Synopses & Reviews
Cedar Hole is the armpit of fictional Gilford County, a town full of apathetic underachievers trapped by a defunct railroad, distrust of the outside world, and their own lack of imagination. During the annual Train Festival, citizens are called to declare the town's "greatest man," and a fierce rivalry ensues between Robert J. Cutler, town golden boy, and Francis "Spud" Pinkham. When the competition follows the boys into adulthood, Francis must struggle to step out from Robert's shadow and prove his own worth. It is only through love, starting a family of his own, and a brush with the American dream that Francis Pinkham learns what it takes to be the Greatest Man in Cedar Hole.
"You don't slip much past Stephanie Doyon, whose wry, wicked, sympathetic intelligence informs every page of her winning, hilarious novel." -- Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls
"The charming small-town novel The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole comes from Stephanie Doyon, who knows how to make a place likable. This novel's little world is as inviting as it is quaint." -- CBS News Sunday Morning
"You don't slip much past Stephanie Doyon, whose wry, wicked, sympathetic intelligence informs every page of her winning, hilarious novel."-- Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls
"With a compassionate wisdom that approaches that of Anne Tyler, Doyon unearths troubling truths from simple lives. It takes a clear vision to effectively merge humor with heartbreak, and she possesses it. . . . A rare first novel with enough depth to make you feel a bit wistful as you approach the last page." -- Carol Iaciofano, The Boston Globe
"A novel enveloping enough to prompt regret when it ends . . . a smart, disarming pleasure." -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times
About the Author
Stephanie Dovon has worked as ghostwriter for several popular teen series. Her own young adult series, On the Road, was published by Simon Pulse in 1999. The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole is her first adult novel. She currently lives in Maine.
Reading Group Guide
The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole: A Novel
By Stephanie Doyon
Reading Group Discussion Guide
1. What are some of the notable features of small town life in Cedar Hole? How do Francis "Spud" Pinkham and Robert Cutler feel about their roles in their community? How do these sentiments connect to their feelings about neighboring towns like Palmdale?
2. The opening of chapter two reads, "The history of Cedar Hole is peppered with halfhearted undertakings and misguided efforts..." Who is halfhearted? Who is misguided? In what way is Robert misguided as a child? As an adult? What about Francis?
3. What explains the impressive size of the Pinkham family? Why, do you think, is Jackie and the other sister are so resentful of Francis? How does this interaction serve as a predictor of their adult relationships?
4. Describe Spud's friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Mullen. What explains their mutual attraction? In what ways do the Mullens represent the family Francis has never had? How does he put that relationship in jeopardy, and what is ironic about this development?
5. Why are institutions like the train station and the library neglected by the Cedar Hole community? Are the two activities they represent -- reading and transportation -- not important to members of this town, or is their physical decay symbolic of something else? What does Kitty's obsession with decay say about her?
6. What is the Lawn Rodeo, and in what ways does it serve as the focus of social life in Cedar Hole? Describe the competition that Spud and Robert enter. Why is the winner of the competition a matter of opinion? Did you think the winner was deserving? Why or why not?
7. Nadine, Bernadette, and Kitty each have a different interpretation of the meaning of the quote engraved on the desk. What are their interpretations? How does this affect how they relate to one another? What do you think Robert intended it to mean?
8. What are some of the unspoken issues of social class in Cedar Hole? How do these matters of social status arise between Spud and his son, Marty, on their trip to the Rice Industries meeting? To what extent are Weldon Rice and his Rolls Royce responsible for making Cedar Hole's residents more self-conscious of their provincial ways?
9. Is there something about the smallness of Cedar Hole and the lack of meaningful activity there that heightens the erotic longings of its residents? In your discussion, consider the liaisons of Delia Pratt and Harvey Comstock, the shotgun wedding of Anita Reynolds and Spud Pinkham, and the freezer encounter between Norm Higgins and Bernadette Cutler.
10. How does the Pinkham family's success in their bottled water scheme affect their social standing in Cedar Hole? How does it alter their relationships with other family members? Why does Francis defend the spring shed from Jackie, knowing what he knows about Mr. Rice?
11. Did you feel that Bernie's flirtation with Norm Higgins was a conscious effort to retaliate against Kitty? Was Kitty right or wrong in helping Nadine leave? Was Bernie's peace offering appropriate? What does Kitty's reaction say about her future?
12. The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole takes place over the course of several decades. What does the younger generation (Nadine Cutler, Marty and Flynn Pinkham) have in common with its elders? Have they learned from any of their mistakes? Have they repeated any of them?
13. Both Delia and Harvey have based their lives on delusions. What are Delia's? What are Harvey's? How does the accident bring them back to reality?
14. Discuss the significance of the book's title. Who, in your opinion, is the greatest man in Cedar Hole?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION
In The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole, the annual Lawn Rodeo serves as a friendly competition and an opportunity for the small town of Cedar Hole to gather and celebrate. What are some of the traditions and annual gatherings in your community (or in the communities in which you were raised)? Do these activities reveal anything essential about the fabric of your town?
Over the course of the novel, characters like Robert Cutler and Spud Pinkham seem to change very little from elementary school to adulthood. For your next gathering, bring a photo of yourself and some mementos from your days in elementary school. Have one member of the group post the photos up and ask other members to identify who's who. Share your memories of elementary school, and consider how you've changed as a person and how you've remained the same.
Pinkham's Natural, the local spring water that Francis and his family bottle at the urging of the entrepreneur and charlatan Weldon Rice, is the subject of considerable interest among Cedar Hole residents. For your next club meeting, have each member bring an object or product manufactured or grown in his or her town. Share these items and discuss the significance of their local provenance. What reputation do these products have in the immediate community, and how does that compare with their reputation at large?