“Nothing, nobody really goes away—not once they’ve infiltrated your life. No matter how many brain cells you drench in rocket fuel and hold your little lit Zippo to.”
Montana in the 60s on an isolated family farm; late nights and early mornings in 70s and 80s San Francisco; an emergent Saigon in the 90s; San Francisco, again, in time for cellphones, stock options and AIDS. And home—wherever that is—at a time and in a condition to be determined. At the heart of this book is a place we mostly identify with a war played out nightly on black and white TV, but it is not about war. It is about surviving immense loss, about a Montana girl and a motley band of co-gypsies, seeking to find, and define, home and family. It is about “bad behavior”—how it starts, and how it ends. What is set in motion by one casualty cascades, over the years, into others.
When she is 13, the army loses Riley’s brother Mick, a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam, and her life goes off the rails. Rescue, in the form of a boy from a nearby reservation, appears, but not for long. Hoping to beat the crappy odds and discover the ocean she’s always dreamt of, Riley heads west to San Francisco, and from there to Saigon. She encounters, sometimes attempts to rescue, and is as often rescued by an itinerant posse of the dispossessed. Taking their pain out mostly on themselves, they line a switch-backed trail that will lead Riley (if she survives them) to something along the lines of redemption.
Marian Palaia is, among other things, an author. These days, she lives mostly in San Francisco, but sometimes in Missoula, Montana. To support her writing habit, Marian has been a teacher, a bartender, a truck driver, “chip girl” in a poker room, and the littlest logger in Lincoln, Montana, where she and Ted Kaczynski were neighbors, sort of.
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This reading group guide for The Given World includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Marian Palaia. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction In her riveting debut novel, Marian Palaia courageously... Read More
Can you tell us about your inspiration for The Given World? What were the novel’s origins? How did you begin? I wrote one chapter of the book (“Girl, Three Speeds, Pretty Good Brakes”) years ago as a standalone short story, about a girl in a gas station who was missing her brother and a good part of “whatever it is that centers us.” In 2010 I went back to school to get my MFA at Madison, and during the first semester, while working with... Read MoreView Comments
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