About the Author
Connie May Fowler is an essayist and screenwriter, as well as the author of three previous novels, including Sugar Cage and River of Hidden Dreams. In 1996, she published Before Women Had Wings, later a successful “Oprah Winfrey Presents” TV movie, winner of the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award, and paperback bestseller. She lives in Florida with her husband.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why did the author choose to tell us in the very first paragraph that Mattie is a widow? How would the story have been different if she had told it in real time, instead of as a remembrance? How does her choice heighten the drama?
2. Talk about the mothers and the fathers in this novel, the ones who disappear and the ones who stay. Can you see a pattern? Is disappearing ever a valid choice for a parent?
3. Books save Mattie's life at different points in the novel. Talk about theses times and about how books are important to Mattie. From what you have seen of life, do people who experience books as escape or as salvation become more ferocious readers than people who experience books as entertainment?
4. In a sense, Nick and Mattie are in opposite evolutionary cycles. He is going back to what legend says he was. She is moving forward to become the fully integrated person she has it in her to be. Talk about the place where they meet, the moment in time when their cycles intersect.
5. One of the limits of first-person point of view is that the narrator is usually not reliable. How does the author work around this? Discuss some of the other point-of-view choices that the author makes. For instance, when she has Mattie shape-shift into Lillian and into Nick, telling their stories from an intimate, close angle; or when Mattie shifts to a distant third-person point of view to describe her own wed-ding. 6. Talk about the importance of myth and legend (Lethe, Proteus, the Sirens, Delphinus, Poseidon) in this novel.
7. Discuss the role and importance of nature in this novel.
8. For all of his humor, vitality, and pragmatism, Nick has a sadness about him from the start. Talk about instances where he displays this side of himself and how it foreshadows his coming death.
9. When they are in Tallahassee, Mattie tells Nick, If you left Lethe because you were scared of dying at sea, that's one thing. But if you left because you believed the legend just a tiny, tiny bit? Well, that's a whole different reason for leaving (63). Talk about the distinction she makes.
10. Mattie gets to Lethe and begins making a life for herself, with Nick, and on her own. She makes friends, she establishes comforting routines, and she takes on physical and intellectual challenges. Discuss the difference between this and when she was in Tallahassee on her own and went from studio apartment to convenience store and back again. Why does she blossom on Lethe?
11. Discuss Rhea and Charon Blue's relationship and Mattie's connection with Charon.
12. Mattie dreams of dolphins; Captain Johnny dreams of ships. Talk about the importance of specific dreams in this novel.
13. Talk about Mattie's reaction to her mother's death and then to her father's. She won't accept her parent's money (in the form of the house). And yet, she places the photo of her family alongside those of the Blue family. How do all these conflicting emotions and actions fit together? How are they justified?
14. Talk about the hurricane and the buildup to it. At this point in the novel, we're expecting Nick's death at any moment. How does our expectation add to the intensity of the hurricane? How does the hurricane add to the intensity of Nick's death?
15. Mattie imagines two versions of Nick's death, but discards one. Talk about how the author prepares us to accept one scenario over the other by having Mattie posit reasonable theories for unknowable events earlier in the novel.
16. Would the novel have been as satisfying if Nick's body had been found? Or did his body have to remain in the sea to make this story read true?
17. Do you think Mattie will stay on Lethe? Raise her child there? Remarry eventually?
Questions and Topics for Discussion are courtesy of Doubleday Publishing.