Synopses & Reviews
From Karl Iagnemma, recipient of the Paris Review Plimpton Prize, comes a fierce and gorgeous story of an estranged father and sons unlikely journey though the wilderness of nineteenth-century America.
The year is 1844. Sixteen-year-old runaway Elisha Stone is in Detroit, a hardscrabble frontier town on the edge of the civilized world. A canny survivor with the instincts of a born naturalist, Elisha signs on to an expedition into Michigans vast, uncharted Upper Peninsula. The party is led by two charismatic adventurers: Silas Brush, a ruthless land-grabbing ex-soldier, and George Tiffin, a quixotic professor desperate to discover proof of his unorthodox theories about the origins of man.
On the eve of the expeditions departure, Elisha pens a heartfelt letter to his mother in Newell, Massachusetts. But it is Elishas estranged father, the Reverend William Edward Stone, who opens the envelope. Grief-stricken by the recent death of his wife a death Elisha could not have known aboutReverend Stone is jolted into action: he must find his son.
What follows is a powerful narrative about the complex love between fathers and sons and an evocative portrait of an era of faith, wonder, and violence. While Elishas journey draws him deeper into uncharted territory, Reverend Stone must navigate through a country in turmoil as he moves toward an inevitable reunion with a son who has become a stranger. A first novel of uncommon wisdom, The Expeditions is the confirmation of an extraordinary talent.
"a haunting coming-of-age tale set in an emerging nation groping for identity,the first novel from MIT research scientist Iagnemma follows his story collection, On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction. Working his way across the country at 16 in 1844, Elisha Stone dreams of becoming a naturalist after running away from his aging Massachusetts minister father and ailing mother three years earlier. He signs on as an assistant to survey expedition leader Silas Brush, but the guide, a ne'er-do-well named Ignace Morel, disappears as the party is set to depart for the unexplored northern Michigan peninsula. Ignace's wife, a beautiful half Chippewa woman named Susette, takes over as guide at a time when woman guides were unheard of. Back in Massachusetts, the Reverend Stone, who is slipping unknowingly into opium addiction, receives a dramatic letter Elisha has sent to his mother, who has died. Impulsively, the guileless minister sets out to find Elisha, ostensibly to tell him of his mother's death, but also to reconcile with his son. The plot is marvelously structured, and the secondaries (including humbug Jonah Crawley and his teenage clairvoyant fiance, Adele Grainger) add real color. Beautifully written and outstandingly researched, Iagnemma's first novel is a keeper." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
From award-winning author Iagnemma comes a fierce and gorgeous story of an estranged father and son's unlikely journey though the wilderness of 19th- century America.
About the Author
Karl Iagnemmas work has won the Paris Review Plimpton Prize and been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. He is a research scientist in the mechanical engineering department at M.I.T. His collection, On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, is available from Dial Press Trade Paperbacks.
Reading Group Guide
1. What outlook on humanity is captured in the epigraph from Walt Whitmans poem “With Antecedents”? How might the novels characters have responded to these lines?
2. Which historical details in the novel surprised you? What cultural aspects of Elishas world remain part of the contemporary American experience?
3. Discuss the varying quests presented by the novels expeditions. What essential motivations do the characters share in embarking on their journeys? Whose quest is filled most successfully?
4. In Chapter Two, Part One, Reverend Stone listens to a draft of a sermon read by Edson, the deacon, concerning geology and religion. What approaches to religion and science are captured in that scene? How do they compare to Professor Tiffins notions of Native American genesis, and to other images of religious fervor portrayed in the novel?
5. In Chapter One, Part Two, Elisha compares the expedition to his time collecting specimens with Alpheus Lenz. How comfortable is he with the role of apprentice? Does his relationship with his father have any bearing on the way he relates to other men in positions of authority?
6. What transformation takes place in Reverend Stone when Adele gives him messages from his wife, Ellen, at the end of Chapter Two, Part Two? How does her illness affect him? How does it affect Elisha?
7. How does the story of Adele and Jonah Crawleys marriage shape Reverend Stones journey? Did his shifting perceptions of Jonah correspond to yours?
8. What does Susette teach Elisha about trust, attraction, and his capacity for saving someone he cares for? Why is he able to confront Ignace Morel while others hesitate to defend her?
9. Near the end of Chapter Four, Part Two, Reverend Stone drinks cider in a Detroit bar and contemplates whether is it possible to live without faith. Did that question have greater significance in the nineteenth century, when hardships such as Stones stolen money and severe illness posed an even greater threat than they would today?
10. Discuss the differences between Professor Tiffin and Mr. Brush. In what ways is Tiffins biracial marriage a barometer for compassion among his colleagues? How does Elishas perception of the world differ from Tiffins and Brushs?
11. How might the arrival of Professor Tiffin and Elisha have unfolded if it had been described from the Chippewas point of view? What fundamental aspects of Chippewa culture were incomprehensible to those on the expedition?
12. In Chapter Two, Part Three, Reverend Stone recalls his distant, reticent father, who told him, “You know who you are when you know what you fear.” What fears are at the root of his anguish, and Elishas?
13. How would you have fared on a journey like Reverend Stones, decades before the communication age, traveling uncharted terrain? Has twenty-first-century ingenuity eased the timeless human struggles of mourning and family strife?
14. Elisha attempts to make sense of his decision to run away from his family, while Reverend Stone struggles with anguished guilt. What was the essence of their estrangement? Would they have ever reached a point of reconciliation if Ellen had survived? Why was she able to forgive her son more easily?
15. What themes of longing and identity run through both this novel and the stories collected in On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction?
Author of the acclaimed short story collection On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction
, Karl Iagnemmas (pronounced yon-YEM-ma) prize-winning fiction has captured the imaginations of readers coast to coast. In his debut novel, The Expeditions
Iagnemma takes us on a remarkable journey through the wilderness of nineteenth-century Michigan, where an estranged father and son trek toward a bittersweet reunion. Sixteen-year-old runaway Elisha Stone has joined a dubious expedition through rugged terrain, assisting a zealot who is determined to unlock an ancient secret about the Indians' origins. Hundreds of miles away, in small-town Massachusetts, Elishas father grapples with the death of his wife, unsure how to find their son and deliver the news of her passing. Determined to bring about a reconciliation before his own health fades, Reverend Stone sets out to see Elisha once more, immersing himself in a hardscrabble world of thieves and fortunetellers–and discovering a wellspring of wisdom and grace in the process. A masterwork by one of the literary worlds brightest rising stars, The Expeditions
will enthrall you at every turn.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Karl Iagnemmas The Expeditions. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel.