Synopses & Reviews
From a small, bogside cabin in rural New England, 38-year-old Aimee Slater unravels the story of her life, attempting to make sense of the tangled thread that leads from her mother's house-a short, unbridgeable distance away-to the world she now inhabits. It is soon after the Civil War; Aimee lives alone, but is graced with visits from two friends, a crippled man and a troubled eleven-year-old girl. She is perpetually caught between the sensual world she so desires and the divine retribution passed down to her by her mother's scorn. How Aimee ultimately creates a life for herself and bridges that distance makes for a moving story of love and loss. Told in a voice of spare New England lyricism, Unravelling is a remarkably haunting account of the power of redemption.
In a beautifully realized debut novel reminiscent of "The Scarlet Letter, " an unconventional young woman who chooses independence over conformity is scorned by her family in a 19th-century New England town.
About the Author
ELIZABETH GRAVER is the author of Unravelling and The Honey Thief. She teaches at Boston College and lives in Massachusetts
Reading Group Guide
Q> Unravelling is a contemporary novel set in the nineteenth century. In what ways does it feel modern? In what ways does it seem to be about another time and place? Do you think that girls and women today struggle with similar issues and concerns? What links do you see between Unravelling and other recent novels set in the past, such as Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Jane Smiley's The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, or Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain? Q> The novel opens with an epigraph: "This for the two stones inside me/The two shadows gone from me/That they may begin to understand" (p.l). How does the image of the stones reveal Aimee's struggles throughout the novel? How do you interpret the image of thread, which begins in the title, appears again when Aimee leaves for the mills (p.108), and reappears after she gives birth (p.217)? What other images have stayed in your mind? Q> Aimee says, "I could have been born a child who walked the middle road; instead I needed both solitude and touch with a hunger that left me breathless, split in two" (p.250). What is it about the world Aimee lives in that makes her dual desires for solitude and touch so difficult to negotiate? How do her relationships with Jeremiah, William Tanning, her mother, Amos, and Plumey reflect or contradict this description of herself? Q> Unravelling is full of stories: the fairy tales Aimee's mother tells her in Chapter Five; the accounts of the mill that Aimee gathers from various sources before she goes; the story Plumey finally manages to relate about her past. Why does storytelling seem to be such an important activity for these characters? How do the two fairy tales illuminate the themes of the novel? Do stories tend to help the characters or lead them astray? To whom is Aimee telling her own story, and why? Q> The Lowell textile mills were one of the first planned industrial communities in the United States and allowed young women from all over New England to leave home, earn money, and gain some independence for the first time. Yet the mills were also places of long hours, strict regimens, enforced behavior, and dangerous working conditions. Overall, what was your reaction to them? Do you think Aimee would have been better off heeding her mother's advice and staying home? Did she have any other options? Q> After she returns from the mills, Aimee says that the mere thought of her mother fills her "with a rage so distilled I felt it like a fine-ground powder in the marrow of my bones." How do you understand Aimee's anger toward her mother? Is it justified? Why did it endure for so long? What makes this mother/daughter relationship so tense and complicated? In what ways are the two characters different? In what ways are they alike? Q> Unravelling is narrated from two distinct points of view: that of the young Aimee as she struggles with her desires and goes forth into the world, and that of the middle-aged Aimee living by the bog. What purpose does this dual perspective serve? Were you equally interested in both portions of Aimee's life? How would the story be different if one strand were missing?
Copyright (c) 1999. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.