Synopses & Reviews
Since her first publication in 1992, celebrated novelist Ann Patchett has crafted a number of elegant novels, garnering accolades and awards along the way. Now comes a reissue of the best-selling debut novel that launched her remarkable career.
St. Elizabeths, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, usually harbors its residents for only a little while. Not so Rose Clinton, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed, and stays. She plans to give up her child, thinking she cannot be the mother it needs. But when Cecilia is born, Rose makes a place for herself and her daughter amid St. Elizabeths extended family of nuns and an ever-changing collection of pregnant teenage girls. Roses past wont be kept away, though, even by St. Elizabeths; she cannot remain untouched by what she has left behind, even as she cannot change who she has become in the leaving.
"[A] sensitive exploration of the line between selfishness and self-preservation....There are no easy answers for Carrie, but her struggle to do what's right and her revelations about the life she wants for herself will keep readers turning page after eloquently written page. Give this to the same young female audience that loved Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing." Carrie Bissey, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Teens are sure to connect with the protagonist's feelings of unrest and general indecision about her future. This fast-paced, character-driven story will keep them hooked through to the last page." School Library Journal
A suspenseful, richly layered first novel that asks: How much do we owe the people we love?
THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER will speak to all those who have ever thought about leaving when they knew they should stay, anyone who has ever felt trapped, not only by circumstance, but by the strength of their own love, Carrie Bell has lived in Wisconsin all her life. She's had the same best friend, the same good relationship with her mother, the same boyfriend, for as long as anyone can remember. But when her fiance, Mike is paralyzed by a tragic accident, Carrie has to question everything she thought she knew about herself and about the meaning of home.
Ann Packer has written a morally complex, deeply satisfying novel about the desire to live fully and the conflict between who we want to be to others and who we must be for ourselves. A magnificent debut from a remarkable new talent.
How much do we owe the people we love? Is it a sign of strength or weakness to walk away from someone in need? These questions lie at the heart of Ann Packers intimate and emotionally thrilling new novel, which has won its author comparisons with Jane Hamilton and Sue Miller.
At the age of twenty-three Carrie Bell has spent her entire life in Wisconsin, with the same best friend and the same dependable, easygoing, high school sweetheart. Now to her dismay she has begun to find this life suffocating and is considering leaving it-and Mike-behind. But when Mike is paralyzed in a diving accident, leaving seems unforgivable and yet more necessary than ever. The Dive from Clausens Pier animates this dilemma-and Carries startling response to it-with the narrative assurance, exacting realism, and moral complexity we expect from the very best fiction.
Like the best work of Jane Hamilton and Sue Miller, Packer's emotionally thrilling, critically acclaimed, bestselling novel combines assured narrative drive with vibrant psychological realism and unblinking moral complexity.
About the Author
Ann Packer received the Great Lakes Book Award for The Dive from Clausen's Pier, which was a national bestseller. She is also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories. She is a past recipient of a James Michener award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and other magazines, as well as in Prize Stories 1992: The O. Henry Awards. She lives in northern California with her family.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why is Carrie unable to cry until Mike awakes from the coma [p. 9, 65]?
2. What effect does Rooster have on Carries emotional turmoil during Part One? Is Rooster fair in his attack on Carrie outside the library [p. 85-87]?
3. When Carrie and Mike see the bride and groom on TV in the hospital, Carrie thinks: “If his next words were Lets get a minister over here and get married tomorrow, I would say yes” [p. 101]. What feelings are driving her at this point? What might have happened to Carrie and Mike if Mike had persisted in getting married after the accident?
4. What does Mike mean when he says: “It was like we were already married—wed gone too far” [p. 413]? What went wrong or changed in Carries and Mikes relationship? Did Carrie or Mike change, or did their circumstances change, or both?
5. Carrie tells the reader: “For him [Mike], it was all about the future. For me, the past” [p. 77]. How does Carries past inform her present? What do each of the three memories of her father mean for Carrie [p. 31]? What Carrie does not remember about her father is “nearly infinite. . . . A whole book of things, an entire encyclopedia, a volume that I tried and tried to fill at the Mayers” [p. 31]. Might Carrie have stayed with Mike and the Mayers for longer than she would have because she was trying to fill the void left by her father? What influence does Carries memory of her father have on her decision to leave Madison—and then, ultimately, to return? By returning, is Carrie escaping her fathers legacy?
