The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam
Chapter 32 ~ The Kings of Coalwood
Discussion ~ As our story comes to a close, Sonny spends
14 hours in feverish preparation for the Christmas pageant, while Elsie braves
treacherous roads to get to Welch. Our Author builds the final chapter
slowly but steadily toward a dramatic and emotional climax with many classic
elements. We finally come to understand why the Author thinks he might
have named the book, A Coalwood
Christmas, and the drama of plot lines concluding comes in nearly overwhelming
Writers' Workshop ~
(1) As the book comes to a close, can you
think back (referring to your notes if necessary) to any plot line that hasn't been
properly ended? This sort of thing cannot happen by accident - careful
planning and organization is required to make a book end so neatly and satisfactorily.
(2) Cleverly, our Author gives us a little
writing lesson as he carries out the endings. He has Sonny, referring
to his pageant script, say, "sometimes a writer has to trust his audience
to understand that words are as much art as definition." While I would
agree with him totally, let's look at some issues relevant to it. Personally,
I believe that the connotation of
a word is almost always more important than its denotation. Make a list of words
you use often in your conversation or writing that you think mean a little
more to you than a dictionary would indicate. Imagine how you would
change the definition if you were writing the dictionary. Can you recall
any words the Author has used in this book (or even that I might have used
in the website) that seemed to mean something different than you had previously
thought? Has our Author followed this philosophy all throughout his
book? Since the final chapter focuses greatly on Sonny's (our Author,
don't forget) primary role in creating the pageant, could his comment also
be referring to others who shared this experience with him but might recall
it differently (especially if they feel that their role might have been diminished
in the book)?
(3) At a critical point in the pageant,
it begins to snow and some deer arrive! Do you think these events actually
happened as our Author recalls? Could the timing have possibly been
any better if it were completely invented? When writing a memoir, is
the duty of the author to recall things exactly, or is it acceptable to
take some "artistic license" with the memories? Would your opinion
on this subject be different if the story was about something more factual?
(You might want to take this moment to reread the Author's Note at the beginning
of the book.)
(4) A critical and satisfying moment comes
when Sonny realizes that Coalwood itself is his Potter's Wheel, shaping him
into the person he is and will become. What would you describe as your Potter's Wheel? How
would you work it into a story idea?
(5) Our Author gives us a wonderful ending
sentence - "Somewhere up there, I was certain there were stars as far as we
could see." This sort of sentence provides both closure and vision of
the future. Do you know of any other books that end so effectively?
Freud's Couch ~
(1) Why does the finale include a trip down
to Rev. Little's church? Is it simply to close one more plot line, or
is there more to it than that? Does it serve at all to show us how
different people celebrate differently? Are the differences really
all that pronounced in Coalwood, or does this scene help to show how similar
(2) Sonny wistfully appreciates being a
boy "...whose mother loved him enough to give him the gift of inspired vexations
so that he could rise above his own petty ones." The insight here is
staggering. How many teenagers realize that most of what irritates
them is really insignificant? How many of any of us can be appreciative
of those who irritate us, even when it produces something useful? (I
am reminded here of the analogy of the grain of sand in the oyster.
If you don't understand that analogy, look it up.) How many of us are
willing to grant the people in our lives the honor of recognizing their important
roles in shaping us, especially when the thing they provide is vexing?
Who in your life provides the "inspired vexations" you need to become the
best person possible?
Mountaineer Morality ~
(1) In the midst
of all the satisfying endings with joyful, quaint elements, Cuke Snoddy returns,
about which our Author remarks, "...in the way of Coalwood, the light of
the grand evening had given way to something of darkness." This revisits
one of our previous thoughts about West Virginians' fatalism. Must every good moment in these
people's lives be diminished by one sour note? The incident does little
to dampen the spirits of the folks involved, yet we must ask, do West Virginian's
always anticipate some sort
of negative aspect to every moment in their lives?
(2) Sonny finally feels the element of respect
from his father, relative to Homer's gift of drafting tools. Is this
the best way for a taciturn, stoic man to express such emotions? Do
we imagine that Homer will ever
tell Sonny outright that he respects his skills and adult manner?
Must West Virginia boys content themselves with always having to read subtle
signs of approval from their fathers?
(3) Part of Sonny's conclusion is that "I
knew who I was and where I came from and who my people were. I was ready
to leave because I could never leave." Can you imagine any better
feeling in life? Are we all in search of our roots and personal definition
in this way? How does knowing where we have come from help us understand
who we are? Is a West Virginia boy more likely to feel this need?
Is he more likely to desire a resolution to it?