My answer to this question is yes. In fact, I think this is one of those books that is better read in a group than on one’s own. Trevor over at The Mookse and the Gripes reviewed it (click here for his excellent review) and he captured much of what I was struggling with as I read it. As he so eloquently put it, it’s a “bit of a mess.” Having said that, though, it’s really a mess worth reading and discussing with your book club. Really.
It won the National Book Award, which put it on my radar. My personal book club (not my Literary Masters groups) read it, and we had a rollicking discussion. So, what can your book club discuss?
Warp speed plot summary (for a more comprehensive review, refer to Trevor’s above):
Set on an Native American reservation, this is a coming-of-age tale, told through the eyes of a 13 year old boy. The narrator is much older now, but he is looking back and telling us the story of a pivotal event in his life: his mother was brutally attacked and raped by someone either on or near the reservation. How the family copes and what ensues makes for a very interesting and thought-provoking read.
Your book club will probably want to discuss:
- The family dynamics and the reversal of roles that takes place in the aftermath of the attack. We all agreed that the love the boy feels for his family was the most moving part of the story.
- You’ll want to talk about the significance of the Native American myths that are woven throughout the novel. How do they parallel, echo, or reinforce the themes of the book?
- What do you think of how life on a reservation is portrayed? Is there a statement being made here? This may open up the discussion of how Native Americans have been treated historically.
- You will definitely want to talk about the narrator’s motivations for telling us his story. Why is he doing so? Is he a reliable narrator? Is his story important and why or why not?
- In the afterword of the novel, Louise Erdrich states, “This book is set in 1988, but the tangle of laws that hinder prosecution of rape cases on many reservations still exists.” You’ll want to discuss how the law plays a role in the story. And you’ll want to discuss whether the events at the end of the book are justifiable in the light of the legal situation.
- Shifting boundaries pervade the story, and you’ll want to talk about this. Legal, familial, racial, physical: nothing is contained forever, no matter how much people try to enforce limitations. This is a huge and important theme throughout the book.
- You’ll want to discuss the symbolism and imagery in the book. Hint: it opens with some significant symbolism. How does it illustrate the meaning of the novel?
- There are many characters worth discussing, especially in their relation to Joe, the narrator. Considering this is a coming-of-age tale, you’ll want to understand what Joe experienced as a boy, without his ‘future understanding as a man,’ and what he is reflecting upon as a grown man. Very different–and rather important differences. Memory and perspective will come into your conversation, no doubt.
All right, I could go on, but this should get you started. My personal book club discussed all of the above and then some, and we came away from our meeting feeling like we had really ‘dug deep’ into the book. Let me know how your book club meeting goes–enjoy!