Discussion Questions for readers of THE EAGLE TREE:
1. How is March Wong, the main character, different in his perceptions from you? How would March describe these differences?
2. The main character, March Wong, is entranced by a tree in the first paragraph of the story. Why does the author introduce this obsession so early in the story?
3. What is the relationship between the main character’s parents? How do we know about this relationship?
4. How reliable a narrator is March Wong? Are there critical pieces of information that are left out of the story? How is this information communicated to the reader?
5. If your family were friends with March Wong’s family, what might you or your children think of March? What would your interactions be like with him on a daily basis?
6. Which characters serve as mentors to March? Which characters see themselves as helping March? Which ones are seen by March in that capacity? Is there a difference in perception?
7. The author has stated that the story is a “Romance,” and has talked about romance novels as a model for this story. If the story is a romance, then who are the “lovers” in this romance and who do they love?
8. To continue the romantic theme, many romances involve complications that separate potential lovers. What are the complications in the book?
9. Do other characters see these events or activities as complications, or as necessary parts of March’s experience in the world?
10. The author has stated that he does not want to characterize the main character as “autistic”. Why would that be the case? What does the author gain from this position? What does the book gain or lose?
11. What role does the work and writings of Annie Dillard play in the story?
12. Christianity and theological perspectives inform the story in the book. How does March’s perspective in the book differ from a “standard” perspective on Christianity? How is his perspective different?
13. The book is set in Olympia Washington. What critical information do you learn from this book about the area of Olympia? What important information about Olympia does March not share with you?
14. At the beginning of the book, March pointedly refuses to use metaphors or symbolic language to describe events in the book. By the end of the book, March is using metaphorical language in different situations to describe events. Why is this?
THE EAGLE TREE will appeal to readers who enjoyed the award-winning CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME or Jim Lynch’s THE HIGHEST TIDE, which is also set in March’s—and the author’s—hometown of Olympia, Washington.
Discussion Questions for Book Clubs reading SINFUL FOLK
(NOTE: For book groups, this document can be downloaded as a PDF )
- The author says that he wrote the novel Sinful Folk because he wanted to tell a story about universal emotions. Do you think he achieved this goal? If so, how do you connect with this story? How do you think Mear’s story connects with our experiences today? What might some of these “universal” emotions be? Can you identify a few universal themes in this story?
- What would you have done in Mear’s situation? Would you have made different choices?
- What would have happened if Mear’s son was not killed in the fire? What if Mear’s son had been wounded but not killed in the fire? Do you think Mear might have still gone on this journey?
- If the fire hadn’t happened, do you think Mear’s life could have gone on in the same way? Do you think her secret was safe?
- What other alternate versions of the story can you think of ? How could the novel have ended differently?
- What would today’s version of Mear be like? Can you think of someone who has gone through troubles or travails similar to Mear?
- How much have things changed in our time? Does anyone still try to “pass” as someone they are not?
- Do women today have to disguise themselves in any way to “pass” in different parts of society? Why do they disguise themselves?
- If you were the casting director for the movie of “Sinful Folk”, what actress would you choose to play the main character? What actor would you choose to play the part of Salvius? Why would you choose these actors?
- Compare what you understand of mother-child relationships in Mear’s era to those in our own. If you are a parent, how do you relate to Mear? Which of her experiences mirrors your own and which are foreign to your experience as a parent? (Examples of differences: Is it typical in our era for mothers to lose children young, or to see their children near death? Is it typical for people to find themselves near to starving in the winter time?)
- How do different languages play a role in the story? How many languages does Mear speak? How many languages do the people around her speak? What difference does this make to their class or level in society
- The average lifespan in the Middle Ages was 45-47 years old. How old do you think Mear is during the novel? And how does her age and experiences in the story compare to your age and your experiences?
- The author originally started writing this novel from the perspective of Salvius. Ten years later, he re-wrote the story from Mear’s point of view. What would this version of the story be like? Would you find the story as interesting, or interesting in a different way?
- Describe the layers of Mear’s disguises. How many layers are there to her life? How many layers are there to your life?
- How does Mear’s relationship to the men on the journey change as her secrets come out? How would your relationships change if some of your secrets were to come out?
- What part does knowledge and learning play in the story of the novel? Does Mear’s knowledge of history and literature enhance or diminish her ability to cope in the medieval world she lives in?
- The author is working on a new novel set in the Middle Ages. If the author were to choose one character (or set of characters) from Sinful Folk to feature in his new novel, which characters would you like him to feature?