6. When she leaves Madison, Carrie seems to believe that people are defined by the actions or perceptions of other people. She says: “Because we were caretakers of each others habits and expressions, werent we, witnesses who didnt just see but who gave existence?” [p. 142]. Remembering Kilroys touch, she says, “How extraordinary . . . that someone could touch you and make you into something” [p. 367]. Carries mother asserts that “people arent defined by what they do so much as they define what they do” [p. 354]. Are people defined by what they do, or by how others perceive them, or by neither? Does Carries opinion on this topic change by the novels end?
7. How does Mikes family react to his accident? How do his friends react? What about Carries outward behavior in reaction to Mikes tragedy makes her behavior so surprising to their families and friends? Are there typical or expected ways people react to tragedies like this? What do deviations from this expected behavior signify?
8. Carrie explains her love for sewing: “It was the inexorability of it that appealed to me, how a length of fabric became a group of cut-out pieces that gradually took on the shape of a garment” [p. 12]. How is the process of sewing, and Carries own projects with expensive silk fabrics, a metaphor for Carries emotional evolution? Does playing pool have a similar meaning for Kilroy?
9. Is it Jamies call that propels Carrie to finally return home, or is some other event the catalyst for her return? Does guilt or obligation play a role in Carries decision to stay in Wisconsin? Is she trying to prove something to herself or to others? Is she acting truly selflessly? Is she settling, giving up, or being true to herself?
10. Could Carrie properly be called a heroine? What would have been the heroic path for her to take?
11. Carrie poses the question: “How much do we owe the people we love?” [p. 147] When she leaves Madison, she seems to view the answer as an all-or-nothing proposition: “What I had discovered was that I couldnt give up my life for Mike—thats how I saw it at the time, thats the choice I thought I had to make. And because I couldnt give up everything, I also thought I couldnt give up anything” [p. 147]. Does Carrie see her answer differently at the end of the novel? What does Carrie give up for Mike? Did she need Kilroy in order to have something other than herself to give up for Mike? What does Kilroy owe his parents? Can love be separate from obligation? How might Jamies or Roosters or Kilroys definition of love differ from Carries definition?
12. How do the tones and styles of Part One and Part Three reflect Carries different state of mind before her time in New York City and afterward?
13. What is Carrie looking for in a relationship? What characteristics of Kilroy attract Carrie that were or are absent in Mike?
14. Is Carries resolution of her relationship with Kilroy satisfying? By “being there” in Carries life, what does Kilroy teach Carrie about herself? What does Lane teach Carrie about herself?
15. Is the resolution to the mystery surrounding Kilroy satisfying? Is “the tragedy named Mike” different for Carrie than for Kilroy [p. 400]?
16. Why are the minor characters of Harvey (Mikes new roommate in the hospital) and Harveys wife [pp. 220-221] so significant to the novels themes of love, obligation, and choices?
17. Mike and Rooster theorize about the irony in names such as the dentist, Dr. Richard Moler, or the orthopedist, Dr. Bonebrake [p. 20]. Do the names in the novel—Carrie Bell, Kilroy, Rooster—have any ironic meaning?
18. While Mike literally dives from Clausens Pier, who figuratively dives from Clausens Pier? What metaphoric images does the title conjure up for the reader before and after reading the novel?
19. Envision an inverted version of The Dive from Clausens Pier written from Mikes point of view in which Carrie had been the one to have had the accident. How might their lives have played out differently? What does this exercise reveal about their relationship and Carries character?
“Packer knows just how to make a story build: the novel reveals a sure sense of pace and pitch, a brilliant ear for character and a searching emotional generosity.” —The New York Times Book Review
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your groups discussion of The Dive from Clausens Pier, Ann Packers critically acclaimed and bestselling debut novel. Centering on one young womans conflict between her commitment to the people in her life and her duty to be true to herself, this absorbing story challenges us to look inward and to ask discomfiting questions about our relationships, our priorities, and our selflessness for which there are neither easy nor definitive answers.