

4. Fame seems to be an important theme or consideration throughout Shotgun Lovesongs. Do you feel that the novel critiques fame? Celebrates fame? What do you think about the cult of personality in America? Do you care about celebrity? Read tabloids? Why?

5. Some critics have said that Shotgun Lovesongs is overly sentimental, even "precious"? Do you think this novel is sentimental? Is sentimentality something to be altogether avoided in fiction?

6. Beth and Leland share one night of romance. This incident happened when neither character was married or even dating someone. And yet, it is enough to unravel lifelong friendships. What do you think about this? Could you relate to characters and their reactions?

7. There is a kind of dichotomy in this novel between city and country. Has your own life been subject to the push-pull of living rural vs. living urban? What have you had to sacrifice to live where you live? Do you see it as a sacrifice?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

The Art of Fielding

Author: 
Harbach, Chad

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths.

Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment—to oneself and to others. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Does male friendship always involve competition? In what ways? Can men ever be just friends? Are their relationships more competitive than those between women?

2. After a long streak of errorless games, why does Henry lose his once-effortless throw? What has changed in Henry? Do you think this sort of crisis is unique to athletics? Could, say, a painter go through a similar crisis?

3. Harbach never writes from Owen’s point of view. In what ways did this affect your understanding of Owen’s character? Of his feelings toward Guert? Is their relationship one-sided, or perfectly reciprocal?

4. Mike devotes much of his time and energy to mentoring and helping Henry. Does he give Henry too much of his time and energy? Can someone give too much?

5. After hitting Owen and losing his accuracy, Henry immerses himself in grueling physical activity: running the stadium steps, racing Starblind, doing endless chin-ups, swimming in the lake. Why does he do this? Is his body to blame for his throwing problems? Discuss the relationship between the body and the mind in The Art of Fielding.

6. Are Pella and Henry in love? What brings them together? Why do they stay together?

7. Guert is decades older than Mike, Henry, Owen, and Pella, but in what ways is he similar to the students, despite his age?

8. “Monomania”—the obsessive pursuit of a single thing—is one of the major themes of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Is it also a major theme of The Art of Fielding? If so, for which characters, and in what ways?

9. The athletes talk about sacrificing their bodies to get better, and the "sacrifice bunt" is a baseball term that comes up frequently. Is Henry sacrificing himself when he stops eating? Why? Is his last at bat a sacrifice?

10. Are Mike, Henry, and Pella all striving for perfection? Is perfection possible? Is it worth striving for, even if it’s impossible? Why or why not? Do their desires evolve over the course of the novel? In what ways?

11. When Affenlight is confronted about his relationship with Owen, he thinks: "What kind of conversation would they be having if Owen were a girl? Bruce would be using the same legalese, the expression on his face would still be stern, but he’d be pouring himself a scotch. The gleam in his eye would say, Good for you, Guert. Still got it, eh?" Do you think this is true? Would you have seen Guert differently?

12. Why does Pella exhume her father’s body and bury it in the lake?

13. In Aparicio Rodriguez's The Art of Fielding, he writes: "There are three stages: Thoughtless being. Thought. Return to thoughtless being." He adds: "Thoughtless being is attained by everyone, the return to thoughtless being by a very few." What do you think this means? How does it relate to Chad Harbach’s book?

14. It has been said that baseball is a metaphor for life. Do you agree? Why or why not?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Wisconsin Author