Synopses & Reviews
September 2007 Booksense Notable
Acclaimed for her excquisite prose and crystalline insights, Amity Gaige returns with The Folded World, the story of an idealistic young social worker drawn into the lives of his mentally ill clients. Charlie Shade was born into a quiet, prosperous life, but a sense of injustice dogs him. He feels destined to leave his life of "bread and laundry," to work instead with people in crisis. On his way, he meets his kindred spirit in Alice, a soulful young woman, living helplessly by laws of childhood superstition. Charlie's empathy with his clients — troubled souls like Hal, the high-school wrestling champion who undergoes a psychotic break, and Opal, the isolated young woman who claims "various philosophies have confused my life" — is both admirable and nearly fatal. An adoring husband and new father, Charlie risks his own cherished, private domestic world to help Hal, Opal, and others move beyond their haunted inner worlds into the larger world of love and connection.
A collision of extraordinary characters, The Folded World addresses the universal dilemma of love, wherein giving to another can seem like "the death of the world of oneself." With an unerring eye for both the joys and devastations of life, Amity Gaige once again reminds us of the pleasures and depths to be found in her fiction.
"Gaige follows up on the 2006 National Book Foundation '5 Under 35' selection O My Darling with a measured account of a mildly troubled marriage and the hurdles faced by well-meaning social caseworkers. Gorgeous and dark-haired Alice Bussard, the 22-year-old daughter of a librarian, leaves 'shabby' hometown Gloucester, Mass., to find bigger and better in a nearby (and unnamed) city. What she finds, however, is a job as a dentist's receptionist and the attention of 25-year-old, big-eared Midwestern transplant Charlie Shade, who is finishing his master's in social work. Before long, they're married and Charlie's found an underpaid and overworked job. They have twins, and Charlie's dedication to his work and two patients, Hal Kramer and Opal Ludlow, specifically sparks domestic tension (Alice is predictably tempted by another man), professional trouble and physical danger. Alice's mother comes to help with the kids, but ends up sharing with Alice the truth Alice would rather not hear about the father she never knew. Gaige's sophomore effort is polished and competent, with measured doses of dry humor leavening overwrought prose . Details about the mechanisms of the social work system are convincing, as is Gaige's portrayal of a young marriage on the rocks, but the narrative may be too tidy for some." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Acclaimed author Gaige returns with this story of an idealistic young social worker drawn into the lives of his mentally ill clients, revealing the joys and devastations of life.
About the Author
Amity Gaige is a graduate of Brown University and the Iowa Writer's Workshop. She is the author of the acclaimed novel O My Darling, chosen by the National Book Foundation for its "5 Under 35" program to recognize the achievements of five first-time fiction writers each year. She teaches creative writing at Mount Holyoke College and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. Visit her website at www.amitygaige.com.
Reading Group Guide
1. Which of the characters in The Folded World
do you most relate to? How and why?
2. Discuss the mother-daughter relationship between Alice and Marlene. How did Marlene's relationship with her father and the fact that Alice never knew her father play a part in their relationship to each other?
3. Charlie Shade lost his job, nearly lost his family, and almost himself trying to be all things to Opal - to help her. Yet when Opal sees him as she's flying over the earth at the end of the book she says "He looked nice enough from up here, but down there he was somehow horrifying." What does she mean by this? What about him is "horrifying"?
4. As a child, Charlie sensed the moment Alice was born. The author writes, "Some people are born again by God. Charlie and Alice Shade were born again by one another." Do you believe in "soul mates"? Were Charlie and Alice destined for each other? What choices could they have made to change that destiny?
5. At Charlie's birth, his grandmother had a premonition about his death. Her other premonitions had all come to pass. Why didn't the one about Charlie? Or did it?
6. Many of the characters in The Folded World are mentally ill, but others are eccentric, or lost. What do you think The Folded World says about mental illness? What is the fine line that separates the sane from the insane?
7. When Charlie decides to train in social work, he does so because he wants to find the "seam" between his life and others, the place where lives "touch" each other. Is this impulse to find this place a good and noble impulse? What exactly leads him astray from his original intention to help people?
8. Alice is a bookworm. She reads so much she hesitates to make real contacts. At one point, she fears that she believes real people are "less real than people in books." What are the pitfalls of being a bookworm? Is it true that sometimes characters in books seem "more real" than real people? How or why?
9. Why doesn't Alice go to college, the first time when she graduates high school, and the second time when she has another chance after signing up for night classes?
10. At one point, Charlie has the thought that Alice is "spiritually larger" than he somehow. Do you agree? And why are the spirits of each character limited? Which character in the book is spiritually the largest? The smallest?
11. Hal and Opal are both diagnosed with mental illness, and spend time in psychiatric hospitals-the same one, in fact. Both their lives are damaged by the illness, and yet Hal, at the end of the book, seems to have made some type of recovery. Opal, of course, does not. Why do you think their lives end so differently? Why do some mentally ill people flourish despite their illness and some do not?
12. Discuss the italicized sections in the book. Are they literally spoken by Charlie to Alice? Or are they some other form of storytelling?
13. In Part Two, when Charlie is reflecting on his satisfying life as a father and now a mobile clinician, he wonders if, after a life of successes, he can ever truly understand what it means to suffer. Do you agree? Do you think a person needs to suffer himself to understand another person's suffering? Why or why not?
14. Discuss the concept of "the folded world." What is it, and why is it the title of this book? When Hal becomes attracted to Alice in Part Two, he fears that his folded world might disappear, "For in its unfolding, it was no longer a world." Do you agree that this is a predicament in loving someone else?